This page contains a synthesis of freely available content from authors Joanna Faber and Julie King about their book How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen. The content here come from the following YouTube videos:
- Dr. Robyn Silverman’s How To Talk To Kids About Anything Podcast
- Lorena T. Seidel’s Purposeful and Joyful Parenting
- CKids’ Practical Parenting Tools
- WOCA The Source Radio
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (0:32): [W]hat do you do with a little kid who won’t brush his teeth, who screams in his car seat, pinches the baby, refuses to eat her vegetables, throws books at the library or runs rampant in the restaurant? We’ve all been there. How many of us have seen the parent with the child at the supermarket who is throwing one big tantrum in the cereal aisle because his mom or dad won’t buy the super sugar rainbow loop set he had to, had to have. How many of us have been that parent with that child? No judgment, we’re here to discuss it and get some strategies and scripts to all parents who have ever had some trouble with their young kids. Now many of you who are hungry for parenting and teaching knowledge probably know the blockbuster bestselling book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. It’s a staple on my shelf and well, Adele Faber has a daughter, Joanna Faber, who not only grew up being the recipient of all those strategies Faber and Mazlish described in their mega-bestseller but also wrote a follow-up book with her childhood best friend Julie King that takes a similar structure, uses common challenges of young children and provides tool after tool to help anyone with children ages two to seven. Joanna Faber and Julie King are the authors of How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life With Children Ages 2-7. The book has been ranked number one as a bestseller on Amazon and is being translated into 17 languages worldwide. Joanna and Julie created the soon to be released app, Pocket Parent as well as the app Parenting Hero. Joanna and Julie lead workshops online and in-person, consult privately and give lectures in the US and internationally. You can visit them on howtotalksolittlekidswilllisten.com or on Facebook...
I’d love to know what gets you up in the morning and how did you wind up getting so interested in this particular topic and writing this particular book?
“Julie King” (3:39): Well to answer that question, and this is Julie, to answer that question we have to go back in time to when Joanna and I were babies because we literally met when we were less than a year old and our families had just moved to the suburbs of New York. Our mothers became very good friends. And we went to nursery school together. In fact, we went to nursery school all the way through high school together. But while we were in nursery school, Joanna’s mother took a parenting workshop with Haim Ginott and she and my mom read his books and would talk daily about what they were learning and they would experiment on Joanna and me and our siblings. So we were really guinea pigs for this approach. Fast forward many years, we both had our three children and started leading workshops based on Adele’s book and what I found was in those early years I only worked with parents of little kids. And they all said to me, “I love the book but I need more examples and more stories for the youngest kids.” So, I actually called Adele first and I said, “I have your next book, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen”, and she said, “Oh Julie, you write it. Call your friend Joanna.” So I called Joanna and it took a little convincing. Pressure had to be applied, patience had to be used.
“Joanna Faber” (5:06): I said no…
“Julie King” (5:10): That didn’t work out that way…But eventually we did figure out how to write this book as you know and that’s how it happened.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (5:20): That’s an awesome story. I absolutely love that story. Is there anything that you need to add Joanna over there?
“Joanna Faber” (5:26): Okay, well for me you know what gets me up in the morning, gets me writing, I guess I’ll say the first thing is Julie because she’s very persistent… I’d say, “the book’s already been written.” But there is a larger force which is, even larger than Julie. I’ll just give an example which is a few weeks ago we got a letter from a young man who is a father to a very young child and raising him in the way he himself had been raised, with harsh discipline, very authoritarian. And he’s concerned that his son will grow up to be a strong man. But somehow he got his hands on our book and had opened it and read it and wrote to us that he had tried some of these methods and that he was moved by the connection he was able to make with his son and how good he felt about this. And that just floors me. The generosity of spirit that a stranger from across the world would have to consider something so different. I mean it’s not that much of a leap for myself and Julie, we were raised this way, but that people across the world are reading our book and raising their children differently and that’s going to help create one more kind person in the world. Really our ultimate secret goal is world peace and that’s what gets us up in the morning, besides that Julie is very organized.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (7:08): I love that, world peace and Julie, that’s awesome. One of the reasons why I have been so excited about reading your book and interviewing you is your personalities come out in the book and I love all the stories. I’m definitely one to write in my books, in fact, I can barely read a non-fiction book without a pen in my hand. It’s just almost impossible for me. I was taught to do that as a middle schooler and a high schooler and never dropped it. So the first moment that I put pen to paper when reading your book was when you wrote about how you, Joanna, would think of your mother’s words when trying to think of how to respond to your child in challenging situations. And your mother said, for those who are listening, “If you aren’t sure of what’s right, try it on yourself.” I feel like I repeat this all the time now. So that is if someone responded to you in the way you responded to your child, how would you feel? And it really struck me, particularly because the other day my son was getting over being sick. He no longer had a fever but he still had a cough and we were supposed to go out to dinner with my mother, my brother, and his kids. It was a lot of family and my son told me he wasn’t sure if he should go. Since he was worried he’d cough on somebody or cough each time somebody asks him a question, he wasn’t feeling great. But staying home meant that one of us would have to stay home too and I thought that would be irritating but then I thought about your mom’s words and put myself in my son’s position and it really helps with perspective-taking.
