I have heard of How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk a few times, so I knew it was something of a classic in parenting literature. I didn’t know how much of a classic, however, until I read some of the example scenarios. “Just you touch that lamp once more and you’ll get a smack!” is listed as an example of how threats don’t work, and while I agree, I cannot imagine a parenting book in 2021 even acknowledging that a parent might strike a child. Or, in a scenario about a teacher: “Mrs. G really yelled at me in gym today.” The point of the scenario was to illustrate how a parent helped her teen through her anger at the teacher, but I imagined a contemporary parent calling the school and yelling at the teacher for yelling at the kid.
What is surprising about this particular book is how mainstream its advice is today, despite some of the retro scenarios. What was seen groundbreaking in 1980 is standard in 2021–which is a good thing. Some main tenets of Faber and Maslich’s advice are to accept and validate children’s feelings (instead of dismissing them or criticizing them), to involve them in decision-making, and to encourage them to solve their own problems. At the heart of their advice is to think of kids as people, not just kids. No one likes to be cajoled, berated, belittled, or nagged–kids included.
Some of the most useful advice for me, as a parent of a 6 year old, was the advice to avoid nagging. How to tells parents to describe and explain when they see an issue: “I see the lights are left on. When we leave the lights on, the electricity bill goes up.” Most kids respond to these observations and pieces of information more quickly than with half a dozen reminders to turn the lights off. Another useful tip is to use one word for rules they should know. For example, “Lights!” once you’ve provided information about why they need to be off.
Parenting books of course cannot capture the messiness that is parenting, but I appreciated this book for laying a groundwork for interactions with kids that will improve communication, even though (as Faber and Mazlish frequently acknowledge) there is no silver bullet that is going to turn kids into perfect, neat, polite, and controlled little humans.