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Virtual Parenting Book Club - How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk (lots of great insights here).

Virtual Book Club: “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen…” – Part 2

It’s time to wrap up our latest virtual book club selection – are you all caught up?  If not, no worries – it’s never too late to start!  I’ve been a little pre-occupied with the launch of our new eBook, Freezy Peasy: Freezer Cooking Made Easy over the past few weeks (don’t forget: 15% off with code MPMK15 now thru Sunday) so I’ve asked our resident children’s librarian Janssen to take over for a bit.  And I must say – she totally nailed this wrap up.  I loved what she had to say and I can’t wait to hear what you thought too!

P.S. Just in case you’re the over-achieving type and want to read ahead, we’ll be covering Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin (the author of the uber popular “The Happiness Project“). This time around she’s tackling how to make her home a place that calms her and energizes her as well as how to appreciate how much happiness is there already. I think it’s going to be an awesome read!

I love a parenting book that doesn’t just present research, but really gives you concrete ways to improve your parenting. Isn’t that what we all need? The last chapters of “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk” are ones that take some practice and definitely require more thoughtful parenting, especially because they cover scenarios that are so easily dealt with by knee-jerk reactions. This is mindful parenting at its best, and can help us raise children that are independent and self-assured. I’m so inspired by the possibilities.

Let’s jump right into the next three chapters:



It’s always in the back of my mind that the primary goal of child-rearing is to produce an independent, capable adult. And yet, as I read this chapter, I realized how difficult that really is, and how often it takes a tremendous amount of effort on a parent’s part to step away enough to let a child develop some autonomy.

I love how the book really focuses on the fact that children have the same kinds of feelings and reactions as adults do,  and that one way to judge your parenting behavior is to ask yourself how you’d like being treated the way you treat your child. I only need about three seconds of introspection to know how I’d react if someone was following me around all day nagging me about using the bathroom, combing my hair, cleaning up my things, and forcing me to eat things that tasted bad. And yet it’s so easy for me to do those same things to my children.

I also recognized how, while it might seem reasonable to be so controlling with a small child, it’s hard to shake those habits as your child gets older, which leads to one of two outcomes: your child never stops being dependent or they quickly start resenting your attempts to control them. I doubt any of us want either of those things for our children!


  • “When people are placed in dependent positions, they usually do experience massive feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, resentment, frustration and anger” – 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.
  • “Show respect for a child’s struggle’” I definitely default to those “no, you DO like spinach” and “it’s so easy!” responses that they warn against. This section helped me remember how frustrating it is for me as an adult when things that are difficult for me are minimized in importance or things that I worked hard to accomplish are dismissed. Giving some productive feedback without stepping in is definitely more time-consuming in the short-run, but I see enormous benefits from parenting like this.
  • “Alternative to ‘No’” – My dad used to tell us, “I say ‘yes’ as often as I possibly can.” I appreciated that to some extent as a child, but now as a parent, I’m amazed at what a difficult task that is (and I’m unbelievably impressed by how seriously he took that mantra). I feel like, even as a pretty agreeable, laid-back parent, I’m still saying “no” constnatly. I love these ways to ditch the “no.” (Giving information so the child can draw their own conclusion and substituting a yes for a no are my two favorite suggestions).


  • The authors discussed how some parents might feel uncomfortable giving a child two choices, because it’s “a forced choice that isn’t much of a choice at all and becomes just another way to box a child in.” Did anyone else feel this way? It rang true to me and I loved the suggestion to ask children to come up with their own solution that would appease all parties. I’m definitely working to implement this one with my toddler, because it not only encourages autonomy, but also creative thinking.
  • How old do you think children need to be for encouraging them to use outside sources to be age-appropriate? I feel like, for my two year old, this isn’t very realistic yet.
  • How do you keep from taking away hope, but also give your child some sense of reality? Is it possible to help them understand that walking on the moon might not be very likely without crushing their spirit? How do you balance those?



Praise is a big topic in our family – after reading The Power (and Peril) of Praise in the New York Magazine six years ago, my husband identified himself as exactly the kind of child the article talks about, where praise had backfired making him avoid any scenario (if this sounds familiar to you, it might be because that article eventually became the first chapter of NurtureShock). We’ve tried to be really careful about how we praise our children (so much so that my parents like to joke about how we only tell our children they are hard-workers, never that they are smart), and this chapter was a great reminder of many of these principles about how tricky something as simple seeming as praise can be.