So in your view, how is this cue from your mother useful when deciding how to respond to kids when they have big feelings like sadness or anger and other difficult feelings? Give us some examples of what not to do that many of us do all the time that we really dislike if a friend was doing to us and then put some perspective on that.
“Joanna Faber” (9:07): Yeah, well, imagine that your son had really dug in his heels and you felt strongly that he should go, he was fine and he says, “No, I don’t feel good. I don’t want to go. I don’t want to be with grandma and the cousins are mean anyway.” And you said to him, “Stop being selfish. You can’t just stay home alone. You’re fine, you’re not even sick anymore. You’re not contagious, the doctor said after the first couple of days. What’s wrong with you?” If a parent said to me, like, “What’s wrong with saying that to my kid?” I would use this little technique for figuring out what would that feel like to be spoken to that way. So I often will say to a parent, “Imagine that you wake up in the morning and you’re feeling lousy. Maybe you have a headache coming on or a little bit of a cough. You’ve been sick and you’re still not feeling 100% and you have to go in to work and you work with young children. It’s exhausting.” So you stopped for coffee on the way in and you run into a co-worker and you say, “I really wish that I didn’t… I’m not in the mood to go to work. I feel lousy. I just want to go home.” And your co-worker said to you, “Come on, it’s not that bad. You’ll like it once you get there. You should feel lucky you have a job, you’re not really sick anyway.” How would that make you feel?
(10:37): Not the nicest co-worker to me right now. Like no!
“Joanna Faber” (10:43): Right. You’d be like, is this a friend of mine? Did she say friend or just co-worker? Do I have to talk to her about myself? It’s annoying? What would you want to hear from your co-worker? Your co-worker can’t fix it but you’d want to hear some sort of understanding like it’s awful to go to work all day when you’re feeling sick and you’d say, that would help me more than telling me what to do or telling me how to feel. But it’s our kids who are complaining to us about how they’re feeling. We want to go in push mode and pressure them to do what we want them to do. Like you probably wanted your son to just pull it together and go with the flow here.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (11:28): Just especially because we knew that it would mean that either myself or my husband would have to stay home with him because he’s not old enough to be home by himself. So in the back of your mind, you’re thinking which one of us is going to have to stay home, it would be nice to go out to dinner, I haven’t really seen them much lately. But I’m telling you those words really stuck with me because I was like if I was in that situation I felt really lousy, what would I want someone to do for me? I’d want them to say, “Of course, no, stay home. Relax, like you don’t have to go.”
“Joanna Faber” (12:05): The counterintuitive result is that sometimes when we accept the feeling, it becomes easier for the kid to, we want to say, “suck it up.” The result is that if we say, Oh, you just don’t feel like it even though you’re at the end of your sickness, you still don’t feel up to going out. It’s gonna be a real drag. You’re not in the mood. That’s what gives the person sort of the heart to say like, Oh well, you know, like (you and Dad?) really want to go. You could tell him your feelings too. I’d hate to miss it. I’d hate to have to stay home. What should we do?
I think a lot of times when we’re talking to adults it is more natural to us to accept their feelings because we don’t have to get them to do anything but when the feeling is really negative, sometimes it’s challenging to do it with adults too. Negative feelings are just so negative. We just don’t want to hear them. And I had that experience recently when my friend called me because I was going to give her a ride to the hospital for some tests and she said to me on the phone, “I’m just so worried that it’s going to be the Big C” and the immediate thing that rose to my mind was don’t even think about it and I bit my lip because I know that professionally I tell people to accept feelings even if I actually didn’t want to. And I just bit my lip and was quiet for a few seconds and then I said, “That’s a heavy worry to be carrying around” and my friend said, “Yes it is” and she said she sort of had this explosion like a relief and then she said, “Do you know what people tell me?” I said, “What?” And she said, “They tell me don’t even think about it.” Can you imagine? How can you not think about something like that? And I never admitted to her that’s exactly what I wanted to say.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (14:13): You can send her this podcast.
“Joanna Faber” (14:16): No, she’s not going to know about this podcast. It struck me. It was so hard for me to accept that feeling because ***??*. But it was such a relief to her to have that feeling accepted.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (14:29): I just want to put high beams on that. Just to say, I love that you’re saying when we accept somebody’s feelings, when we reflect it, when we really show that we’re hearing somebody, it is a relief to them. They feel like somebody gets me and they feel like they’re not being judged or told what to do. And I think that highlights something important for our friendships as adults but of course what we’re talking about with kids. That kids can say my parents understand me, my teachers understand me when they are listening to what I’m saying and not trying to turn it into an agenda. This is what you need to do.
“Joanna Faber” (15:16): It could not be said better than that.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (15:18): Thank you. Now I’d love to talk about what we should be doing when our child is having some difficult feelings. So I’m going to give you some following situations which I know you’re just going to do incredibly well because this is what you do all the time and you provide so many tools in your book. It’s so helpful, they’re so clear. Nothing can be more clear than the way that you spell out your tools.
