How to Talk So People Will Listen & Listen So People Will Talk

9780060741266_p0_v2_s260x420I was recently inspired by a book called How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk. Although the book is focused around teens, the ideas expressed are much more universal – hence, why I changed the title of this post. This topic can be applied in the context of any relationship.

The book describes what happens when parenting experts go into a community and schools to discuss issues with parents and adolescents. The authors, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish, go into one school to talk with parents weekly and then eventually bring their children in to help them all work more cohesively together. One of the first things the authors acknowledge is that teenage years have become a lot more difficult. The things that teenagers experience now weren’t fathomable when parents were younger. This makes it difficult not just for the teenagers themselves, but for parents too because that means it’s that much more difficult to parent.

During the first session the authors had with the parents, they talked about what worked for them as adolescents, what did they appreciate from their parents. Some things mentioned: “My parents never yelled at  me in front of my friends;” “My mother was always pushing me to improve;” “If anything upsetting happened to me during the day, I could always tell her about it.” Conversely, they mentioned several things that didn’t work: “I got very little support from my mother. I had a lot of problems and needed guidance badly;” “My parents’ needs always came before mine;” “I was so babied and overprotected, I didn’t feel capable of making any decisions without my parents’ approval;” “[My mother] was far too lenient. She didn’t enforce any rules. I came and went as I pleased;” My parents used to lay these guilt trips on me.” As you can see, there are always going to be positives and negatives to any situation. The key is in learning from them.

The book goes through several examples and works with parents to some of the comments teenagers make that upset them. It’s easy for parents to get upset with their kids over any number of things. They see what’s best for them and want them to succeed. It’s natural. However, what the book also mentions is that a parent can’t prevent teenagers from experiencing heartache and mistakes. It’s impossible to avoid everything. It is in those moments that we mess up the most that we can learn the most. And that is true for anyone – not just parents or adolescents.

One of the important things that came up was that parents often want to guide their children and tell them what to do and tell them what is right and wrong. However, as mentioned,

“There will always be time for you to get your message across, but you have a better chance of being heard if you start by letting your kids know they’ve been heard.”

Even then there may be no guarantees, but by doing this, you at least increase the chances of a positive line of communication. And you have to add up these little increases for bigger changes. Again, don’t just think of this as something exclusive to parents, apply this anywhere in your life. Listen before talking. Understand their side. Understand their point of view. See how they came to the decisions that they came to – because the better you understand their side, the better you can see where things may have gone awry.

Another important lesson was that you can’t just come into a teen’s life and tell them what to do and what not to do. This is a transition for them to become adults. You need to allow them the space to figure things out for themselves. If you try to solve problems for them and tell them to not go to this party or to do some chore, they’re not going to get the reason behind it. You have to be willing to state your opinion and the reasons behind it. Then you have to allow them the space to do better. And let’s say they do mess up or don’t do as you told them. Grounding a child for a month is not going to do much if you don’t give them an opportunity for redemption and making better choices. They have to realize that better choices lead to better outcomes.

Some alternatives to punishment:

  • State your feelings
  • Show your expectations
  • Show how to make amends
  • Offer a choice
  • Take action

One parent said it best in response to the authors thoughts on punishment:

“I was afraid when you first talked about alternatives to punishment that you meant some kind of ‘nicey-nice’ approach where the parents give the kid a little scolding and lets her off the hook. But this is strong. You say what you feel and what you expect and give her a way to take responsibility for her behavior. And you’re not being mean or harsh or making the girl feel like a bad person. You’re being tough, but respectful. Respectful to her and respectful to yourself. I’ts not you, the parent, who’s the enemy. You’re on the kid’s side, but you’re holding her to a higher standard. And showing her how to meet it.”

This is the essence of what parents should be trying to do with adolescents as they transition into adulthood. They need to learn about responsibility and figure out a way to do so for themselves. There is a stage between when a parent becomes a manager to when a parent becomes a consultant and adolescence is a period for this transition to take place.

I’ll leave you with a great quote from the book that reflects a big part of parenting.

“It’s how we handle the ‘ordinary, everyday ‘small stuff’ that lays the groundwork for handling the ‘big stuff.'”

With that said, how do you handle the small stuff? Did you take away something from this post? Have you read this book?

For a link to check out more of the book, click here.

Related links:

Rubin Khoddam, PhD Clinical Psychology student at University of Southern California, founder of Psych Connection.

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Categories: Blogs by Rubin, Books, Child & Family, Relationships, Therapy

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4 replies


  1. What’s behind those temper tantrums? | Psych Connection
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  4. How to become a more “Conscious Parent” « Psych Connection

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