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Virtual Book Club: "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen..."

Virtual Book Club: “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen…” – Part 1

Today’s the day we finally get to delve into our new-and-improved book club format.  Hopefully you guys already picked up your copy of “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” and are ready to jump in today.  If not, it’s not too late.  We’re covering the first half today and will be back in 3 weeks (Thursday, April 11th) to finish up.

Overall, I’ve been impressed with this book so far.  I especially love the format.  I found all of the examples and the cautions really fleshed out the ideas for me.  Most importantly, after reading a chapter I felt prepared to try out the techniques.

So, without further ado, let’s jump in – shall we?




The first line of this chapter made me laugh and that, my friends, is a surefire way to get me on board.  “I was a wonderful parent before I had children” – Amen to that!

Beyond the humor though, I really appreciated this chapter’s emphasis on how to help kids identify and accept their feelings.  I’ve been a big fan of John Gottman’s theories on raising emotionally intelligent children and this chapter seemed to fall right in line with that school of thought.

Since I’m familiar with the idea of emotional coaching, not a lot in this chapter was new – yet it still drove home the importance of empathy to a new extent for me.  Since reading it I’ve really been making an effort to empathize FIRST, and then move on to dealing with the issue, and I’ve seen a real change in the way my kids and I are relating.  I can feel that their trust in me has grown and that they really believe I’m trying to understand what they’re saying – not just to fix it.

I really like what the authors say about the effects of empathy:

But let someone acknowledge my inner pain and give me a chance to talk… I begin to feel less upset, less confused, more able to cope with my feelings and my problems.


  • “It wasn’t just using a technique.  I really meant it” – This, I think, is the key.  I do a lot of reading on parenting so sometimes it seems like I’m just racking my brain for the technique that will fit the situation.  Not trying to figure out what will solve the problem, and trying instead to tune into what my kids are feeling, has really made a difference for us.  I’m finding that kids can sense when adults are being disingenuous and sincere empathy really goes a long way.
  • “The language of empathy does not come naturally to us.  It’s not part of our ‘mother tongue'” I didn’t realize this was true until the authors pointed it out.  It seems like parents should naturally be empathetic.  But I think it’s true that we don’t naturally speak that way in our everyday lives.  Personally, I tend more towards the role of manager with my kids – especially when things are hectic or they’re ganging up on me.
  • “Give them their wishes in fantasy” – This was one of the 4 ways the authors recommended helping kids with their feelings (all of which I loved) and it has been working SO well for us.  I’d never thought of doing this before but I’ve been trying it a lot lately with C (4 years old) and 80 – 90% of the time it works.  One of his favorite things to say these days is “I wish” – as in “I wish I could have more crackers”, “I wish I could play for 10 more minutes”, etc.  (It’s been driving me crazy.) So lately I’ve been responding with fantasy – “I know! I wish we could play for the next 2 days straight!”  It’s really unbelievable how well it’s been working – as soon as I acknowledge his feelings, he just moves on.  The key, I’ve found, is definitely to be as over the top as possible.


  • What did you guys think about the section on holding off on giving advice?  I understand the goal (“Instead of giving advice, continue to accept and reflect on your child’s feelings”) but I still think there are situations where kids, especially very young kids who are still figuring out social interactions, could benefit from some guidance.  Do you guys have any thoughts on how to strike the right balance with this?
  • The authors suggested printing and hanging up “4 Ways to Help Children Deal with Their Feelings”.  Did any of you actually do this?
  • What do you think of the idea of asking your kids to draw their feelings?  Have you tried it? Did the story of the boy with cerebral palsy suck you in like it did me?  When I got to the part where he said “I love you Mommy” I completely teared up.




I’m reluctant to admit it, but this chapter made me realize what a micro-manager I can be.  Yes, young kids need direction.  But in reading it I realized that I simply order mine around too much. We still have our family rules and routines but now I’m trying to be more respectful in asking them to help out instead of telling them to.  Again in this chapter, I appreciate that the information is broken down into easy to remember steps, “What these five skills do… is create a climate of respect in which the spirit of cooperation can begin to grow”.


  • “Real listening is hard work.  You have to concentrate if you’re not just going to give a pat response.”
  • “When children are given information, they can usually figure out for themselves what needs to be done.”  – It also just feels better to say, “There are dirty dishes on the table” instead of “You need to clear the table“.
  • “Children are entitled to hear their parents’ honest feelings.  By describing what we feel, we can be genuine without being hurtful.” – I find verbalizing when I’m getting frustrated “I’m starting to get frustrated that you guys aren’t listening to me“, not only gets the kids’ attention but also calms me down a bit.