So let’s say, you’re reading a chapter book to your child and you have told her in advance that once the chapter is over, there is no more reading because it’s late. The chapter ends on a cliffhanger, not that this has ever happened in my house and she starts wailing that you have to read more. You don’t want to tell her that she’s a big baby and you already agreed no more book. So now, what do you do?
“Julie King” (16:22): Before we answer that question, I’m actually going to say, I think you do kind of want to say, “Hey, we had an agreement . Don’t act like a big baby. You signed a contract. We talked about this ahead of time.”
Dr. Robyn Silverman (16:40:) I was being a great parent. I already have established this before.
“Julie King” (16:48): Yes, I gave you warning, we talked about it, you agreed to it. You don’t have any right to complain.
Dr. Robyn Silverman (16:56): Yes, right. Not that we would ever have this conversation, but yes, hypothetically speaking.
“Julie King” (17:05): People have been known to say things like this for sure. So that’s how the parent feels and if we think about how the kid feels. They feel like well, I said I would end after the chapter but I didn’t know it was going to be like this. Like you can’t stop in the middle. I can’t let it go. I need to know what happened and we all know what that feeling is like? I mean who hasn’t picked up a mystery book late in the evening and read a little too far and suddenly it’s 1:00 in the morning and we think, oh i should have put it down a couple chapters ago. So we know what that feeling is like and I think that actually, that feeling is also hugely problematic when kids are playing these video games because they’re designed never to come to an endpoint. There’s always, if I stop now I lose my points, I had my strategy. So, I think that is the scenario that we’re really talking about is on the one hand, I did everything I could to warn you in advance and you agreed to it. This isn’t fair and I shouldn’t have to deal with this unhappiness and the kid’s feeling like, “But I need to know what’s going to happen.”
Dr. Robyn Silverman” (18:17): Basically last night for me but okay, yes!
“Joanna Faber” (18:23): Well, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in this. I have a story in the book of this exact scenario and I use it to illustrate bad parenting or, not bad parenting, let’s not be so judgmental. I use it to illustrate my awesome powers to come back strong the next day because what happened with me is that I was reading a book to the three boys and my youngest, Zach, was used to shorter books that ended. You know that means read up a little picture book but he wanted to join the bigger kids and when I got to the end of the chapter, it was actually the end of many chapters and one of my other kids was sleeping and I was losing my voice and I was exhausted and he got so upset. He wasn’t used to having a story not end and he did in fact say, “but it’s a cliffhanger, you can’t stop” and I said, “I can’t read anymore now. We’ll read more tomorrow” and he actually grabbed an empty seltzer bottle that was on the floor, for some reason I don’t know why, and he winged it at my head and he hit me in the head. Which is not what I imagined parenting to be. That your child would be pelting you with empty seltzer bottles.
Dr. Robyn Silverman” (19:45): I guess it’s better than a full one but yes.
“Joanna Faber” (19:48): And I was furious. I said, “What, you’re going to throw things at me?! I’ll never read you a story again!” I didn’t give him a skilled response. I was furious! He was sobbing and I was yelling. Luckily in that moment I wasn’t a single parent, because my husband came in and grabbed him up and carried him sobbing hysterically to bed and whatever repair needed to be done. And the next evening, I felt the evening drawing near with dread. You know, like I have to face this again. And so at the dinner table, I said to the kids, I thought well, i’ll try some problem solving which is one of the skills we talk about in the book and I said to the kids, Boy, I like reading stories to you at night and I know you want to hear what happens next but I’m really worried because the book is too long to finish and the chapters always end with some kind of cliffhanger” and my husband said, Well, kids you just have to promise to go to sleep at the end of the chapter. A promise made at five o’clock is not necessarily the way we feel at eight o’clock and so I said, “I’m not sure about that” and Zack said, “What if it’s a cliffhanger” and then the older kids who are in school said, “What if we make predictions?” And Zack said, “What are predictions?” And the kids explained to him that’s when you guess what’s going to happen next and Zack agreed that it would be a good idea to make predictions. So that night, I read them the story and as I got to the end of the chapter I started feeling a little anxious and I said, okay we’re at the end of the chapter and I kind of looked up nervously and Zack said, bolt upright, “okay it’s time for predictions” and then he said, “I predict they will lock Lassie up even more tightly but she will still escape and get back to the boy. And then he got up and he trotted off to bed and I was, “Wow”, how much nicer than a punishment or you know, that we won’t have any more stories. I can’t even imagine what that scenario could’ve ended up as.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (22:21): Well, we saw what happened the night before. I mean I could give you the same story in my house. Just absolutely similar.
“Joanna Faber” (22:29): We talked it through. This is how I feel, this is how you feel. What could we do? And then these young children, they came up with their solutions and what a wonderful template for what to in life when you have a conflict. Even if you had an outburst and you screamed and cried and yelled, the next day you can sit down together and come up with a solution.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (22:49): You’re hitting on something that I love talking about too. That parenting is the ultimate do-over. We always have that next day to do something differently. To apologize, to try again, to try a different skill and I love that because I am certain that people are listening right now and going, yes, same scenario in my house and I totally messed up and now you can totally go back and try all these different things so I love that. Problem solved.
