by Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish

As a parent of two young children, one and four years old, I had been noticing that my way of speaking to my girls didn’t feel very effective at getting some (read: any) of my desired outcomes.  I also noted that teachers at daycare had a way of speaking to children that seemed to really reach them, but I couldn’t put my finger on why.  Like most, my kids always behave better for strangers than for my husband and myself, but somehow, I knew that at home I sensed that something could be better.

In mulling the issue over with other parent friends this book was referenced several times, and so after a week of frustration, I sought out the self-help section at my local bookstore.

I will confess that the title provoked an aversion in me.  I have a distaste for books that promises simple solutions to very complex problems, and naturally any parenting book offering grandiose results is automatically suspect.  Plus the cover was obnoxiously bright colored and cutesy — it reminded me of the Guides for Dummies series.  A quick thumb through showed large text and cartoon drawings of interactions between parents that seemed trite and oversimplified.  This was not setting up to be a book that I would like.

That being said, this book ended up being my favorite surprise read of last year.

Why?  Because for it’s obnoxious targeting of parents, the concepts apply globally to humans of all ages.  How we communicate with others has a basis in understanding and respect, and how you approach and enter in to those interactions will frame the outcome entirely.  Once you understand and accept your part in communication, it’s then that you can take a step back and understand your children (and your spouse!) differently.  Despite the book’s endless repetition of concepts lies a truth — most of us don’t know that we have bad habits when it comes to communicating.    What I learned was that I leaned on poor communication techniques more often than I leaned on effective ones.  It helped of course that at the same time I was reading Difficult Conversations by Douglas Stone et al and that I could see the parallels right there in black and white.   The epiphany came easily that effective communication techniques apply across the age groups, and what this book offered as a guide to children could be applied to all people in my life (even, gasp!, my colleagues and patients!).

The structure of the book is such that it takes you through broad categories and within those categories are scenarios, quick exercises, the cartoon examples and the handy end of chapter summaries.  Especially helpful are the ‘don’t sections’ that precede the ‘do’ sections.  Also helpful are the sections where parents voice their concerns about said methodology.  For example: I must confess that in the past I’ve said everything to my daughter that you’re not supposed to.  Now I’m trying to change and she’s giving me a hard time.  What can I do? (The book’s answer is keep at it.  It will work eventually.)  Major chapter themes include: Helping Children Deal with Their Feelings, Engaging Cooperation, Encouraging Autonomy, Praise, Alternatives to Punishment and Freeing Children from Playing Roles.  I like that the authors also honestly address some of the negative feedback they received from the first edition right at the end of the book.  This is where parents discuss problems they’ve encountered using the suggested methodology and the authors have made new suggestions.  Obviously, this won’t cover every scenario, but I appreciated the way the authors made a point to include and accommodate re-tooling and misstep work-arounds.  If parenting isn’t that exactly, then I’ve had a very unusual experience indeed.

It’s not a difficult read, and if you can get past the unseemly packaging, you will likely grow to love this book the way I did precisely for it’s accessibility and simplicity.

Marisa Fernandez, MD
Emergency Medicine
Kaiser Permanente Baldwin Park Medical Offices