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Alpha Mom Book Club: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

Dec04

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Alpha Mom book club logoI have heard some people refer to the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, as a classic in the parenting genre, and after reading it I wish I had read it sooner than 18 years into my parenting journey. It isn’t that there is anything that is necessarily new to me, that I haven’t already heard. But this book does a good job of laying out scenarios and responses that parents can use while dealing with their children.

“There is a wide gap between knowing something intellectually and applying it on the battlefield under fire.” (p.292)

I think this book does exactly that, it gives parents the tools to use on the battlefield.

Having said that, there is no magic formula for parenting kids (wouldn’t THAT be nice!), but I think that this book has helped me realize some areas where I can improve, especially when it comes to the way that I communicate with my children. I feel like this book gave me ideas to make things better. It is easy to get “stuck” in one way of doing something and not be able to see your way out of it, even when you know it isn’t the best way. How many of us have had the horrified realization of hearing our own parents’ voices coming out of our mouths?

Example: one of the things that makes me the most crazy is that my kids, who are teenagers and perfectly capable human beings, will make a mess in the kitchen and not clean it up. Just leave everything out, crumbs everywhere, dirty dishes in the sink, etc.

My ineffectual methods of dealing with it have been:

1) To play the martyr card, “Oh, I guess the slave will just clean up after you! What else does she have to do but cook, do laundry, and clean up after you?” Followed by angrily stomping around the kitchen cleaning up their messes.

2) To be a name caller, “How can you guys be so inconsiderate to make a mess and leave it? Have you all been struck blind? Are you all too lazy to clean up after yourselves?”

3) To ask too nicely, “Hey guys? Can you please do me a favor and clean up the kitchen?” This one usually gets the non-committal, “sure” as an answer and then nothing is done and I become enraged.

4) Sarcasm, “I am confused as to why there is so much stuff left out all over the kitchen. Did it all walk out of the cabinets by itself?”

For the record, I do not recommend any of the above methods. They don’t work.

I am pretty good at the listening part. I do acknowledge my kids feelings and mirror back their emotions to them. So that was the good news.

The bad news? Good God in heaven I am an annoying nag. Who nags, yells, and wears the martyr banner wrapped around me like a comfortable scarf.

how to talk so kids will listen and Listen so kids will talkI decided after reading this book that the one area I wanted to begin changing was the nagging at the children to clean up after themselves. Mostly the kitchen, but also the shoes and socks that get left all over the house.

In Chapter 2 of the book, I read this passage, “Part of the problem lies in the conflict of needs. The adult need for some semblance of cleanliness, order, courtesy, and routine. The children couldn’t care less.” Yes, that summed my experience up exactly. A big part of me believes that children truly do NOT see the messes that they leave behind in their wake.

“We don’t need to stay calm. We can express ourselves with all the heat we’re feeling, as long as we remember to describe our own feelings and give information, instead of attacking our children.” I have been trying to remember this.

When I came home to a kitchen that looked as if it had been ransacked I said, ” I feel very frustrated when I come home and the kitchen is messy. The food that is left out will spoil. The dirty dishes are on the counters. I am angry right now. I think if you all go into the kitchen and clean it up together it will take less than five minutes. Then we can bring in the groceries from the car and plan dinner.”

It almost seemed too simple. But it worked and has continued in different variations and under different circumstances to work.

The authors also say that as parents we are quick to criticize and slow to praise. That is true. Sometimes it is difficult to get out of the mindset that you don’t need to thank your kids for doing things that they should be doing. But why not thank them?

When I came home a few days later and the kitchen was almost perfectly clean, instead of focusing on the fact that there were crumbs left on the island I decided to look at the positive. “I am so happy. I can tell that all of you really made an effort to clean up after yourselves today. You should all be proud of yourselves for remembering that it was important to me.”

I haven’t come home to a ransacked looking kitchen in a few weeks now. It is amazing to me that a simple shift in my reaction and my choice of words could make that big of a difference.

Here are some other random thoughts I had and jotted down while reading the book.

On Being Disrespectful:

One of my pet peeves is people who are consistently disrespectful to other people. It especially irritates me when children act that way toward their parents. “Where do kids learn how to talk to their parents? At least partly from how their parents talk to them.” That quote from the book certainly speaks to me.

On Punishment:

“By not blaming or punishing, we free the children to focus on taking responsibility, rather than on taking revenge.” This resonated with me. I remember being punished all the time as a kid, for everything. It made me fearful of my parents and angry at them. I felt like I couldn’t admit anything I had ever done wrong because I didn’t want to be punished.

On Dismissing Children’s Feelings:

This book touched on one of my pet peeves, when parents dismiss their child by saying, “Oh he is just looking for attention.” Well, if he is looking for it maybe you should give it to him before it escalates into something that will demand your attention in a not so great way! The book spells this out too. If your child wants attention, give it to them. If they are upset or angry, acknowledge their feelings.

The last pages of the book, written by one of the author’s grown children who has since raised children of her own using the same principles outlined in this book, says “Acknowledging feelings is not the prologue; it’s the main event…It is an ongoing challenge to live life without constantly contradicting the experience of those around us.” I think that about sums up the entire philosophy and why it works.