“Joanna Faber” (23:19): It is the ultimate do-over and what I tell parents is you don’t have to worry that your children will never misbehave again. You know, you’re not feeling emotionally generous enough to do these skills and late at night when you’re exhausted, you may not be able to, but the fact is you could do it the next day…
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (23:45): Alright, let me give you another scenario and then, gosh I feel like I’ve got so much to ask you but okay.
Your child’s big sister got to go to a birthday party. Now you know what’s coming, but little brothers weren’t invited. Little brother’s very unhappy right now, “That’s not fair. I hate so and so.” You don’t want to say “Life’s not fair and you’ll have plenty of birthday parties in the future. You just had one last week.” So what do you do?
“Julie King” (24:18): Well I think that first let’s be honest, that is what we want to say! And it’s not just that we want to say it, it’s that we feel they need to learn this lesson. That life isn’t fair and that, in fact, it’s not true that you never get invited to birthday parties. So you want to argue with them about the facts of it and we want to teach them our values and we think we have to teach them right away so that they’ll stop making these complaints. I actually had a mom in one of my groups who had this scenario. She had two girls but it was essentially the same thing. Both girls got invited to all the birthday parties until the older one was six I think when she got invited to her first just her alone birthday party and the four-year-old thought, wait, every time she’s gotten invited to a birthday party I get to go to. I get to get the ice cream, birthday cake, and play the games so it was not a familiar pattern and she said, “I don’t like this” and the mom tried explaining it to her and actually what happened was the older sister came home with the goodies from the birthday party and she had a couple of balloons and of course the little one was really jealous and the older one said, “You can have a red balloon. I’m going to keep the pink one” and the four-year-old just had a fit. That’s when she just lost it and was screaming that she wanted the pink balloon and she didn’t like red and the mom was saying to her, “but honey she didn’t even have to give you any balloon. She’s actually being very generous. You should be grateful,” and guess whether that four year old said oh god that makes me feel great.
“Joanna Faber” (26:01): (?I’m just going to interject here?) that the problem is when you explain to a kid that life isn’t fair, they don’t respond like, “Oh it’s great you explained that to me. I totally agree with it. Thank you”
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (26:18): Philosophizing with children… We do try to do that. Doesn’t work out very well.
“Julie King” (26:26): So this four-year-old she went running into her room and she was screaming and crying and the mom said she took a few deep breaths and realized, oh yeah that thing about acknowledging feelings. That’s where I’m supposed to start first. I think I skipped that step. So she went up to the bedroom and went in to talk to her four-year-old and she said things like, “You really like pink. You don’t want the red balloon. You want a pink balloon.” You look around the room, she said, “You’ve got a pink bedspread and you’ve got a pink bunny and you’ve got pink curtains. You like pink. You don’t like red” and her daughter started to calm down. And it’s hard to see your sister go to a party and bring back the stuff you wanted and she gets to keep it. And she said her daughter actually calmed down and gave her a hug and went downstairs and played with her daughter and was sort of over. But it was not intuitive to her, it’s not the first thing she said to her.
“Joanna Faber” (27:24): Of course, right because all of us are there. I want to (gild?) that Lily by saying, sometimes words are not enough. There are a lot of other ways to accept feelings. They have a whole bunch of them in our book. But one of them that I particularly like is to accept feelings with art. And I had a parent in my group who had a three-year-old who was infamous for having these prolonged tantrums and meltdowns whenever he was disappointed and in this one case he was supposed to have a friend come over and then the mother of that little friend called up to say they weren’t going to be able to make it and so the kid just started to well up in tears and mom was like, “Oh no, there goes the afternoon.” because she knew it was a tantrum which requires perseverance, you know. And she said, “Oh no you are so disappointed, you are so sad,” and she grabbed up the chalk and went to the chalkboard and drew a stick figure with a big tear coming out of its eyes. You don’t have to be a Rembrandt. Stick figures will do and the kid just sort of you know, his eyes widened and he grabbed a piece of chalk and he started drawing tears too and he said, “Let’s make more, make more” so they covered the board with tears and then he put the entire stick figure inside a big tear. He wrote sad, S-A-D and he wrote boohoo on the board and then he sighed with great contentment and said, “Well, what should we do now?” So there’s a little art therapy. ****??*** the theme of it. That is a really nice thing to try.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (29:07): Thank you for that strategy and I like all of that you’re just talking about. I think that when we can meet our child where they are and maybe just totally change things, and in this case this mom isn’t even talking about problem-solving or listening to feelings in that particular moment. It’s literally going with an image therapy, art therapy. That’s genius and well done to that (mom?), that’s really great. So let’s move on to cooperation which is an area in your book that you cover. You talk about how when we want our kids to cooperate we sometimes resort to things that backfire. Not that I ever do these things, like sarcasm, or warnings, or loads of questions, threats, and the grand lecture, which sometimes happens. So let’s focus on what we can do in the following situation that can help cooperation to happen. Look, we all do these things so I just want everybody to know, listening, like literally, all of us do these things, we’ve all been caught doing these things and so now we’re just looking for some other ways. So we want everyone, let’s say to help keep the doorway clean and free of shoes because that’s certainly an issue in a lot of people’s houses and certainly mine. Let’s say your son or daughter keeps leaving shoes right in the doorway and you’ve already told them about this. It’s not any new information. You don’t want to use sarcasm like, “Oh, I see you remembered to put your shoes away today,” not, or threats, “If you leave those shoes out again and I’m going to throw them away and you can wear your sister’s bunny slippers to school from now on.”
