Wednesday, October 3, 2007

My Favorite Parenting Book

At great risk of incoming email, I’m going to make a proclamation. If you only read one parenting book ever, it should be "How to Talk So Kids Will Listen, and Listen so Kids Talk" by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

You should read it because it works. I had read parts of it previously, but I read it straight through on a recent trip to NYC. Before I’d even made it home, the book was always making a difference in my relationships. I was standing in line at McDonalds in the Laguardia Airport on Sunday morning. I wanted a Diet Coke more than anything (terrible, I know) and the man behind the counter was clearly upset. He was overseeing the staff in the back while trying to manage a growing line in the front. He moved to a new register and rather than saying, "May I help you," he said, "You can just stand there in one line or you can move over here and it will go a lot faster."

I could have written this off as a "typical New Yorker," but there was really much more going on. He was frustrated and overwhelmed. He was scowling at me, and I the opportunity to be rude right back, which he almost seemed to expect. But I’d been reading "How to Talk" and I decided to try one of my techniques out on him. "You seem very frustrated," I said. There was a long silence while he looked at me. His face softened, his tone changed and he said, "I am. Can I take your order?"

I was amazed. So, I tried some of the techniques with my daughter, WG. She and I are having recurring problems about messes in the playroom. She plays until its such a mess that she can’t clean it herself and the task is left to me. So, as the book advised, I asked her to sit down with me and together we brainstormed ideas for how to handle the problem. We wrote every idea down and at the end we chose a solution we felt could work for both of us – she’d clean up after bath every night. We have just two short nights under our belt, but each evening she’s eagerly reminded me, "Mommy, it’s time for me to pick up the playroom."

Even my one-year-old, Mr. B, seems to be responding. When he’s in a frustrated fury because he wants something that’s dangerous or otherwise not allowed, I look in his eyes and say gently, "You seem very frustrated. You want that toy." The tone of my voice and the acknowledgement seems to be all he needs, even at this young age, to move on to the next activity.

In a nutshell, I like the book so much because it works. It gives parents a step-by-step guide to improving communication with their kids and thus their relationships. The book is predicated on the idea that our goal in raising children is to help them to become happy, successful adults who know how to make good choices, deal with adversity, communicate effectively, and handle both positive and negative feelings. Through specific examples and illustrations, the authors provide you with scenarios for practicing skills, role playing and putting their theories into action. Though I felt silly "filling in the blank" at the beginning of the book, I found myself jotting in the margins by the end. First published in the 1980’s and a best seller for years, I’m hardly the first person to say that this one is a "must read," but I hope that you’ll go out and by this one. You’ll be glad you did. Now, the only question for me is, will these strategies work on my husband?

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