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Book Review: How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen

How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen” is a book written by Joanna Faber and Julie King. This book really spoke to me because it is geared to little kids ages two to seven.  Eric has hit the phase where listening and cooperating has just gone out the window. He’s two and a half right now. And he’s excited, he likes doing his own thing and wants us to do our own thing.  He is constantly wanting to do his own thing unless I need him to do something else, and then all hell breaks loose! This has come as a shock to me, and wondering what do we do?

And I remember hearing about the book How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk“.  When I was looking up that book, I saw “How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen” and knew this was the book I needed to get.  I just love listening to audiobooks and so I go this book through Audible.   This book as a phenomenal listen and it comes with a PDF with a summary of all the points.  The audiobook is great because it actually has multiple people who are reading the book.  And I need to tell you that this book is life-changing if you have little kids!

The Book "How to Talk so Little Kids will LIsten" is life changing if you have little kids.

What “How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen” is About

Joana and Julie use real-life context and situations to help you navigate the challenging and sometimes painful experiences of talking with small children without ending in tears or frustration. They will guide you through the important aspects of tough everyday situations that you face as parents:

  • Teaching children to express their emotions in various healthy ways
  • How to encourage cooperation from your children
  • How to resolve conflicts
  • Praising/appreciating your children in ways that encourage positive behavior. 

So why is this book so life-changing? It got my son to listen now. Not all the time. But I would say about 97% of the time. And typically when he’s really struggling it’s because he’s super, super tired, or hungry. And then when we fix that he’ll listen.

"How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen," a delightful listen, with the tools that will get your kid to listen 97% of the time.

This book is broken up into a number of different sections. 

How the Book is Divided

First Section: Basic Tools to Help Parents Cope

The first section discusses the basic tools to help parents:

  • Cope “when a youngster goes haywire,”
  • Explore topics such as “engaging cooperation” and “avoiding combat.”

Each chapter features a brief recap at the end.

Second Section: Tools in Action

The second section shows “the tools in action.”  It highlights issues that the authors view as most challenging. They also show you how you can use the tools to help deal with the challenges. The authors’ creative ideas will help you feel that you are not alone in dealing with little runaways, arguments over tooth brushing, tattling, and numerous other child-rearing dilemmas.

Chapter 1: Tools for Handling Emotions

This chapter discusses many methods that are successful in helping your children express emotions and feelings.  It will also help you acknowledge your feelings without adding more fuel to the fire. The methods that are recommended are:

    • Acknowledge your child’s feelings with words. Do not downplay, or refuse to acknowledge what they are feeling.
    • Suggest how you can problem-solve without taking away their feelings.
    • Acknowledge feelings with writing. It is very powerful for children to see their feelings or desires written down.
    • Use art to help your child acknowledge feelings. Draw a picture of an animal or character that expresses the same emotion your child is feeling. For example: a bear with a tear for sadness.
    • Do not ask your distressed child questions. 
    • Use fantasy when you cannot use reality. 
    • Your child will feel that his/her feelings are more acknowledge if you use silent attention.  For instance, use sounds like: ugh, huh, ooooh, ahhhh 
    • You can be dramatic and match your emotions to theirs. 

Chapter 2: Tools for Engaging Cooperation

I’m sure you’ve all had those moments when your child is refusing to cooperate.  For instance, when asked to brush teeth, take a bath, go to bed, cut toenails or fingernails.  In those times, you must come up with an alternative method to encourage his/her cooperation.  The idea is to help your child complete these tasks without making them feel forced to. Some of the methods the authors recommend are:

    • Be playful
    • Turn a boring task into a fun challenge or game 
    • Offer a choice 
    • Put your child in charge of their behavior
    • Give information 
    • Say things with a word or gesture 
    • Describe what you see or how you feel 
    • Write a note – more effective than a nagging voice 
    • Take action without insult
    • Don’t turn a choice into a threat 
    • Appreciate progress before expressing what is still left to do 
    • When expressing anger or frustration use the word I, avoid the word you
 Being playful is the surprising strategy, that stopped the meltdowns and made everything else easier.

Chapter 3: Tools for Resolving Conflict

Joana and Julie mention how punishment distracts your child from the important lessons he/she need to learn. It can cause your child to think selfishly when considering what he/she will have to give up. How you punish your child will ultimately teache him/her how to handle conflict in their personal lives. The authors provide methods in this chapter that will allow your child the opportunity to do better in the present.  Ultimately this will inspire him/her to be better in the future. Their recommended methods are:

    • Give them a choice 
    • Take action without insult 
    • In a case where your child’s behavior may be harmful take action to protect yourself
    • Try problem-solving:
      • Acknowledge feelings first
      • Describe the problem
      • Ask for ideas 
      • Decide which ideas you both like
      • Try out your solutions
    • Don’t minimize the problem 
    • Remove the object of conflict temporarily 
    • Don’t wait for a problem to occur to use problem-solving. When possible, plan ahead! 