So say a few words in general about getting kids to cooperate and answer what do we do in that type of situation?
“Julie King” (31:18): I’m going to start off by saying honestly what we want to say is, “Oh my god, how many times do I have to tell you why did you leave your shoes in the doorway again?”
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (31:30): So you’ve been here in my house before?
“Julie King” (31:37): But if we use that little try it on yourself technique that I talked about earlier, imagine that you leave something lying around and your spouse said this to you like, “How many times have I told you? You have to clean up after yourself.”
“Joanna Faber” (31:54): Ugh, that sounds terrible. You’d throw a shoe at his head.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (31:58): I really would. Yes, no, that would be bad news.
“Julie King” (32:02): Or you’d like intentionally leave a few items right in the doorway. So we have a lot of different tools for engaging cooperation that don’t cause our kids to feel defiant or vengeful as we just did in that little example.
“Joanna Faber” (32:24): That’s half the battle really is just avoiding creating that kind of hostility because then we’re really working against ourselves even though it’s satisfying to say how many times have I told you what is the matter with you, right?
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (32:38): Satisfying and totally ineffective.
“Joanna Faber” (32:41): So I think for this particular one where you find yourself saying the same thing over and over and over and over again, I would use the skill of writing a note and I actually had a parent in a workshop who had five sons and she was endlessly harping on them to keep their shoes out of the doorway and what she did was she hung a card that said, “Shoe on a string” where it would smack them in the face when they came in the door and the first kid came home and said, “What’s this?” And she said, “Read it,” and he said, “Shoes. What does that mean?” She said, “What do you think it means?” And he said, “Are we going to buy new shoes?” And she said, “No, it’s to remind you to put your shoes in the closet,” and he said, “Oh” and then he put his shoes in the closet. And then the twins came home and they said, “What’s this?” and the older son said, “That’s to remind you to put your shoes in the closet,” and they said, “Oh” and they put their shoes in the closet, and then the other two followed suit and I think somebody said the nice thing about notes is they don’t get louder.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (33:44): Oh, what a good line!
“Joanna Faber” (33:41): There’s also just something about the written word that gets in on a different level. I used this once when my son was a teenager and he had taken into his mind that he has to do pull-ups every night before he goes to bed and the problem was the only place we could put the pull-up bar was in the doorway of the bedroom where my husband and I sleep. For some reason, that was the only doorway that would accommodate it and my son would be at 11 o’clock at night going like (noises of person doing pull-ups?). My husband would complain. He’d say, “You’re waking me up. I need to go to work at 5 o’clock in the morning. I’m gonna fall asleep behind the wheel and die!” Then I would say, “Dan you have to do it earlier.” And for some reason, you know I don’t know what with sports and play practice and music and homework, he always ended up doing it late. No matter how many times I reminded him and even with the death threats. And so one night I just, I got a piece of paper and I got a marker and I wrote “Bar Closes at 10:00. The Management. No exceptions” and I put it on the bar. That night at 9:30 he was doing his pull-ups and I said, “Dan, you’re doing your pull-ups early” and he said, “Well, I have to. The bar closes at 10:00.” I don’t know why the written word worked, where hundreds and hundreds of spoken words didn’t. There’s just something about it.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (35:25): That is so genius. Okay gosh I just want to keep on asking so many questions. Let’s move on to resolving conflict so we have enough time for everything. Watching while little kids get into conflict is tough for everyone, it’s tough, it’s frustrating. Especially when we think our children are being unreasonable or causing a problem with another child like antagonizing somebody. Like sibling rivalry kind of thing. You talk about having parents and teachers express feelings rather than attacking character, showing kids how to make amends, offering choices, among other tools.
So can you say a few words about resolving conflict with kids in general and how you might use the tools you advise, for example, when you see a child hit another child?
“Julie King” (36:25): I mean I’m going to start off by saying that our instinct is often to try to get them to stop and to tell them what to do. So if one kid is hitting the other one and they’re fighting over a truck, you want to go and say, “Stop hitting him. You know that’s against the rules and you have to give him the truck, he’s the guest” and just sort of resolve it without really working with them so the same principles tha we’ve been talking about the importance of acknowledging feelings. We’re going to use that with two kids who are fighting. Now we’ve been talking about when it’s just us and one kid. It gets a little bit more complicated where there’s two kids because they have different feelings but, “Tommy, you were playing with the truck and you felt like you weren’t finished” and “Jimmy, you said it’s your truck and you told him he should give it to you and he didn’t listen so you felt like you had to hit him” and we’re going to acknowledge both of their feelings without taking sides and that’s critical. We often have a sense of who’s right and who’s wrong or we want to get to the bottom of it, but that doesn’t really help. It doesn’t help them calm down in the moment and it doesn’t help them learn how to resolve conflict.
