Parenting classic still offers solid advice 30 years later

March 6, 2012

You know a parenting book has been around a long time when a child of one of the authors is all grown up, a parent herself and writing the afterword to the newest edition.

There’s a reason that “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk,” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, has a permanent spot on family bookshelves next to “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.”

The book, first published in 1980 and now lightly updated for the age of social media, calls on parents to be their best selves. We have all sworn that we will not make the same mistakes that our parents made. That we will never yell at, spank or demean our children in fits of fatigue and frustration. Then the little buggers show up, and we find ourselves trying to maintain some semblance of dignity as we carry them kicking and screaming from the mall.

Kids, in all their irrational, irascible beauty, and parents, in their desperation to do better, are the reason this book exists. If I have a quibble, it’s that Faber and Mazlish make it all seem too easy. Read the book, do the exercises and watch little Lucifer transform himself into an angel. Sure.

Many of the role-playing conversations and comic strips seem pat. For example, when little Johnny misbehaves in the grocery store, he isn’t “punished” but instead “experiences the consequences” of his actions: Next time Mom goes to the grocery store, he has to stay home. The lesson my kids would have learned from this is that misbehaving gets you out of having to go to the grocery store.


“How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish (Scribner)

In the simulated conversations, an understanding mom always perfectly mirrors the child’s feelings, and the child (regardless of age) always comes up with the perfect solution to the problem. Sometimes, it’s hard not to read a section and say to yourself, “Well, if I had that kid, I wouldn’t have any problems at all.”

So no, I don’t think “How to Talk” is a magic bullet that can be implemented verbatim with foolproof results. But it does offer useful nuggets — “Lights, kids!” is really all that a left-on switch merits. Don’t lecture, remind. And whenever possible, do it in two words. What parent in her right mind would turn her back on a useful nugget like that?

Grant is the editor of KidsPost and writes the Momspeak column in Local Living.

HOW TO TALK SO KIDS WILL LISTEN & LISTEN SO KIDS WILL TALK

By Adele Faber
& Elaine Mazlish

Scribner. 345 pp. Paperback, $16

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