Chapter 4: Tools for Praise and Appreciation

In this chapter, Joana and Julie discuss alternative methods you can use to show praise or appreciation to your child. They explain everyday methods that you might use when praising your child that may actually be hurting their behavior instead of helping. They recommend these methods instead:

  • Describe what you see – instead of praising your child for being a great artist, tell him/her what you see and what you like about his/her drawings or pictures 
  • Describe your child’s effect on others – instead of being proud and expressing how sweet and fun he/she is with their sibling, comment on how much their baby brother loves when you make those sounds and those silly faces.
  • Describe your child’s effort – Show him/her that you noticed how hard he/she is trying to complete a task, like tying his/her shoes or buttoning a shirt.
  • Describe your child’s progress – Explain the process he/she completed when he/she accomplished a goal like sounding out each letter and putting them together to complete an entire sentence! 

Things to remember: 

  • Consider asking questions or starting a conversation instead of praising 
  • Sometimes of acknowledging feelings can be more helpful than praise 
  • Give your child a new picture of him/herself 
  • Resist the urge to praise by comparison 

Part II of “How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen”

The Tools in Action

The second half of this book helps you put the actions and recommendations from the previous chapters into play.  It provides you with real-life examples of how to implement and follow through with these methods for more successful communication with your child. Joana and Julie walk you through everyday situations such as bedtime troubles, dreaded doctor visits, and the not so easy dinner time with a picky eater. They set the scene of these everyday situations, the difficult or negative behavior your child may be portraying, and the methods you can use from part 1 that may be more beneficial than the typical response you most probably use in these tough situations. They discuss the benefits of using these new methods, the reaction or change in behavior that your child responds with, and how to continue to implement these new methods in the future. 

This book has so many helpful recommendations for communicating effectively with your child. While there is not a one size fits all method to raising children, Joana and Julie definitely have explored various methods and have provided many options for you to test and find the best system of communicating with your child.

You don't have to fight with your child to get things done. Make it fun!

How We’ve Applied These Tips With Erik

Acknowledging His Feelings

Things that have really worked with Erik is just acknowledging his feelings.  Saying “Wow, you look like you’re really frustrated,” and just stop with that. We’ve also found that drawing pictures of different emotions, like a happy face, a sad face, an angry face, really helps.  Sometimes Erik can’t express what emotion he’s feeling, but he knows based on the picture.

We also don’t ask a ton of questions.  I used to do this: “Erik, why are you upset? Why are you sad, Erik?” Many times he’s trying to process, so if I just say “You look like you’re frustrated,” or “You look like you’re angry.”  A lot of times, but not always,  he’ll acknowledge it.  Or he’ll correct me and say “No, sad” Or, he’ll be angry. He’ll start to actually open up to me and tell me why he’s angry. I also find too that when we acknowledge how he’s feeling, it stops the meltdown.

This is super helpful knowledge, acknowledge how they’re feeling, and don’t try to get them to get over it.

Giving Him Options and Making It Fun

We have always struggled with Eric getting dressed and Eric following us to do the next thing that we need to do. One thing that the book suggests and has been really helpful is to turn things into a game or make it fun.  What we used to say was, “Hey, are you going to go upstairs to brush your teeth? Or do mommy and daddy have to carry you?” That would cause all sorts of problems. He’d say, “No, I’ll go.” But then he’d get distracted and then won’t go.  This would cause fighting. And it was not good.

However, when we started implementing the strategies in the book and started saying: “Erik, it’s time to go upstairs. Would you like to go upstairs like a frog or like a cow?” Or if there is a book that we were reading that day and that he loves, we’d ask him to act like something in the book. For instance, the thing he’s really into right now is robots, because of his love for the book “Love Z“.  So if we say, “Do you want to go upstairs like a robot? Or do you want to skitter like a mouse?” (because of his love for the book “Mouse Mess“), and then he’ll skitter like a mouse upstairs. 

We no longer have to fight to get him to do something. Now it’s just fun!

To see how else we’ve implemented tips from this book, please listen to this podcast episode (found above).

If you’ve read this book, I’d love to know which of the suggestions or tips really worked for you. Please comment below

Links Mentioned in the Podcast:

  • Literati: A book service that you sign up for. Use my link to get $5 off your first book purchase.
  • Audible: Get two free books when you sign up for a free trial of Audible
  • AskKristin.net: Where you can fill out a form to submit feedback or to ask a question for a future episode of the show.

​Disclosure: We professionally create this podcast that receives compensation from companies that we talk about. So you must assume that any link you click is an affiliate link. Kristin and Ingram Digital Media only have affiliate relationships with companies that we believe in wholeheartedly. We are independently owned, and all of our opinions are​ our own.


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