“Joanna Faber” (37:40): I’m going to add a pre-step, if one kid is wailing away on another. We’re not going to start by saying, “Tommy, I know you’re upset that he took your truck.” We’re going to clearly rush in and grab him and say, “I can’t let you hurt him. I can’t let you hit him,” and take care of the wounds, if there are any and take action to protect the kids and then move into, “Boy, you were playing with that truck and it was your truck and you wanted it back and you weren’t finished playing with it.” This is a tough problem. Acknowledge both kids’ feelings and then move into figuring out solutions but we’re not suggesting that you would sit by as violence occurs in front of you. I also wanted to tell this little story to show that sometimes when we’re using these cooperation skills and acknowledging feeling skills with kids, sometimes they’ll even naturally start to use them with each other at a very young age, which is extremely gratifying. I had a situation when my son was three. He was playing outside with his little three-year-old friend. They were playing with little lion and tiger toys and I was getting inside having a precious cup of coffee and a precious moment. I can see out the window but I could see that it was starting to heat up because the little tiger and lion were fighting. Christopher was saying, “You’re hurting my hand, take your hand off,” and then Dan said, “You’re hurting my hand. I’m not going to take my hand off if you don’t take your hand off.” “Well you’re hurting my hand,” and they were pressing down on each others hands with sharp little lion and tiger toys and their faces were turning red and I thought, “Oh jeez now I have to get up, go outside, and deal with this but I didn’t want to so I let those few extra beats pass. So I took my last sip of the precious caffeine and then I heard Dan say, “Christopher, we can have a choice.” Giving choices, one of the skills we talk about and Christopher said, “What?” And Dan said, “We can stop pressing each others hands and play with the lion and tiger or we can play something else? What do you choice?” And Christopher said, “Play something else” and he flung the tiger and they went off to play something else. Wow, this is good stuff.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (40:21): This is really really good stuff.
“Joanna Faber” (40:23): I didn’t even have to get up. They copied a template you know, “What do we do when we’re in conflict? One of the things parents do is they give us a choice. I can make my own choice.” You know it’s a nice thing when you, one of the things that we don’t always think about when we order kids around or put them in the corner or punish them in some way is that we’re not just dealing with this problem in the moment. We’re giving them a template for how to deal with conflict. When we see them doing that with their friends we’re like, “Ooh that’s not working.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (41:00): That’s great. Thank you for that. Now, another area that you cover in the book is about praise and you talk about how empty praise can really backfire as even young children can see through it and some kids can get so reliant on praise as a motivator and we certainly don’t want that.
So in your view, what is the real point of praise? How do people use it wrong and then tell us what we should be doing?
“Joanna Faber” (41:40): That’s a lot of questions. Let’s see. What if I said to you, “You know what Robin, you are the perfect interviewer. You’re the best. You’re the best interviewer I’ve ever seen. Every single question you ask is perfect.” What would your reaction be?
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (42:09): You know it’s funny cause you wind up having that little thing inside your head saying on the one hand you’re like, “That’s so kind and lovely,” and on the other hand you’re like, “I can think of some other people that might be better than me.”
“Julie King” (42:25): The first place you go is where you weren’t so perfect.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (42:29): Maybe I messed up that one question and didn’t you just tell me I put a whole lot of questions right into one.
“Joanna Faber” (42:35): When we give a value praise and tell people, “you’re perfect, you’re the best, you’re wonderful.” It feels good but sometimes it can actually make us focus on, “wait a minute, that last question wasn’t so good,” could cause a little doubt or make us focus on our weaknesses or it might make you feel a little suspicious like why is this woman buttering me up? What does she want from me? Sometimes it can even shut us down. Like ooh if you think I’m so perfect and I asked all these perfect questions, maybe I ought to wrap up this interview up quick before I dispel this perfect impression. And those are all problems with evaluative praise and a woman named Carol Dweck, who was a researcher at Stanford wrote a whole book about this and she described a phenomenon where kids who are told that they’re gifted, talented, and very bright. You do well in the early grades and then at one point they start to fall apart and what she did was she designed a study where they took a group of young kids and gave them a sheet of math problems and to half of the group they told them, “You kids did very well on this test. You’re clearly very good at math. You’re very talented and she gave them that evaluative praise and the other half of the group, they gave them descriptive praise. They said, “Boy, you guys really stuck with these problems. Some of them were tough but you kept at it and you figured out every single one and they described the effort that the kids had put into it. And then they asked both groups, “Do you want to do another math sheet even more challenging,” and you might guess how those kids responded? The first group who had been told that they were bright and talented said, “Oh no, stop, we’re out.” Because what happens if they take the second sheet and they don’t do as well. Now they’re not gifted and talented and smart. Their dirty secret will be revealed that they struggle. And kids who were praised descriptively said, “Yeah sure, give us another one” and in fact they gave both groups another math sheet and the kids who had been praised with evaluative praise did worse. It had shaken their confidence in themselves. So that’s what we offer is dozens and dozens and dozens of examples of how to give descriptive praise that would really be useful to kids as opposed to evaluative praise that often, frankly it’s false and when parents complain about over praising, we’re really talking about evaluative praise.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (45:51): Let’s say if your child helped clear the table.
