I love to read all sorts of parenting books because I like to know what is out there and I am always on the look out for a reliable, go-to type of book that I can recommend to parents. I thought I would start a series of posts of reviews and summaries of some of the popular parenting books out there.

This first blog I wanted to highlight a book that I love and think applies at a variety of ages: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. The authors approach centers on how to effectively communicate with your child so to foster a productive and caring conversation when children have strong negative emotions. Since this classic was published in 1980, it has been updated and is also available in audiobook format. Those who want a more “hands on” approach can register for an in-person group workshop.  I also love that the daughter of Adele Faber, Joanna Faber wrote a companion book for parents of younger children: “How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7.”

When children open up and express their feelings, we should rejoice. Even if those feelings are strong and negative, we all experience a spectrum of emotions. But as parents, our job is to become our children’s emotion coach. When they open up, it is because they want to be heard. However, depending on how we respond, kids can dig in their heels and become defensive, which will lead to both parent and child feeling hurt, frustrated and angry. Moreover, the last thing you want is for the child to STOP coming to you.

When a child comes to the parent with a strong negative emotion, it is important to utilize these ideas to show empathy. Even if you don’t agree with the feeling, children can be helped by first validating their internal experience and someone who can help them process these strong emotions.

This book is full of practical communication-based techniques that can be used over and over and applied no matter what age your child is.

In this book, the reader will learn how to:

  • Cope with the child’s negative feelings and how to respond
  • Express your anger without hurting your child
  • Set firm limits in the context of a positive parent-child relationship
  • Use alternative to punishment by providing acceptable choices
  • How to have family meetings and calmly discuss problem areas for everyone to work on

I loved the sample conversations and fun comic strip drawings so you can “see” how the interaction unfolds. There are places for the reader to jot down their own self-reflections.

The fundamental tool parents will learn is how to help children process their strong negative emotions by keeping in mind the following:

Listen with full attention;

Acknowledge their feelings with a word such as “Oh”, “I see”;

Give their feelings a name;

Give them their wishes in fantasy.

Parents will also learn how to help their child engage in problem solving and cooperation.

These strategies are not unlike others written in other parenting books out there, such as being a good audience and listening to the child, labeling emotions and coming to understand what those emotions represent are critical skills for parents to step back and think about. However, these authors do a great way of making the principles accessible, understandable and help the reader reflect and think about how to apply these principles to their lives. This is where it can be difficult because in the moment, when emotions are running high, it is easy to just react. This does not help anyone.

For instance, if a child comes home complaining about a homework assignment, or a challenging interaction with a friend, or shares frustration with a sibling, it is important to first acknowledge the child’s feeling. As parents sometimes we want to rush and fix things as a knee jerk reaction. When we do this, we may diminish the child’s emotional experience. It is easy to fall into this trap. Saying things such as, “Oh honey, you don’t have to worry about that. He didn’t mean it” OR “Don’t say that, you should love your brother!” Both these types of statements are either meant to reassure or correct negative talk but it can diminish the child’s feelings because it brushes off how they feel.

The passage from chapter 2 of the book best summarizes the authors’ positive parenting approach:

Our purpose is to speak to what is best in our children-their intelligence, their initiative, their sense of responsibility, their sense of humor, their ability to be sensitive to the needs of others.

We want to put an end to talk that wounds the spirit, and search out the language that nourishes self-esteem.

We want to create an emotional climate that encourages children to cooperate because they care about themselves, and because they care about us.

We want to demonstrate the kind of respectful communication that we hope our children will use with us-now, during their adolescent years, and ultimately as our adult friends.

The book has 7 chapters in total. The revised edition has an afterward that contains and additional 40+ pages of lessons learned 20 years later. There are so many great pearls in this book that I think you will want to re-read or listen to the audiobook for a booster.

I love these books because it really helps readers come to understand the WHY it is important to support and empathize with children in the throes of negative emotions. It also helps parents learn how to role model effective communication strategies so that children can begin to respect other people’s feelings in a similar way. When parents respond in supportive and nurturing ways to their children, children gain valuable firsthand experience of how to then apply these strategies with others they encounter. The book provides plenty of examples and stories from workshop participants on common challenges and tips to help children learn emotional vocabulary to be able to express themselves in productive ways.

By learning how to empathize and validate strong emotions through supporting children and offering alternatives to handle these emotions when we respond and interact with children, we are providing lifelong lessons that children can take with them.

One caveat is that I have listened to the audiobook of the original book and found that I wanted to earmark or take notes but it was difficult to be able to notate using the function within the app.  I am a huge audiobook person but for parenting books in general, I like to refer back to key passages and highlight certain quotes. However I acknowledge that this is a matter of personal preference. Solely relying on the audiobook version, you will also not be able to “see” the drawings of parent-child interactions which I think are helpful and break up the text. Also if you want to journal and jot down thoughts in response to the probe questions, then you need the actual paperback version.

Watch this VIDEO featuring Adele and Joanna Faber to hear how the project started and their approach to parenting (2 minutes and 39 seconds).

RELATED VIDEO: Practical Parenting Tools featuring Joanna Faber (10 minutes and 22 seconds)


Written by

Nerissa Bauer

I am a behavioral pediatrician, consultant, child advocate and blogger. I am a wife, mommy to 2 amazing children and a golden retriever. Love cooking, travel, reading, tap and creating.