How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Simone Davies of Jacaranda Tree Montessori
How to talk with children is a lesson we all seem to need. Even as infants they learn from how and what we say to them. We are thrilled to have Simone Davies back with us to walk us through the How2Talk2Kids method of communicating with our children.
I’m exactly the same. When my children were born (already 12 and 13 years ago!), I wanted to learn a different way to be with them. I didn’t want to force learning into them; I wanted to discover and explore the world together and guide them along the way.
But I found my communication skills lacking. A repertoire of “good girl/good boy” or “what a great job” or “don’t worry, it’s just a scratch” came flowing out of my mouth in the same way we had been raised by our parents.
The words I used just didn’t seem to be consistent with the way I wanted to raise my kids, for them to think for themselves, and work out for themselves what was right and wrong.
Then I heard about the “How to Talk so Kids will Listen and Listen so Kids will Talk” approach (“How2Talk2Kids”).
The communication techniques in this book really complement the Montessori approach. They let you observe your child, empathise with them, really listen, and work out solutions together. Even for the youngest children.
How2Talk2Kids has been updated and revised several times since its first publication in 1980. The authors, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, have written down their experiences working with many parents and the book is full of examples from various family situations so the book can be picked up every few years and you will gain new insights.
How I used the book
I read the book, devoured the comic strips, and photocopied the summaries and stuck them in places I would see them - inside the kitchen cupboard for example.
So many parenting books I read are great at telling you what not to do, “Don’t put your child in time out”, “Don’t threaten your child”, or are vague with suggestions like “Care for them”. In contrast, it is so refreshing to find in How2Talk2Kids, exactly what not to say and do, but here is what you could do and say instead.
At first I began noticing everything I was doing “wrong”. How many times I tried to redirect my child without really listening just to keep them quiet, giving them empty praise, and negotiating arguments between my kids.
Then I started using phrases suggested in the book. At first it felt quite formulaic and not really words I would use, but was encouraged that my children seemed to be responding.
And now, with 2 teenagers in the house and a busy parent-toddler group, I find that it is automatic for me to respond in a gentler, calmer, respectful way.
What age child is this book meant for?
People often ask me for what age child this book is most helpful. To be fair, the examples in the book are often school aged. But I recommend starting straight away. If you could start when your child is a baby, by the time you reach the toddler years, you will have all the tools to handle tantrums and strong willed independent children. And I’m hoping it will hold me in good stead into the teen years too.
The things I use every day from How2Talk2Kids
1. To see the world through the child’s eyes
A child who takes a toy from another child is not trying to be naughty. They just wish they could play with it now. You learn the language to describe how the child feels and this is sometimes even enough to diffuse the situation. “You really wish that toy was available right now! It can be hard to wait huh?”.
I use this every day with my own kids and the children in my classes. I even write things down in a notebook to acknowledge their feelings, even if the child is too young to read. For example, if a child doesn’t want to leave the farm animals in class, I might write down the words “Farm Animals” on a piece of paper whilst reading it aloud and they are usually quite happy to swap the paper for the farm animals.
2. Alternatives to praise
The book gives a good outline why rewards - including hollow praise like “good job” - don’t work. And offers a way to describe what your child has done in a more objective way.
I find it useful now to describe what a child has done, “You carried the glass across the room with two hands.” To a painting, “You used red and blue and made some stripes here”. To a child who has packed their bag ready for school, “Now that is what we call preparation!”
3. Alternatives to punishment
For me the best tip is to get the child to make amends. I’m not a fan of forcing children to say sorry if they have done something to hurt another. But I love helping a child work out a way to make it up to the other child. For a young child, they may go fetch a tissue for some tears. For an older child, my son once decided to make french toast to make it up to his sister when he set her alarm to go off in the middle of the night. He’s not done it since either :).
4. Engaging cooperation with one word
Children become easily deaf to our repeated requests to get ready, come for dinner, etc. And they dislike hearing lectures, sermons, and long explanations. So I love the idea in the book to use one word to get cooperation.
If you want your child to move their shoes from the hallway, you can just say “shoes” and the child is often more cooperative as they work out for themselves what needs to be done. A simple “milk” will remind the child to put the milk in the fridge without the child being nagged.
To help you improve your communication with your children, I have prepared a summary which you can print and hang somewhere to remind you. And if you have not already, I highly recommend buying or borrowing a copy to read - for me it changed the way I communicate with my kids and the children in my classes. Happy reading.
Simone Davies is a qualified 0-3 Montessori teacher through the Association Montessori Internationale (AMI) and mother of two children who attended Montessori preschool and primary school. She is from Australia and lives in the Netherlands where she runs a Montessori playgroup for babies, toddlers and preschoolers in Amsterdam.
Update: Have you read Simone's new Montessori book!? It's getting rave reviews! Check it out on Goodreads! Want to buy it? Use my Amazon affiliate link here: The Montessori Toddler: A Parent's Guide to Raising a Curious and Responsible Human Being. Lastly, visit her website at www.jacarandatreemontessori.nl/blog.