Published on April 10th, 2014 | by Kristen Kansiewicz
Raising Emotionally Healthy Kids: “Listen So Kids Will Talk” Book Review
I work with adults every day who are still cleaning up from a messy childhood, so my heart’s desire as a parent is to raise emotionally healthy kids.
In my practice as a counselor, I generally do not see children, so I am writing purely from a parenting perspective as the mother of a six-year-old son and a four-year-old daughter. In general I am not a fan of parenting books. If it were easy enough to be put into seven simple steps, wouldn’t we already be doing a whole lot better?
The one exception I have found is How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. Originally published in 1980, this national bestseller has sold over two million copies. Their format makes it easy to flip through—they use cartoon images for their case examples—but they also provide room to write so that you can really take your time when you are ready to apply the book to your parenting.
Chapter 1, titled “Helping Children Deal With Their Feelings,” lets you know right away that emotionally healthy children is the authors’ goal. The chapter lists specific parent responses that can either shut down a child’s emotions or allow the child to experience and process their feelings.
Throughout the book, there are blank lines allowing you to read a parent statement and write how you would feel if that were said to you. Other exercises allow you to write your own “helpful” and “unhelpful” responses as you apply the principles they have outlined in each chapter.
The authors cover parenting scenarios such as getting your children to cooperate with you, using alternatives to punishment, giving your child praise in ways they can truly receive, and helping your child see herself independently and without labels. The book is simply overflowing with concrete examples, both positive and negative, so that just about any mother will see herself within these pages.
A caution: because you will probably see yourself in this book, you may find your own childhood come flooding back to mind, or you may experience guilt as you see ways in which you have talked to your children in unhelpful or even destructive ways. I have read this book several times, and even in picking it up again for this review, I find myself cringing a little at my memories. Chapter 2, for example, lists 10 different types of negative ways parents try to get their children to obey. Blaming, name-calling, lecturing, using sarcasm—I can think back on my week and know I’ve been guilty more than once.
As with any self-improvement project, you will not move forward if you get caught up in shame or guilt. It is normal to read books that are designed to help you and instead cause you to feel hopeless and bad about yourself. Don’t get stuck there! I could read this book every day of my life and still not be a perfect parent.
Perfection is not the goal. But if you want to move forward as a parent and raise emotionally healthy children, you can start by being an emotionally healthy adult. Accepting your strengths and weaknesses, knowing that you can only do your best, acknowledging your mistakes, and applying the principles in this book will create a home environment in which your children can thrive.
Photo by Simona Balint