how to talk so little kids will listen; a review

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, by Joanna Faber and Julie King 

My friend Jenn H. is a great mom of two, and suggested How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen (along with Siblings Without Rivalry) when I asked her for parenting book recommendations. I had found that my patience with my son was often waning, so I wanted some advice. (Also, I am a far-from-perfect parent!) I listened to this book as an audiobook (I often enjoy nonfiction as audiobooks) and found myself constantly pausing it and asking Siri to make a note!

That being said, I clearly got a lot out of How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber & Julie King and I strongly recommend the read! I made a list of notes that serve as good reminders, helpful suggestions and powerful strategies in how to parent and speak to your children in the most effective way. (I also found that some of these tips really could work on adults and dealing with conflict in our everyday lives!) There, of course, were things I rolled my eyes at, and elements that probably won’t work for my family specifically, but I am always willing to make adjustments and evolve as a parent. Check out my “Coles Notes” below and let me know if any of these tips resonate with you!

General Intro Notes:

  • Acknowledge and Accept negative feelings children have (This is a recurring theme throughout the book)
  • Reaction steps to negative feelings or actions:
    • Grit your teeth and don’t say your initial reaction; and don’t immediately contradict
    • Think about the emotion he/she is feeling
    • Name the emotion and put it in a sentence. I.E.) When your child says: “I hate pancakes. Why do we always have pancakes?” Try to answer with: “It sounds like you are disappointed about pancakes for breakfast. It sounds like you want something different. Why don’t we try to make something different together- tomorrow?” Or, if the child says: “I hate puzzles, this one is impossible.” Answer with: “These puzzles can be so frustrating! There are so many little pieces. Here is a corner piece that may help.” (I put my own little spin on the pancake one, but you get the idea. It is important to acknowledge their feelings and suggest an alternative action)
  • Without having their feelings acknowledged first, kids will not acknowledge a solution
  • Hot tip: Use the language “even though” when “the problem is” doesn’t work
  • When in a store and the child wants something, have them write a wish list. This will most likely avoid a tantrum and not make them spoiled (limited action). (Ian and I actually do this and it works! 🤗 Xavi already has a hefty birthday wish list for his birthday that is ten months away! Haha). 

Tools for Engaging Cooperation:

  • Be playful
    1. IE) Instead of saying “Put your pjs on, or no book before bed,” say “Do you think you can put your pjs on with your eyes closed?” This also teaches the life lesson that you can make mundane chores fun (dancing and listening to music while doing chores). I actually suggest Xavi gets his PJs on with his eyes closed, or count to see how quickly he can put them on regularly now since reading this book. I am happy to report it works majority of the time- and of course, sometimes he is impossible to rally-and he does it super quickly!)
  • Give a choice
    1. IE) instead of saying “Put your pjs on now,” say “Would you like to put your pjs on inside out or the regular way?” We learned how valuable giving a choice is to a preschooler when Xavier was in the Toddler room at daycare, from one of his daycare teachers. It’s so fascinating that it is a strategic method even for a four-year-old, years later!
    2. Hot tip: ^^^ Don’t turn a choice into a threat. Make both choices positive.
  • Put your child in charge of their own behavior. As adults, we also probably react poorly to being told what to do. This doesn’t mean there are no boundaries. As a parent you can define the job that needs to be done. Delegate.
    1. IE) If you find yourself arguing every morning with your kid on whether or not they need a jacket, make a weather chart.
  • Give information
    1. IE) “The law is that all our seat belts need to be buckled before driving.”
  • Say it with a word or gesture. Don’t assume that your child knows how to tell themselves what to do without a reminder. Use a noun not a verb. I
    1. IE) “Apple core.” It will reminder her she left an apple core on the table. (I have been doing this with Xavier whenever he gets home from school and forgets to put his mitts away, or hang his coat up! It works for him!)
  • Describe what’s left to do. But describe progress first! “I see almost all of the cars have been put away. There’s one dump truck left to go.”
  • The parent’s feelings: Kids need to know that adults are frustrated or angry.
  1. Tip: don’t use the word “you.” It’s accusatory and the child gets defensive. IE) “It makes me upset when I see one child hurting another.” Or: “I get frustrated when I see a mess like this.” Give children the words back that you would like them to use. Use words like angry or furious sparingly. (Personally, I need to work on this one!)
  • Write a note.
    1. IE) An appt card for bath time. The 6:15 slot gets bubbles and a snack, the 6:30 slot gets a snack etc.
  • The last tool is to remove the situation if the other tools don’t work. “I can see you are too rambunctious to want to sit down in your car seat, and I am too tired to talk to you about it, so we won’t be able to drive to your friend’s house now.”