What would you say, just give me an example of what would be the evaluative praise versus the descriptive praise that you might provide in that situation?
“Joanna Faber” (46:07): So the evaluative praise would be, “You’re such a good girl, you’re mommy’s little helper,” and the descriptive praise would be, “Wow, that table was covered with dirty dishes and spills and papers mixed in and now it’s all clear. Thank you.” Now I can get dinner on the table without having to face that mess. And that feels pretty good.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (46:31): And then Julie,
if your child had a rough time doing a little thing for school like a little math sheet or something from school. It’s like so much struggle, tears, but she finally got through it. What would be the evaluative praise versus the descriptive praise for that?
“Julie King” (46:51): Well the evaluative praise for that would be, “See? That wasn’t so bad. You really are a very smart girl. You just have to have more confidence in yourself. Look, you did it. Right?” Instead of the descriptive praise would be, “Wow, you really stuck with that math sheet to the very end. It was really difficult. You figured the whole thing out.”
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (47:16): Okay, so when we’re looking at this, with the descriptive praise, you’re literally just describing what happens from start to finish so that the child sees that somebody noticed what happened and it’s not a basis of who they are and their character that you’re evaluating at that time. You’re just describing what happened and then they realize oh…
“Joanna Faber” (47:48): It can in fact be much more useful than evaluative praise. I had a student who had terrible fine motor coordination. He was a little third grader and his writing really looked like chicken scratch and I remember one time seeing his paper and I said to him, “Felix, look at these two words here. They have big spaces between them so they’re easy to read” and I put my finger between the words to show that there was a space because a lot of his letters were overlapping. And he smiled and then he went back to writing and I saw him putting his finger between the words and I could have said, “This looks like a chicken with muddy feet walked across the page. What is this? I can’t read it, it’s illegible,” and that would have been just completely discouraging. Or I could’ve said, “Oh you’re doing very well, don’t worry,” which would have been false and not helpful but descriptive praise can really point out what needs to be done in a very positive way so it’s not overpraising and it’s not falsely praising and it’s not discouraging but it’s useful. So I want to come back to the interviewer scenario. So instead of saying you’re the best interviewer ever, I said boy that question made me think of it from a whole new perspective. Thanks for asking that. You would say like, “Oh hey, I made a good question.”
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (49:29): That feels really good.
“Julie King” (49:30): Yeah, and a lot of parents say, let’s be honest, that this kind of praise especially if you’re not used to it takes more effort. It’s a lot easier to say, “Oh that’s a very good job honey, very nice, that’s nice, beautiful,” but to think about how to describe the scribble that our kids bring to us when they’re little, “I see a lot of red up and down lines and look at these orange dots over here, and then it looks like there’s a little burst of yellow here. What gave you that idea?” One of the things that we talk about in our book is that sometimes praise is just not what the kid needs to hear, they just want to have a conversation, they just want you to notice, or they want you to ask them how they got the idea in the first place.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (50:16): Yes, very good. Okay, I think even my son is like, “I don’t need compliments right now.” So, you devote a large portion of your book, like a large portion of your book to children with autism, ADHD, other neurodiverse diagnoses and I so appreciate that we’ve interviewed several people on neurodiversity and I think it’s something we really need to be talking about, it’s so needed, and I just want to thank you for doing that. You do an exercise to help you describe what kids are going through when they’re on the spectrum such that, it’s like a stranger coming into the house, making noise, asking questions. The point is you need to shift your tools and expectations when you’re working with or you’re raising a child who is neurodiverse.
So can you say a few words on why that’s so important and perhaps give an example of what you might do in a situation like your child is playing alone with blocks and you have trouble finding a way to connect or play with that child. So I’m not sure who’s going to answer that’s my question.
“Julie King” (51:33): I’ll start, this is Julie. I think that we often want to get our kids to do something and when we are trying to engage our kids who are on the autism spectrum or who have sensory processing issues, it really helps to imagine how they’re experiencing a situation rather than just thinking about what we want. So, if you have a kid who’s playing alone with blocks, a lot of us think it’s really important to get outside and get some fresh air honey and we should really get some physical exercise. And all these thoughts go through our head and if we don’t remember that for a child who has sensory issues, all of that feels very overstimulating. Kids who have sensory issues, they process light and sound differently than we do and it can be very overwhelming and we do have an example in our book about how I would imagine what that feels like to be a kid in a world where everything’s too loud and people stand too close and the lights are too bright and I can hear the hum of the fluorescent lights in the classroom and it really bothers me. So those kids, if we remember what that feels like to be overwhelmed, if we ourselves are not, if we don’t have sensory processing issues or we’re not on the spectrum, we might not be able to relate directly to what they’re experiencing but we know what it feels like to feel overwhelmed. We know what it feels like to have been out in the world and we’re just exhausted and we need to come home and just veg, right? And so for a lot of our kids they will retreat to get away from the overstimulation but it doesn’t mean that they don’t want to connect and that’s one of the things we talk about in our book is the importance of finding opportunities to connect with our kids in a way that feels good to them. So instead of saying, “Let’s go outside and get some fresh air,” maybe I would approach that child who’s playing with blocks and maybe first I would just watch and then I would maybe move one or two or ask him if I could play. But be aware that I need to be quieter, I need to have less movement, I certainly need to join him where he is, instead of trying to get him to do what I want to do.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (54:01): Join them in their world rather than trying to get them to join yours.
