How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen

How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen

By Joanna Faber and Julie King

Managing our finances is intimately connected to how we manage our lives. We are working with decisions, resources, priorities, emotions, desires and risk management; just like life. And for many of us, managing our children is a huge and important responsibility in our lives. Similar to finances, we receive very little guidance and training in terms of how to raise our children. Another example of an education system that could use some adjustments. In many ways raising children adds a whole new dimension and perspective on life. It comes with a whole range of emotions and decisions. A couple years ago my wife and I picked up the book, How To Talk So Little Kids Will Listen. We recognized that there are best practices and techniques for effectively communicating with little children. Like many parents, we are not perfect, but we are doing the best we can. I believe some of these techniques even apply to the way we communicate as adults. Many of us lack the time to sit down and read a whole book(especially if raising children), therefore we have captured some of the highlights from the book that people can use. These are some of the techniques from the book we are deploying to more effectively communicate with our children:  


1. They are little people like us

The book does a nice job of covering an over arching approach to communicating with a child. We are actually just big children. Think about this, do you like when someone tells you what to do? Most people have an aversion to this because we crave and seek autonomy. Therefore put yourself in your child’s position, are they constantly being yelled at and told what to do? How would you feel? This does not mean there are no boundaries and no rules, but understanding this basic concept I believe goes a long way in better communication and effectiveness with children.

2. Give Choices

Therefore an alternative to being told what to do is being offered choices. Is there a way to offer the child choices as a way to get them on the desired path. For example: “Would you rather brush your teeth first or put on your pajamas?” VS. “Brush your teeth now?” “Do you want blueberries or strawberries?” VS. “You have to eat healthy food!” “Are you feeling tired? Would you like to lay down in bed now or in 5 more minutes?

3. Acknowledge feelings

This is a big one. The bottomline is that denying someone’s feelings in life is a dangerous path. Imagine how you feel when someone says “not to feel” a certain way. Well, you shut off from the person because you do feel that way. We can learn to manage our feelings, but we can’t always control them. a. Resist the urge to immediately contradict a feeling the child is expressing b. Think about the emotion c. Name the emotion and put it in a sentence

4. Give in fantasy what you cannot give in reality

When your child is having a tantrum over not being able to have some candy, it is probably not the right time to give a lecture on tooth decay. Let’s admit it, we would all like to eat yummy stuff with no consequences. Therefore, encourage your child to imagine a world of candy that they could eat all the time. Say the House is made of candy and you can just pull a chunk of chocolate off the side whenever. So in other words, give the child what they want in a fantasy setting. As adults we enjoy fantasy all the time through books or other media.

5. Resist the urge to ask too many questions of a distressed child

Sometimes they do not know exactly why they are upset.

6. Acknowledge feelings with almost silent attention



1. Be Playful

2. Offer a choice

3. Put the child in charge

4. Appreciate progress

5. Describe how you feel

When expressing anger or frustration use the word I, avoid the word you Express strong anger sparingly  


Replacing punishment with more peaceful solutions…

1. Express your feelings

2. Show your child how to make amends

3. Try problem solving

Show respect for the conflict, don’t minimize the issue The author is also not a fan of punishments, rewards or time outs in general. The specific theory is in the book and I encourage you to delve in deeper for more understanding.  


The big one here I have heard over the years is to praise effort. So instead of saying “you are so smart”, instead say, “you really applied yourself to making a great pictures.” “I am so proud you gave your homework your best shot!”

1. Describe what you see

“I see you picked up all the dolls and stuffies, and you even threw the dirty clothes in the hamper. That was a big job.”

2. Describe effort

Do not tell them they are smart or talented, describe and elevate the effort they put into things.

3. Describe progress

Sometimes acknowledging feelings can be more helpful than praise      

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