Punishment for when tools don’t work:

  • The punishment doesn’t address the underlying problem- have the result directly related to the issue
  • Kids who are punished are most likely to misbehave in the future, studies say. It distracts from the important lessons they need to learn and filled with resentment instead of remorse. Instead we need to provide them with a blueprint of who to address conflict in their own lives as they grow.
  • Children will do as we do, not as we say
  • Practical tools:
  • 1- Express our feelings strongly. Avoid command, threats and character attacks. IE) HEY. I DON’T LIKE TO SEE HITTING
  • 2- Teach them how to make amends! Get them involved in fixing their mistake. Get them to do better in the present so they can do better in the future
  • 3- Help them redirect their energy
  • 4- “Take action to protect, not punish”. “We are heading home” if someone is getting hurt. (I personally struggle with how a child is motivated if there is no consequence or punishment… read on!)
  • 5- How to problem solve. After the storm is has passed invite child to problem solve. Acknowledge their feelings. (Most important!) Then you describe the problem. Don’t spend too much time on this. Then take a pen and paper and work out possible different solutions. IE) Here are some examples of what you can say when problem solving together: If a kid is in front of us on the slide at the park, instead of pushing them, let’s think of things we can do differently.  Then create a list of things the child can do differently, and then work together to cross out what ones you both don’t like. The last step is to try out solutions and you can put the solution list up on the fridge! Then next time you go to the park, talk about the solutions beforehand. It doesn’t work? Time to brainstorm solutions again.
  • Rewards are punishments in disguise. Be wary if rewards. (Well, I need to completely retrain myself at this point).



Praise isn’t always necessary

What kind of responses will inspire instead of encouragement?

Praise Toolbox:

1- Describe what you see. Instead of saying “that’s a beautiful picture” say “I see green lines zooming and red dots connecting everything!” Instead of “good job following directions,” say: “you say your spot in the circle right away!” Or just “you did it!” (Gosh, I have been working hard at this!)

2- Describe their effect on others. Instead of “you are such a good big brother.” You can say “look at how you’re playing with your brother … it makes him smile!”

3- Evaluative praise doesn’t work in the long run, based on research. Don’t tell children they are smart and talented because when they find themselves struggling, their faith in themselves is shaken. Praise effort instead.

Instead of “what a smart boy you are” say “you kept working on that puzzle until you figured it out!” Instead of “good job dressing yourself” say “you kept working at that button until you got it into that little hole!” (This is another thing I have really been working on!)

4- Give three descriptive praises about what the child has accomplished so far before getting into what they need to work on. Descriptive feedback is more genuine.

Sometimes acknowledging feelings can be more impactful than praise.

  1. IE) The child’s picture is supposed to be a bike but doesn’t look like one.

In this case, praise and saying it looks like a bike won’t necessarily work either.  It’s time to switch gears and acknowledge feelings. “Urgh, you are not happy with how that bike came out. It’s different than it looks in your head! It’s hard to draw a bike.” This will help them feel you are acknowledging their feelings and will help them think clearly. (I felt that some of these tips can come off as condescending to the kids, so I wanted to make note of that here).

When kids compare themselves to other kids and they are “the slowest” at running for example, it is better to acknowledge feelings first than offer empty praise. “It’s annoying to be stuck with …”

Try: Wishes in fantasy. “Wouldn’t it be great if you could eat magic beans that would make you zip across the playground.”

Give your child a story of himself. “I’m pretty sure you are going to master those monkey bars because you are a determined kid. I remember when you were a baby and you were five months old and…”  or. “It’s weird and cool- everyone is different. Some kids can read by grade one but can’t ride a two-wheeler. We are all good at different things”


Sibling Rivalry


Acknowledge your child’s feelings

  • Turn something they want into “wishes in fantasy”
  • Put the child in charge so he can get see himself different lll
  • Tell older child story about their baby days
  • Take action without insult “we need to separate. I don’t want anyone getting hurt@
  • Problem solving

Plan for special one on one time

Shopping with children- get them involved


Lying is an important part of cognitive development

When a parent gets to angry:

Try and remove yourself. Come back and problem solve later with your child. They will learn that when an adult gets angry it is temporary, and that problem solving can be done later in a calm way.

  • Tell them what they can do, instead of what they can’t
  • Tell when how it makes you feel instead of saying “you’re being rude”


So, as I mentioned above, some of these things are good reminders for things we already know, others are helpful alternative strategies. Some things I don’t know if I can actually give up (like rewards), and now that COVID-19 has taken over all of our lives, I think there will be many times I stray from this manual out of exhaustion, lost patience and frustration. However, I did learn some great strategies I have been implementing and were pleased to see they have been working!

I hope you benefited from at least one point I made a note on … and good luck with your kids at home during this unprecedented time in history!

Thanks for reading and happy quarantining!

Stay Safe and isolate,


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