So now I have been dying to know what everyone thinks about the book. Have you implemented any of the ideas? How have they worked for you? My children are are beyond the unreasonable toddler age (most have moved into the unreasonable teenage years, heh) but I am curious how it has worked for you? I tend to think I was much more patient parent when my children were small and probably used the principles that are in the book more readily. I think maybe I was more willing to accept that toddlers and preschoolers weren’t deliberately doing things to make me mad. But teenagers push a whole different set of buttons.

If you have any questions yourself, please ask them below and we can discuss with one another using the “Reply” button on that comment.

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Let’s meet back here on Friday, January 4th and talk about NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children! That’s winner of last book poll.

Here are the discussions for our other picks: Far From The Tree, NurtureShock, and Five Love Languages of Children.

About the author

Chris Jordan

http://notesfromthetrenches.com
Chris Jordan began blogging at Notes From the Trenches in 2004 where she writes about her life raising her children in Austin, Texas.

Oh, she has seven of them. Yes, children.

Yes, they are all hers.

No she's not Catholic or Mormon. Though she wouldn’t mind having a sister-wife because holy hell the laundry never stops.

Yes, she finally figured out what causes it. That's why her youngest is almost 6.

Yes, she has a television.

She enjoys referring to herself in the third person.

If you would like to submit a question for Chris to answer publicly, please do so to adviceforparentsoftweens[at]gmail[dot]com.


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8 Responses to “Alpha Mom Book Club: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk”

  1. laura Dec 05 at 8:52 am Reply Reply

    I love this book! I did a five part review of it on my blog if anyone is interested in a cliff’s notes version of the book. I totally feel like it helped my interactions with adults as well as my kids. And I have to say, if you liked this book, but want something more for older kids I think you’ll also love “If I have to tell you one more time” — both WONDERFUL!  And IMO applicable to both age groups, but probably most helpful for different stages (and if you have pre-verbal toddlers, The Verbal Behavior Approach is great too)
     http://www.dirtydiaperchic.com/2012/07/how-to-talk-so-kids-will-listen-listen.html

  2. Isabel Kallman
    Isabel Dec 06 at 8:55 am Reply Reply

    Okay, book club team. I LOVE this book.

    My personal biggest takeaway from this book is that I TALK TOO MUCH.

    Not only when communicating with my son (9.5 years old) but also when listening. I need to shut up. I need to use less words.

    I have been putting the techniques suggested into practice and they work. The best part? The spillover. My son has been more compliant in general. Hooray!

  3. Billie Dec 06 at 11:01 am Reply Reply

    This book has been sitting on my night stand for about 6 months. I am thinking that I need to crack it open again. I have found that for a short while after I read it that I start to change certain behaviors where I lack specific skills. Lately, I have been falling back into some of my bad habits (like Isabel said, I TALK TOO MUCH!).

    I agree that it does simplify things a ton. One of my favorite things I realized was to take advantage of the bedtime ritual of me telling my son to go to bed and then him coming back out because he just has to tell me something. The old me would yell and send him back to bed. After reading this book, I started taking advantage and letting my son talk. I found that he was telling me all kinds of things that were on his mind that he would normally not spend the time during the day to tell me.

  4. Sam Dec 14 at 4:03 pm Reply Reply

    I just finished the book and loved it too. I too felt like I did a pretty good job listening but getting stuff done…wow. I nag a lot. Unfortunately I feel like I’m going to need to re-read a few of the chapters because each skill really does need to be built up to become habit. And right now nagging just isn’t cutting it.

  5. L.R.Knost Apr 02 at 7:45 pm Reply Reply

    As a book nerd, I have a deep and abiding love of book clubs. As a parenting author, I have a vested interest in feedback from parents who read parenting books. As the director of a parenting resources repository, I am always in search of online resources for parents. And as all three…I absolutely LOVE this book club idea!!! I will be sharing links to your discussions here, for sure. Thank you so much for putting this together!

  6. Amy Nov 07 at 2:15 pm Reply Reply

    I am a school psychologist and have been running a parenting book club using “How to Talk…” The conversations have been amazing and I have found the experience rewarding as both a professional and parent. I, too, find that I need to re-read to help me internalize the many great ideas and strategies. I have started using some of them at home, and have seen genuine improvement in some of my interactions with my children. As all of us probably feel, I wish that these strategies were more automatic as I still lose my patience and struggle at times… all part of being human.

    I did have one “question” for which I would love to hear others’ thoughts… my daughter started kindergarten this year and her behavior at home (mostly her interactions with her sister) have changed (not for the better) dramatically. I honestly believe that it has a lot to do with being mentally zapped at the end of the day, but she is just mean in the way she talks to her sister. It burns me up because I love them both dearly and can’t stand seeing and hearing one be so unkind to the other. I appreciate any thoughts anyone wants to share!

    • Isabel Kallman
      Isabel Kallman Nov 07 at 5:58 pm Reply Reply

      Thank you for sharing Amy.

      With regard to your daughter. I would focus on praising her when you hear her being nice and kind to her sister. And, if those interactions are even few and far in between, make sure you try to catch her even if she is not being mean. Hopefully she’ll recognize the attention she is getting for her “positive” behavior towards her sister and you will see more of that!

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