How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk Summary

The book in 3 sentences:

  • Empathy and Understanding: Prioritize empathetic listening and validate children’s feelings, fostering an environment where they feel heard and understood, which enhances mutual respect and cooperation.
  • Effective Communication: Utilize clear, respectful, and non-judgmental language to express expectations and address issues, focusing on problem-solving together rather than dictating or dismissing children’s perspectives.
  • Encouraging Autonomy and Growth: Support children’s autonomy and self-reliance by offering choices, involving them in decision-making, and providing specific, constructive praise that focuses on effort and improvement, helping them develop confidence and independence.


In the realm of parenting and child education, few books have made as profound an impact as “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. First published in 1980, this book remains a timeless resource for parents, educators, and anyone who seeks to foster better communication with children. Its enduring popularity attests to its effectiveness and the universal need for its teachings.

Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, both parents themselves, began their journey by participating in a group workshop with child psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott. Inspired by Ginott’s revolutionary ideas, they developed a practical guide that distills complex psychological concepts into accessible, actionable advice. The book is grounded in the belief that understanding and empathy are the keys to effective communication, offering a new perspective on traditional parent-child dynamics.

The essence of Faber and Mazlish’s approach lies in their empathetic and respectful treatment of children’s emotions and thoughts. They challenge the conventional wisdom that adults must always be in control and instead advocate for a partnership model where parents and children learn to solve problems together. This shift not only promotes healthier relationships but also empowers children to become more cooperative, confident, and emotionally intelligent individuals.

As we delve into the core principles and strategies outlined in this groundbreaking book, it’s important to remember that its goal is not to provide a one-size-fits-all solution but to offer tools that can be adapted to meet the unique needs of each family. With that in mind, let’s explore how “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” can transform the way we communicate with the children in our lives.

Core Principles

At the heart of “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” are core principles that serve as the foundation for all the strategies and advice offered by Faber and Mazlish. These principles are not just techniques for managing behavior but are rooted in a deep understanding of child psychology and the dynamics of parent-child relationships. Let’s delve into these principles and uncover why they’re so effective in fostering healthy communication.

Empathy and Understanding from a Child’s Perspective

The first principle emphasizes the importance of empathy—putting oneself in the child’s shoes. Faber and Mazlish illustrate how understanding the world from a child’s perspective can dramatically change the way parents respond to their emotions and actions. This approach encourages parents to listen actively and validate their children’s feelings, whether it’s frustration, sadness, or anger, instead of dismissing or minimizing them. This validation helps children feel heard and understood, fostering a sense of emotional security and trust.

Acknowledging Children’s Feelings

Closely related to empathy is the principle of acknowledging children’s feelings. Instead of rushing to solve the problem or offer immediate solutions, the authors advocate for recognizing and verbalizing the child’s emotions. For example, saying, “It sounds like you’re really upset about losing your toy,” validates the child’s feelings and opens the door for them to explore their emotions further. This acknowledgment not only helps children develop emotional intelligence but also teaches them that their feelings are legitimate and important.

Effective Communication: How to Talk to Kids So They Listen

The crux of effective communication, according to the book, lies in how parents talk to their children. This involves using clear, respectful language that children can understand and respond to positively. The authors recommend avoiding commands, accusations, or questions that put children on the defensive. Instead, they suggest describing the problem from the parent’s perspective or using “I” messages to express feelings and expectations. For instance, instead of saying, “You’re being so noisy,” a parent might say, “I’m finding it hard to concentrate with a lot of noise. Could we find a quieter way to play?”

These core principles are not just techniques; they represent a shift in mindset from controlling to cooperating, from dismissing to understanding, and from dictating to communicating. By applying these principles, parents and caregivers can build a foundation of mutual respect and understanding, paving the way for more meaningful and effective interactions with their children.

Practical Strategies

Building on the core principles of empathy, understanding, and effective communication, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” offers a range of practical strategies for addressing everyday parenting challenges. These strategies are designed to foster cooperation, encourage autonomy, provide meaningful praise, and help children break free from restrictive roles. Let’s explore these strategies in detail, along with examples to illustrate their application in real-life situations.

Engaging Cooperation Without Yelling or Threats

One of the most common challenges parents face is getting children to cooperate without resorting to yelling, threats, or bribes. The authors suggest several techniques for engaging cooperation, such as stating expectations clearly and respectfully, offering choices, and involving children in problem-solving. For example, instead of demanding, “Clean your room now!” a parent might say, “I see a lot of toys on the floor. How do you plan on tidying up so you have space to play?” This approach respects the child’s autonomy while clearly communicating the expectation.

Encouraging Autonomy and Self-Reliance

Fostering autonomy and self-reliance in children is another key focus of the book. Parents are encouraged to allow children to make choices, solve their own problems, and take responsibility for their actions. This might involve letting a child choose their outfit for the day or encouraging them to come up with solutions when they encounter a problem. By supporting autonomy, parents help children develop confidence in their abilities and a sense of ownership over their decisions.

Praise and Its Effects on Self-Esteem

The way parents offer praise can significantly impact a child’s self-esteem and motivation. Faber and Mazlish recommend focusing on descriptive praise that acknowledges specific efforts and achievements, rather than generic or evaluative praise. For instance, saying, “I noticed you spent a lot of time working on your drawing. Can you tell me more about it?” This type of praise encourages children to appreciate their own efforts and develop a growth mindset.

Freeing Children from Playing Roles

Children often take on roles within the family, such as the “troublemaker” or the “responsible one.” The authors provide strategies for helping children break free from these limiting identities. This includes avoiding labels, expressing faith in the child’s ability to change, and highlighting instances when the child acts contrary to the role. For example, if a child typically avoids homework, a parent might say, “I noticed you started your homework on your own today. That shows a lot of responsibility.”

