Publication Type: Web Article
Year of Publication: 1995
Cossondra George, a Michigan teacher, gives examples from Faber and Mazlish’s book: the lasting effect seemingly innocuous phrases like “Don’t be silly!” can have, and different ways of communications, such as offering a choice (“You can pick the trash up off the floor or sweep it with
Citation: Faber, A. & Mazlish, E. (1995). How to talk so kids can learn at home and in school. New York: Scribner.
By Adele Faber & Elaine Mazlish
1995 (272 pp/paper
Reviewed by Cossondra George
Newberry Middle School
Those words that echo in our thoughts long after the sound is gone: we've all said them, either in the classroom or to our own children.
"Don't be silly; of course you can do it!"
"If you paid attention, you'd find it more interesting."
"Don't worry. You'll do better next time."
"I can't believe you are acting so childish! Why don't you act your age?"
How to Talk so Kids Can Learn gives examples and ideas of how parents and teachers can improve their communication skills to improve their relationships with the youths in their lives. The book is divided into eight chapters which address common break-downs in communication, and how the adult can help the child express the feelings evoked in the situation, and think through the solution to the problem, all the while leaving the child feeling empowered and unpunished.
According to Faber and Mazlish, we have largely been programmed to feel any indiscretion by a child warrants a punishment. This book offers alternatives which help the child change undesirable behaviors without enduring punitive measures. As educators, we should strive to turn the "desire to misbehave" into the "desire to behave appropriately."
Each chapter offers commentary on situations in a mock school setting; questions from teachers and parents, complete with practical answers; vignettes of experiences of educators which exemplify strategies; and perhaps most refreshing, cartoons. These cartoons offer the "what not to do's" and the "what to do's" of these situations in cute simple conversations with adorable illustrations that make the strategies real-life-applicable in an easy to read format.
Common mistakes made by teachers are offered such as: The child who does poorly on a test often is told, "Don't worry. You'll do better next time." This book advises instead of dismissing the child's feeling this way, alternatives might include: Identify the child's feelings by acknowledging their disappointment, either with a simple comment on how you understand their frustration, or even with a simple sound or word, such as, "Oh" or "I see;" or, giving the child a fantasy alternative like offering a magic pencil which could erase mistakes before they are made.
When adults are unhappy with a situation, instead of criticizing or punishing, the book offers such alternatives as:
-Describe the problem. (I see paper on the floor.)
-Give information. (Paper needs to be put in the garbage can.)
-Offer a choice. (You can pick up the scraps or get a broom and sweep them up.)
-Say it with a word or gesture. (Point to scraps on floor.)
-Describe what you feel. (I don't like scraps all over the floor.)
-Put it in writing. (Post a message such as: Please leave the floor clean when you leave the classroom. Thank you!)
-Be playful. (Sing a funny tune: "I see paper, I see paper, Pick it up, Pick it up!" to the tune of "Frere Jacques")
By focusing on the solution rather than the problem, the adult shows the child the desired behavior without getting into a power struggle.
Other advice focuses on giving appropriate praise that "gives a child a sense of his own abilities and accomplishments" rather than creating a "dependency upon the approval of others." For example, when a child scores well on an assignment, rather than saying, "I'm proud of you" which encourages the child to seek adult approval for accomplishments, this book suggests encouraging the child to be proud of himself, and acknowledging instead the hard work that went into the child's earning of the grade.
Some teachers shun this "feel good" approach to discipline with such excuses as lack of time to deal with negative behaviors, or a reluctance to do what they feel is the counselor's job. The response to this complaint is simple, "It may be better to spend a few minutes dealing with a student's strong feelings than letting them mushroom into a problem that consumes valuable class time."
By presenting a huge array of examples and solutions, this books shows the classroom teacher that indeed, it takes little time to acknowledge a child's feelings respectfully, which will in turn actually equate to more time on task for teacher and child.
One moving passage points out, "You think only grownups have 'real' worries. It's easy to forget that kids can have them, too. And just like us, they need someone to listen and take their worries seriously."
And when a book like How to Talk so Kids Can Learn is available, easy and enjoyable to read, why shouldn't we as teachers strive to improve our communication skills with our students?
A paragraph in the first chapter says it all:
As teachers our goal is greater than just passing on facts and information. If we want our students to be caring human beings, then we need to respond to them in caring ways. If we value our children's dignity, then we need to model methods that affirm their dignity. If we want to send out into the world young people who respect themselves and respect others, then we need to begin by respecting them. And we can't do that unless we show respect for what it is they feel.
I initially bought this book about a year ago, when it was discussed on a listserv as a classroom management resource. I read the book, tried some of the suggestions, and found it to be an incredibly user-friendly approach to improving my day-to-day dealings with my students.
When I was going to be gone from my classroom last spring for several days, I left the book on my desk for my sub to read during AR time. The young man is a college student at a nearby university majoring in elementary education. When he asked to borrow my book to share in his university classes, I gladly loaned it to him.
When I found myself still without my book almost a year later, I gladly purchased another copy to write this review. The second payout of the $13 price of the book is a small sacrifice for such a worthwhile resource.
[Editor's note: Also see the authors' more recent book, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk.]