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Expert tips on talking so kids will listen

Adele Faber of Roslyn Heights during an interview

Adele Faber of Roslyn Heights during an interview about her iconic book, "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and How To Listen So Kids Will Talk." The thirty year old book, considered to be a parenting bible is being re-released in hard and soft cover. (April 3, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday/Audrey C. Tiernan

Ask parents what book has been their "bible," and chances are they'll say "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk." Recently, one of the authors -- Adele Faber of Roslyn Heights -- spoke at Book Revue in Huntington.

"How to Talk" has sold more than 3 million copies in 30 countries since its initial publication in 1980. Despite the evolution of family life -- two working parents, single-parent and stepfamilies, the distractions of the Internet -- the skills taught in the book still can be applied, Faber says.

The newest edition of the book includes an afterward from Faber's daughter, Joanna, called "The Next Generation." It also is available in e-book format.

"Everywhere you go, kids are having tantrums, kids won't eat their food, kids are dawdling, kids don't want to do their homework," Faber says. Parents' instincts are to order kids, threaten them, punish them, yell. Faber rejects those options and offers other skills.

Faber, now 84 and a grandmother of seven, chatted with Newsday at her home, sitting at her kitchen table with her books in Chinese, Hungarian and Czech in front of her. Here are five of the principles she discussed:


Ineffective parental responses to children's feelings include, "I'm hot." "It's not hot, it's cold. Keep your sweater on." "I'm tired." "You couldn't be tired, you just napped." "It hurts." "It doesn't hurt, it's just a little scratch."

A better way to respond would be to acknowledge the child. In response to "It hurts," the parent should say, "Sometimes even a tiny little scratch can be painful. Let me see it." That kind of talk is deeply respectful and nurtures relationships, Faber says.


"Aren't choices wonderful?" Faber says. Instead of a parent saying, "If you play with that watergun in the living room once more, I'll ... ," Mom or Dad should say, "Not in the living room. Let's see, where can you play with that? I guess you can play with it in the bathroom or maybe outdoors. You decide."

Suddenly, the child is in charge. Be sure the choices are options that are acceptable to you, so whichever the child picks, you're satisfied.


Don't immediately try to fix your child's problems. When kids ask parents for advice, they've already been thinking about possible solutions, Faber says. "What you want to do is to encourage them to keep on working it through," Faber says. "By treating them as problem-solvers, that's what they become."

Suggest the child make a list of possible ways to address a problem, writing down even the most outlandish or ridiculous ideas. Then cross them off, one by one, to reach an acceptable conclusion, Faber says. "When it does get to the point where you're itching to give advice, and they've really explored it as much as they can ... you can say, 'Here's what I think. I don't know if this will be comfortable for you or if it makes sense to you, but you might want to consider ... ' "


This works especially well with younger kids, Faber says. "You can yell at a kid, you can hit a kid, you can insist, you can threaten, and you will get nowhere. But you use a little bit of humor and the kids are ready to respond." For instance, use a British accent. Or a vampire voice. "Change the mood," Faber says. "Suddenly, they're all imitating you." And cooperating.


"I think there are things you can say in a note what you can't really say easily because kids will tune you out," Faber says. You can give your thoughts to your child to read on his own.

You can even use this with children who can't read yet -- you can recite your note to them. Somehow seeing something in writing makes kids take the words more seriously, Faber says.


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