how to talkIf you have ever felt like the words you speak are falling on deaf ears, you may want to check out How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish.

The book is addressed to parents, mostly, but I have found the suggestions presented are useful in many other contexts, too. Teachers will no doubt find them useful, as well as anyone who wants to work on their communication skills or has ever had to deal with difficult people.

The authors learned many of their principles of effective communication from their teacher, Dr. Haim Ginnott, of Columbia University. They went on to hone their approach over many years through their experiences as parents and teachers.

The following principles are taken from Dr. Ginnott’s approach:

  • Never deny or ignore a [person’s] feelings.
  • Only behavior is treated as unacceptable, not the [person].
  • Depersonalize negative interactions by mentioning only the problem. “I see a [broken lightbulb].”
  • Attach rules to things, e.g., “[People] are not for hitting.”
  • Dependence breeds hostility. Let [people] do for themselves what they can.
  • Limit criticism to a specific event—don’t say “never”, “always”, as in: “You never listen,” “You always manage to break things”, etc.
  • Refrain from using words that you would not want [anyone] to repeat.
  • Ignore irrelevant behavior.

The book presents these ideas using amusing vignettes of common scenarios and how best to handle them. If you like this book, you may also be interested in the following by the same authors:

Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too  

Liberated Parents, Liberated Children

Between Brothers & Sisters: A Celebration of Life’s Most Enduring Relationship

How to Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk 

the-helpFresh from college with no prospects (marriage or job), Eugenia (“Skeeter”) Phelan returns to her parent’s comfortable home in Jackson, Mississippi. Skeeter desperately wants to break out of the roles that are expected of her – marriage, children, the country club – and become a writer.

Aibileen, a black maid, has had 17 children, that is, she’s raised 17 white babies for the families she’s worked for. The loss of her own son while his white bosses looked the other way has caused her to view the world she’s always taken for granted and unchangeable with new eyes.

Her best friend Minny is the best cook in the county but because she can’t hold her tongue and keeps mouthing off at her employers, she’s always looking for a new job. At home she struggles to raise her children and cope with an abusive husband.

On the advice of a New York book editor, Skeeter decides to write about black domestics and their relationships with their white employers by talking first to Aibileen, then Minny. This turns out to be a dangerous project – it’s 1962, Jim Crow laws are in full effect in the Deep South and the Civil Rights movement is stirring up strong emotions. Skeeter is ostracized by her friends and Aibileen and Minny fear for their safety (Medgar Evers was gunned down in their neighborhood during this time) These three women, with so little in common, find themselves sharing their stories, their fears and their hopes. Together they create a grassroots change in their own homes and neighborhoods.

The Help is an amazing book with characters that you care for, authentic dialogue and a real sense of time and place. The tension builds as each woman puts herself at risk and there is sadness and hardship, but there is also friendship and laughter and hope for a better world.