  • What do you think of the “Use one word” idea?  I actually do this naturally sometimes but when I do I usually feel bossy and like I’m being short with the kids.
  • What about the idea of writing notes – even to kids too young to read?  Is this something you would get in the habit of doing?  (Confession: when my mom saw that we were covering this book for Virtual Book Club she told me she loved it when she read it 20 years ago… Once I read this chapter I totally got why she used to leave me sticky notes everywhere, which I hated.)
  • “When you want something done immediately, it’s a good idea to speak forcefully rather than to plead” – What do you guys think?  I was a little taken aback by the somewhat casual references to raising your voice in this book.  All of the positive parenting stuff I’ve encountered stresses the importance of keeping a calm voice when dealing with the kids.  Do you think this book is just taking a realistic approach to the fact that we all loose our cool sometimes, or is it more that the book was written before the now popular question arose, “Is yelling the new spanking?”.




This one is a lot harder for me to fully grasp than the first two chapters.  I do buy into the concept:

The problem with punishment was that it didin’t work, that it was a distraction, that instead of the child feeling sorry for what he has done and thinking about how he can make amends, he becomes preoccupied with revenge fantasies.  In other words, by punishing a child we actually deprive him of the very important inner process of facing his own misbehavior.

I REALLY remember doing that as a kid.  (Also, it totally makes me think of the “soap poising” scene in A Christmas Story.) But I think the no punishment concept may be harder to apply to young kids. I just keep coming up with situations in my mind that could require more than just a natural consequence.  Hitting between siblings being #1.


  • For a complex problem, a more complex skill is needed [5 steps to problem solving] – This method for guiding kids in problem solving was my favorite part of this chapter.  Along with teaching kids how to deal with problems, it’s also wonderful for fostering ingenuity and creativity (something I’m passionate about for S and C).
  • “It’s a lot easier to learn from the hard realities of people’s real reactions than from a person who decides to punish you ‘for your own good'” – Although I struggle a bit with the idea of absolutely no punishment, I do believe that logical consequences are usually the better way to go.
  • “When we see something that angers us, it’s more helpful to express that anger than to locate the culprit and punish him” – I find this so helpful for dealing with situations between the kids when you don’t know who’s at fault.
  • “Discipline means education.  Discipline is essentially programmed guidance that helps people to develop internal self-control, self-direction, and efficiency.” – Exactly what I want for my kids.


  • Did some of the alternatives to a time-out seem unrealistic to you?  I’m specifically thinking of the example of the mother and child rehearsing going to the grocery store at home and writing a book together about the trip.  It just seemed so time-intensive, especially with multiple young kids for whom these types of issues arise quite often.
  • Again in this chapter some of the parent examples of the correct way to address things still came off as harsh to me.  For example, “I’m furious! The baby was playing happily until you took her rattle away.  I expect you to find some way to end her crying now!”  Overall it didn’t turn me off of the book, but stuck out as a reminder of how long ago it was initially written.

Those are my thoughts on the first 3 chapters – now it’s your turn!  I can’t wait to see what you all thought.  Feel free to weigh in on any of the points above or to raise your own – there was lots of good stuff I had to leave out purely in the interest of brevity.  Also, I’m curious – did you guys do as the authors suggested and read a chapter and then try out the concepts for a week or so before moving on?  Or did you just read the book as you would any other?

Previous Virtual Book Club Selection: Buddhism for Parents of Young Children – Becoming a Mindful Parent

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah March 21, 2013 at 7:32 am

My oldest child is turning 3 next week – do you think this is a book I would benefit from yet, or should I hold off for a while?


gina March 21, 2013 at 10:43 am

It wouldnt hurt to read it now – if you can get some of the things in your mind now when the time arise down the road you will know how to deal with it. I wish I had read this book when my son was 3!


mpmk March 22, 2013 at 6:42 pm

Hi Sarah,

I think the ideas in this book are very applicable to young children. I’m using them on both my 4 year old and my 2 year old.