These practical strategies offer parents tools to improve communication, foster positive relationships, and support their children’s development in a respectful and understanding manner. By implementing these approaches, parents can create a family environment where cooperation, autonomy, and emotional growth flourish.

Real-Life Applications

The practical strategies outlined in “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” are valuable tools in a parent’s repertoire, but their real power is revealed through application in everyday situations. This section explores how these strategies can be adapted to common scenarios faced by parents and caregivers, providing actionable advice to improve communication and resolve conflicts.

Handling Emotional Outbursts

Children’s emotional outbursts can challenge even the most patient parents. Using the book’s approach, the first step is to acknowledge the child’s feelings. For instance, if a child is upset over not getting a toy they wanted, a parent might say, “I can see you’re really upset about not being able to have the toy today. It’s hard to not get what we want sometimes.” This validation can help diffuse the situation, making the child feel understood and more open to discussing their feelings.

Encouraging Daily Responsibilities

Getting children to participate in daily responsibilities without nagging or bribery is another common challenge. The strategy of offering choices and involving the child in problem-solving can be particularly effective. For example, a parent could say, “We need to make sure the living room is tidy before guests arrive. Would you prefer to organize the books or vacuum the floor?” This approach not only promotes cooperation but also respects the child’s autonomy.

Fostering Independence in Schoolwork

Many parents struggle with how to support their children’s independence in schoolwork. The book suggests focusing on autonomy and encouraging self-reliance. Rather than directly giving answers or completing tasks for them, parents can ask guiding questions that lead the child to find solutions on their own. For example, “What’s your plan for tackling this project?” or “How do you think you can solve this problem?” This encourages children to take ownership of their learning and develop problem-solving skills.

Dealing with Sibling Rivalry

Sibling rivalry is a common issue in many families. The principles of acknowledging feelings and avoiding labels can be especially helpful. When conflicts arise, a parent might acknowledge each child’s feelings separately, then encourage them to express their needs and feelings to each other in a respectful way. This approach helps children learn to communicate their emotions effectively and work towards resolution together.

Responding to Negative Behavior

Instead of resorting to punishment or criticism in response to negative behavior, the book advocates for understanding the underlying feelings and needs. A parent might say, “I see that you’re very angry right now. Hitting isn’t okay, but we can talk about what’s making you so upset.” This method helps address the root cause of the behavior and teaches children appropriate ways to express their feelings.

These real-life applications of the strategies from “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” demonstrate how parents can navigate everyday parenting challenges with empathy, respect, and effective communication. By adapting these approaches to fit their unique family dynamics, parents can foster a positive and supportive environment where children feel valued, understood, and empowered.

Critique and Contemporary Relevance

While “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish has been celebrated for its insightful strategies on improving communication between parents and children, it’s important to consider the critique and assess its relevance in today’s rapidly changing society.

Critique of the Approach

Critics of the book sometimes argue that its methods can be overly idealistic, suggesting that the calm, empathetic approach to every situation isn’t always feasible in the heat of the moment. Parenting is complex and multifaceted, and the book’s emphasis on always finding the perfect response can inadvertently pressure parents, making them feel inadequate when they can’t adhere to these ideals.

Moreover, some critics point out that the book could benefit from more diverse family structures and cultural backgrounds. The examples and scenarios primarily reflect a certain demographic, potentially limiting its applicability across the broad spectrum of family dynamics present in society today.

Contemporary Relevance

Despite these critiques, the core principles of the book remain profoundly relevant in the contemporary parenting landscape. The shift towards more empathetic and understanding communication aligns well with modern psychological research, which emphasizes the importance of emotional intelligence and resilience in children.

In today’s digital age, where children are increasingly exposed to various media and social pressures, the strategies outlined by Faber and Mazlish for active listening, empathy, and problem-solving are invaluable. These tools can help parents navigate the challenges of digital parenting, such as managing screen time, cyberbullying, and the influence of social media on self-esteem.

Additionally, the book’s principles can be adapted to address the needs of diverse family structures, including single-parent families, blended families, and LGBTQ+ parents. The emphasis on understanding, respect, and communication transcends specific family configurations, offering a universal approach to fostering healthy relationships.

The evolving nature of societal norms and values, including greater awareness of mental health and the importance of inclusivity, further underscores the book’s relevance. By applying its timeless strategies within the context of contemporary challenges, parents can equip their children with the emotional skills needed to thrive in an ever-changing world.


In sum, “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” provides a comprehensive framework for fostering effective communication between parents and children. The book’s emphasis on empathy, understanding, and mutual respect offers a powerful antidote to traditional authoritarian parenting methods. Despite some critiques regarding its idealistic approach and lack of diversity in examples, the book’s core principles are adaptable and relevant to today’s families facing the complexities of modern parenting.

As we conclude this exploration, it’s clear that the strategies Faber and Mazlish present are not just about improving parent-child communication; they’re about building deeper connections, understanding, and love. By integrating these principles into daily interactions, parents can create a nurturing environment that supports their children’s emotional and psychological development, preparing them for the challenges and opportunities of the future.

The journey of parenting is one of continuous learning and adaptation. “How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk” serves as a valuable resource in this journey, offering guidance, insight, and inspiration for generations of parents committed to raising happy, confident, and compassionate children.

In embracing these strategies, we not only enhance our relationships with our children but also contribute to a more empathetic, understanding, and emotionally intelligent world.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk Summary
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk Summary