“Julie King” (54:05): Yes, and it can be very challenging because a lot of these kids have had so many experiences where people are trying to get them to do things that they don’t want to do so they’ll push us away and as a parent that’s very painful. We feel rejected. A lot of parents say to me it’s not worth trying, he’s always going to say no. But I share a story in the book of one mom who took a workshop with me and she had a child who liked to go into his tiny little tent. One of those little pop-up fabric tents and play on his iPad some little bubble game and he could do that for hours. And after the workshop where we talked about the importance of connecting with our kids, she decided that rather than try to draw him out of the tent, she would go over and try to join in with him what he was doing. So she went and crawled next to the tent, because it’s a little tent, and kind of knocked on the fabric which you can’t really knock on fabric. He probably heard it, her little scratch and said, “Can I watch?” And he didn’t say anything, he kept playing and then she asked him, “Can you show me what you’re doing?” And he said, “It’s a bubble game,” and she asked, “Can I play with you?” And he started to show her how to play and she stuck her head in and they had this really sweet little moment where she played the bubble game with him in his little tent and it was very different from their usual interaction where she was trying to get him to do she thought he should do.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (55:34): What a beautiful interaction and I’m sure that she really appreciated that that time, it’s memorable and that switchover to feeling like you’re connected with your child. That’s amazing.
“Joanna Faber” (55:51): We really hope that all parents read that chapter because that’s a tool for all parents. Whether kids are wired differently or not, we tend to get just sucked into this vortex of all the things we have to get our kids to do and we’re always approaching them saying, “You have to get dressed”, we have to get them fed, we have to get them out the door, we have to get them undressed, we have to get them to them to brush their teeth, (we have to get them to bed?). And to take your time with all kids where we just stop and do something, even if it’s parallel play. Building a little block tower three feet away from where your child’s building a little block tower. Do something with them, something that they want to do. Something where they’re taking the lead. It gives us that moment to reconnect because why would a kid want to connect with you when you’re always approaching him just to try to get him to do something.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (56:42): Beautifully said and getting them to stop doing what they’re doing so that they could start doing what you say that they’re supposed to be doing. That doesn’t sound so much fun when you think about it. So because of timing and I just talked to you all day, I think we need to come back and have you on just to talk about how to use some of these tools with kids who are on the spectrums that’s an outstanding help for a lot of people. Before we get to our top tip, I would love to have a little rapid fire instead of say this, say that because you talk so much about positive phraseology.
So I’m going to give you just common things that are said in so many people’s houses and then give us the thing to say instead.
Don’t jump on the couch.
“Julie King” (57:37): You can jump from the step to the beanbag chair.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (57:43): Don’t yell in the house.
“Joanna Faber” (57:45): Let’s use our whisper voices.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (57:48): Don’t run in the restaurant
“Joanna Faber” (57:51): Let’s go out to the sidewalk and run up and down
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (57:55): Don’t wiggle while I’m trying to brush your hair
“Julie King” (57:58): You can put these beads on this string and make a bracelet while I brush your hair or can you freeze like a mouse hiding from a cat?
“Joanna Faber” (58:11): I need to do 10 brush strokes. Can you help me count to ten?
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (58:17): So much better. See you need to move in. Those are all really helpful and I love that these are just things you just need to take like a beat and say this in a way that would be Joanna and Julie approved.
“Joanna Faber” (58:35): We have to name the common theme there. The common theme there with the name of the tool was, “Tell the kid what to do, instead of what not to do. It’s always easier to redirect the train than to stop the train.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (58:50): So well said. Oh, I like that one. We’re going to have to stick that one on a meme.
Okay, give me your top tip, what do you want parents and teachers to take away from this interview from listening to what you’re saying about how to talk so little kids will listen.
“Joanna Faber” (59:13): My top tip is to be as generous with yourself as you are with your children. Give yourself a million do-overs and then one more because if you feel like you’ve blown it you’re always going to get another chance. My mother’s mentor Dr. Ginott he used to say, “You don’t have to be orthodox, you can be reform.” We aim for 70%, some days 50% is all we can manage and sometimes 10% can make a big difference in a relationship.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (59:44): Excellent. Thank you
“Joanna Faber” (59:46): You want to take off the pressure now that we’ve given you all these instructions.
“Dr. Robyn Silverman” (59:53): There will be days that it won’t go that way at all and it’s okay. Julie, what about you?
“Julie King” (59:59): I’m going to give your listeners a challenge. The challenge is to see how long you can go without giving a command or an order. So instead of telling your kids what to do, see if you can either substitute a choice or be playful or put the child in charge and let them be in charge of when they’re going to do what they need to do. And then write to Joanna and me and tell us how long you went and what you substituted for the commands.