How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk

For the Luminis internal magazine, Conversing Worlds, I wrote a review of Adele Faber's How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk in June 2015.


As a newly minted dad, I have an uncommon interest in all books on kids. I liked both Kluun's Help, ik heb mijn vrouw zwanger gemaakt and Borgenicht's The Baby Owner's Manual in this regard, but I read How to talk... without any kids being in the picture. 
I was first put on track by Jeff Attwood, who blogged How to Talk to Human Beings in June of 2012. There, he heralds the book as a manual for communicating with all kinds of humans, not just children. And he's so right.

The book is all about communication: sending and receiving.  That’s why it's a shame that the Dutch translation (How2Talk2Kids, effectief communiceren met kinderen) dropped the listening part. It has six central themes, ranging from helping children deal with their own feelings, to encouraging autonomy and getting children out of their predetermined roles. In the end, all themes have a common thread: "it's more important to be understood than to be helped."
Each chapter contains techniques that are set up like a design pattern: examples of applicability, theory, counterexamples in the shape of comic strips, practical exercises, and pitfalls. You can pick each pattern and practice it for a while, as they are independent. 
Techniques include empathic listening, encouraging elaboration without guiding, and labeling. If you have ever heard yourself say nothing at all and just nod, or say "oh, really, tell me about that," or "that must be really frustrating," you have practiced these techniques. Some techniques are geared toward children and their developing skills: for instance, one involves writing simple handwritten notes, which works well for children that just learned to read--or even for those who can't read yet, but are still more susceptible to a note than to spoken word.

These simple techniques can help you resolve tension in conversations. This tension can be between people, or just within your communication partner. For example, consider trying to ask for a bargain in a shop ("I understand you don't make the rules, but can you tell me about what you can do?" - empathic listening), bumping into a rowdy stranger at a bar ("Hey, I'm sorry, I feel like such an idiot now" - labeling feelings, even your own) and even with my newborn son ("I understand your belly hurts, and I wish I could make it all go away" - granting wishes in fantasy). The latter doesn't understand the words yet, but he understands the tone of voice.

You may have witnessed me using some of these techniques with customers and colleagues. ("Tell me about that. Uhuh. I understand why you're stuck with this design: it has more layers than you're comfortable with, and that makes you feel like you're just not good enough to pull this off. How about I help you pull those layers apart?”) Note that this isn't cheating or manipulating: or merely a technique to clear the air, and get back to the subject matter. Feelings can get in the way, and unacknowledged feelings will block communication.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book to anyone who has any interaction with other human beings in the course of their private life or career. Pick one or two techniques at a time, and just practice them whenever you feel the least tension arising in conversation. Hey, you might even impress your significant other with your kid management skills.