gina March 21, 2013 at 10:41 am

I loved this book and read it cover to cover pretty much – it was so easy to read. I loved the picture examples and how she offered real life examples of situations. I must say my husband told me the other day “I like the new strategies you are using with Sam” =)
Holding off giving advice – this was so hard for me! I always give advice, I mean he is 4! So one day he came home and told me that “A wasn’t his friend anymore” I said “Oh no” and then he was quiet. So I asked “what happened” and he told me they were playing and he pushed A” I would have normally said “Oh well maybe you should tell him you are sorry and he will play with you again” Instead, I kinda followed her advice by guiding him. I said “Well what do you think you could do different next time?” and he said “Not push him” I told him I thought that was a great idea.
Drawing feelings – this came up by accident – I had to take my son to the doctor and he noticed the faces on the wall of pain – 1 being no pain and 10 being a lot of pain. So when he got upset the next time I said “Oh what number are you on the scale of 1 to 10? A little or a lot? He told me he was a 100! I acknowledge his feelings and how sometimes I get angry as 100 too and that what helps me is doing something fun – so we did a craft and all was well. (so we didn’t technically “draw” but the 0-10 things worked)
Use One word idea – I like this idea because I tend to talk in really long sentences…Please take your feet off the table, people eat there and its gross, we don’t do that blah blah blah…. So again I kinda followed her advice and used less words “Feet off the table” and it worked! Also instead of saying “PUT your towel away” I say “Towels belong in the bathroom”. I really like this new way of talking!
Writing notes: My son can’t read so I don’t do this but I have been doing this with my husband. He thinks it’s hilarious – I have a problem with using the wrong tone of voice so I find a note is actually nicer =) And my hubby writes “done” on the note and gives it back =)
“When you want something done immediately, it’s a good idea to speak forcefully rather than to plead” – I am a yeller. I hate it but I am working on it. How I interpreted this was to be firm in your voice, not yell and don’t beg.
Beg: Can you please get off the computer. It’s bedtime. I have asked you five times. Please, let’s go
Firm: Its bedtime. Turn off the computer and head upstairs. If you need help turning off the computer I will do that.
Time-out/ using a harsh voice — Like I mentioned before I would usually yell and send him to time-out but now I have been doing this. “I am so angry that you took that away from your sister. We share in this family” And guess what! My son gave his sister back her toy!
Also at bedtime we have been talking about feelings a lot. How sometimes I get angry or upset when I don’t get my way just like my son does. It’s ok to have feelings but it’s always better to talk about them and figure out how to make things better than to be angry and upset.
Problem solving – I have tried making a list of things to help my son at daycare drop off – he always clings to me so I said “let’s make a list of things that would make drop off better” He liked the idea but then came up with “candy” and “stay home” as his top 2….. this didn’t work but I might try it again.
I think will all books you take what you can and leave the rest!
Chapter 4 has been great too – will talk about that next time!


Naomi March 30, 2013 at 8:33 pm

I must say that I found your discussion here BEFORE reading the book. I am compelled by all the great things you are saying about it so I’ve requested it from my library.

I, too, “was a wonderful parent before I had children.” Now I’m happy but very very tired. I have a 4 year old daughter who is spunky and a recovering barnacle… until recently she was attached to me most of the time. Finally she is playing more on her own and blossoming in preschool.

Not fixing her problems is huge for me, so what you write about chapter 1 interests me, especially the part about Gottman’s theories on raising emotionally intelligent kids. We talk often about using words to describe, etc. I don’t know how to strike a proper balance between giving advice and just reflecting back. I DO ask questions like, “What can you think of that might help right now?” or “What would be another way to handle this…?” thus prompting her to do some thinking of her own. I am a recovering type-A perfectionist so this is progress for me. I really think that she sees that I’m trusting her to do something herself.

On Chapter 2 and engaging cooperation, I find your review awesome. I usually try to say “I expect…” or start with the out-of-place object in a sentence, like “Shoes belong in your closet” instead of “Please put your shoes in the closet.” Or even, “Hmm. These shoes have a home but I’ve forgotten where it is.” Then let her make a game out of it.

I LOVE the “I am feeling angry/frustrated…” She jumps right to correcting whatever the issue is. That shows that it is true that honesty is best even when dealing with little bitty ones. I rarely raise my voice. When I want to get my daughter’s attention, I have to ask her to stop what she’s doing and really make eye contact. If that doesn’t work, I have to remind her that there are consequences to not obeying (like maybe no tv shows tomorrow, etc. — which really only bites me in the butt because then what do I do with her???)

Ch. 3 Punishment Alternatives
I totally agree that punishment goes against the point of discipline. I explain what I would like to see or what went wrong and ask for her input. As long as she understands correct behavior and can restrain herself for the most part from wrong behavior, I’m satisfied. We don’t do time out, etc. If we need to separate from a situation, we both go and talk about it.

I hope to have the book so I can participate more in the next discussion with Chapter 4 and onward.


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