  • “Helpful praise actually comes in two parts: 1) The adult describes with appreciation what he or she sees or feels. The child, after hearing the description, is then able to praise himself.” This seems like pretty advanced stuff for a small child, but I can see how much more worthwhile that is than just telling a kid, “that’s a great picture.”
  • “You can take away “good boy” by calling him “bad boy” the next day. But you can’t ever take away from him the time he stuck with his work and persevered even though he was very tired.”  – If some of the early parts of this chapter seem overwhelming, this gave me a concrete reason why it’s worth it – this kind of praise that encourages for much longer and has a lasting effect, rather than a trite or thoughtless, “Excellent!”
  • “Instead of scolding, they  inspired them to do better by reminding them of their past praise-worthy behavior” – Comparing a child to another person can be really damaging, but comparing them to better versions of themselves can help them recognize that they often are acting really well and that they are capable of being the person you want them to be.


  • Do you have a complicated relationship with praise too? I identified with all of the negative reactions that can come with praise – doubt, denial, anxiety and fear of manipulation.
  • Were you surprised by the ways that phrases like “I knew you could do it” and “I’m proud of you” can be interpreted? I’d never thought of those responses as ones that turn the focus from the person you’re praising on to you. I’m definitely going to try to avoid these. in the future.



This chapter really shook me – I want my children to have a firm grasp on who they are, rather than being overly influenced by the labels others put on them. It surprised me how easy it is to drop children into different roles and then have them become self-fulfilling prophecies. I feel certain this is  a chapter I’ll be revisiting several times.


  • When a child persistently behaves in one way over a period of time, it requires great restraint on our part not to reinforce the negative behavior” – This is a great counter-point to the suggestion in the previous chapter to praise past good behavior in times of bad behavior. It’s so easy to grab past actions as proof that your child is this way, instead of helping them see that they are capable of behaving otherwise.
  • “It was important for me not to jump on the bandwagon and push [my child] further into his role. My job was to look for and affirm his best.” – I want my children to feel like they are safe to be their authentic selves at home, while I also help them identify problem behaviors in a safe environment and work to overcome those. No small task. . .
  • “Put the child in a situation where he can see himself differently” –  I absolutely love this suggestion. When things are going the same way over and over again, it can seem like a herculean task to break with routine and give them a new, different chance to look at themselves and the world, but I think it can do a world of good.


  • I love the suggestion of being a storehouse for your child’s special moments. How do you do this? Do you keep notes, take picture, make photo albums?
  • What traits do you see in yourself because of the way your parents treated you or talked about you? For my part, I see myself as smart, organized, and responsible (please share some of yours so I don’t feel like I’m just bragging about myself over here!)
  • Do you feel like you treat your children in particular ways based on their birth order? I’ve always strongly identified myself as an oldest child, and I have conflicted feelings about how I want my own oldest child to feel about her place in the family. I don’t want her to have too much responsibility placed on her, anymore than I want my youngest to have too little. But, of course, you can’t be the exact same parent to every child. How do you deal with this?


I love so many things about this book, but I particularly like the closing paragraph:

Let’s not cast ourselves in roles either – good parent, bad parent, permissive parent, authoritarian parent. 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.

It’s easy to read a book like this and think, “I’m doing everything wrong!” or “It’s too late – I’ve already ruined my child,” but this gives me hope that it’s never too late to improve your parenting and, hopefully, your child’s life in the process.

I read this book straight through, rather than doing one chapter at a time as the authors suggested, and I think my preferred method of using this book would be to read it like a regular book and then return to the beginning and focus on one section at a time, putting the principles into practice in your own home. I’m going to be focusing first on encouraging autonomy in my children. Any thoughts about what you might begin implementing?

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Janssen is a former librarian and avid reader who is always maxing out her library card. She now stays at home with her two-year-old daughter (with another girl on the way) and blogs about books for readers of all ages, her favorite recipes, and parenting adventures at Everyday Reading.