parents are human beings first

#61 – How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish

sharon said i should read a parenting book.

this one has 4.5 stars from 1,417 reviews.

its epigraph, from the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset, reads:

All we are given is possibilities—
to make ourselves one thing or another.

i laughed when i found out he was Spanish. rafa benitez, who once managed the greatest football club in the world, often spoke of “possibilities” in his interviews.

it’s a great word.

i’ve been doing my morning rituals and daily affirmations. every morning, i write “i am a great listener”.

i am not.

but i try to act as one. it’s a possbility that i will make myself one.

i do this not because i have to. because i want to.


A few things i read:

“Parents don’t usually accept their children’s feelings.”

They may say, for example, “There’s no reason to be so upset.”

“Steady denial of feelings can confuse and enrage kids. Also teaches them not to know what their feelings are—not to trust them.”

Solution to help young children with feelings:

1. Listen with full attention.

2. Acknowledge their feelings with a word—“Oh” . . . “Mmm” . . . “I see.” – “It’s hard for a child to think clearly or constructively when someone is questioning, blaming, or advising her… There’s a lot of help to be had from a simple “Oh . . . mmm . . .” or “I see.” Words like these, coupled with a caring attitude, are invitations to a child to explore her own thoughts and feelings, and possibly come up with her own solutions.”

3. Give their feelings a name – “Parents don’t usually give this kind of response, because they fear that by giving a name to the feeling they’ll make it worse. Just the opposite is true. The child who hears the words for what she is experiencing is deeply comforted. Someone has acknowledged her inner experience.”

4. Give them their wishes in fantasy – “e.g. I wish I have the magic power to make daddy not allergic to dogs so you can have one. “Sometimes just having someone understand how much you want something makes reality easier to bear.”

5 things to try to get your kids to cooperate with you

1. Describe. Describe what you see or describe the problem. – Don’t say: “you haven’t cleaned that fish tank. you don’t deserve to have pets.” Say: “the fish tank is dirty and the fishes will get sick.” – “When grown-ups describe the problem, it gives children a chance to tell themselves what to do.”

2. Give information – Don’t say “who drank milk and left the bottle standing out?” Say: “Kids, milk turn sour when it isn’t refrigerated.”

3. Say it with a word – “Children dislike hearing lectures, sermons, and long explanations. For them, the shorter the reminder, the better.”

4. Talk about your feelings – Don’t say: “You’re rude. You always interrupt.” Say: “I feel so  frustrated when i start to say something and i can’t finish.”

5. Write a note – can be more effective than nagging or yelling.

Praise can make children uncomfortable

actually, praise can make me uncomfortable too. if people say, “oh you’re so smart/creative/amazing”, i squirm because i know my own weaknesses.

but if someone said, “your workshop was very practical and will help me in my work” or “your newsletter last week made me realise i have other options i did not consider”, i would be very happy.

there is a better way to praise children… and adults.

praise by describing, not evaluating (“Good” . . . “Great!” . . . “Fantastic!”).

to praise descriptively:

“1. Describe what you see.
“I see a clean floor, a smooth bed, and books neatly lined up on the shelf.”

2. Describe what you feel.
“It’s a pleasure to walk into this room!”

3. Sum up the child’s praiseworthy behaviour with a word.
“You sorted out your Legos, cars, and farm animals, and put them in separate boxes. That’s what I call organization!”

How to treat children

Actually, all the skills you’ve studied so far in this book help children see themselves as separate, responsible, competent people. Whenever we listen to children’s feelings, or share our own feelings with them, or invite them to problem-solve with us, we encourage their self-reliance.

I know that for me the idea of encouraging the children to be in charge of the details of their own lives was revolutionary.

One Final Thought

Let’s not cast ourselves in roles either—good parent, bad parent, permissive parent, authoritarian parent. Let’s start thinking of ourselves as human beings first, with great potential for growth and change. The process of living or working with children is demanding and exhausting. It requires heart, intelligence, and stamina. When we don’t live up to our own expectations—and we won’t always—let’s be as kind to ourselves as we are to our youngsters. If our children deserve a thousand chances, and then one more, let’s give ourselves a thousand chances—and then two more.


Mark Zuckerberg inspired me to start an annual personal project – read a non-fiction book every week and write about it. 

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