Adele Faber loves her own advice - published now for 20 years, translated into more than a dozen languages - so much that she even applies it to the family dog.
One day as her husband brushed their collie, Darby, the dog erupted with fury. She chased Faber’s husband from room to room, barking like Lassie at a squirrel convention.
Faber immediately spotted a communication problem.
“You’re not listening to her,” she told her husband in front of Darby. “She felt assaulted by that brush and she’s deeply offended.”
Darby practically sighed with relief. She stopped yelping, gazed at Faber, eyes brown pools of gratitude, and sank to the floor. Ahh, sweet understanding.
In retrospect, as Faber tells it, the scene sounds pretty hysterical. But one more time, Faber’s best advice - always listen to the feelings first - paid off.
This weekend Inland Northwest parents will be invited to hear her communication principles and apply them to the children, and dogs, in their very own households.
Faber, co-author of “How To Talk So Kids Will Listen,” “Siblings Without Rivalry” and the latest, “How To Talk So Kids Can Learn,” will be the keynote speaker at Spokane’s Family a Fair.
Her work is based on 10 years of training with the late child psychologist Dr. Haim Ginott.
“You really can live by these communication guidelines,” she says. “You can’t go wrong if you reflect someone’s feelings back to them. You can’t go wrong if you express your feelings honestly without harming someone. You can’t go wrong if you praise someone descriptively… . To know certain principles is to be rich indeed.”
Here’s a quick primer on her concepts:
Always take time to reflect a child’s feelings, even if you’d prefer that the child simply simmer down.
When Faber’s 3-year-old grandson, Danny, refused to part with his favorite red T-shirt on wash day, his mother said, “Danny, I notice something about you. I notice that when you really like a shirt, you like to wear it a really long time.”
Danny’s whole face lit up. “Yes!” Danny said. Then he hopped right up, headed for the dresser drawer and picked out a new shirt.
Had Danny’s mother said, “That shirt’s filthy. It’s going in the wash this minute and I don’t want to hear another word about it,” it’s a safe bet he’d have carried on for half an hour.
Don’t forget the vigor. Saying, “I see that you’re angry about that” in a monotone won’t cut it. Children like to hear the heat of their emotions reflected as well.
Describe what you see. Rather than yelling, “How many times do I have to tell you to turn off the bathroom light after you use it!” try “The light’s on in the bathroom.”
Use descriptive praise. When a preschooler dresses himself, don’t say, “You’re terrific.” That’s an invitation for him to think, “No, I’m not.” Instead, describe his accomplishment: “I see you put your shirt on with the tag in the back; you zipped your pants; you put on matching socks; and you buckled your shoes. What a lot of different things you did!” The second form of praise is more satisfying and it encourages children to draw their own conclusions about their competence.
Use one-word reminders. The child just flung her new jacket in the middle of the kitchen floor? Try saying, “The jacket!” Or, if you’re really steamed, “THE JAAACKET!”
Talk about your feelings. Rather than spouting, “You’re rude! You always interrupt!” try saying, “I feel so frustrated when I start to say something and can’t finish.”
Give children choices. At bedtime you might say, “It’s Mom and Dad’s time to talk and your time to be in bed. Are you in the mood to wear your green pajamas or your blue ones?” A choice gives a child a sense of control.
Teach problem-solving skills. With a child having trouble getting to school on time, sit down and talk over both your feelings first. Then brainstorm solutions. Don’t criticize any of the ideas. Simply make a list: “Buy an alarm clock with a loud ring. Go to sleep earlier. Ask the teacher to start school later …” When you’re finished, talk over the list, jointly cross out the impractical ones, and agree on a plan.
Sometimes it helps to realize how different adults and children are. On time, for example, Faber says adults are on “gotta time,” as in “Gotta get to work” and “Gotta mow the lawn.” Children, however, are on “oh-wow” time, as in “Oh-wow, look at this piece of floating dust in the sunlight.”
Certainly, parents need to teach responsibility. “But,” says Faber, “you don’t want to totally take them away from the magic, the glories of the day.”
Faber warns that parents can’t be effective when they’re furious.
“We really needed to confront the fact that nobody can make you angrier than your own kids,” she says. “When you’re really angry, you can’t be helpful. You want blood. You have to protect yourself from your own venomous feelings.”
Parents need to find many ways to discharge their irritation before it builds into a crazy rage, she said.
Pretending to be the all-wonderful, ever-available super-parent can only lead to trouble.
“The explosions always come when you’ve been too nice,” Faber says. “You can be a little nicer than you feel, but not too much.”
Parents need to learn to say, at appropriate moments, such lines as “I’m beginning to be annoyed,” “I could bake cookies with you now but I’m so afraid I’ll wind up yelling, angry and resentful, and you don’t need that,” or “You’ve got a choice: You can feed your hamster now, or you can put up with an angry mother.”
Faber’s advice follows a couple of simple rules: You’ve got to be authentic and the bad feelings have to come out before the good feelings can come in. Ultimately, her goal is to teach parents and children - and the occasional collie - to manage their emotions so that they can figure out how to survive together as a family.
“I haven’t got final answers,” Faber says. “The point isn’t whether it worked or it didn’t work. It’s a process. The question is how shall we live together and give each other courage to get on with this thing called life?”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Staff illustration by Charles Waltmire
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Event’s expanded horizons create new centers of attention This year the sixth annual Family a Fair becomes more family-friendly by expanding into both the Spokane Convention and Ag Trade centers. Family a Fair opens at 7 p.m. Friday with keynote speaker Adele Faber on “How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen.” It continues Saturday and Sunday with exhibits, entertainment and education. Close to 200 non-profit agencies and companies will exhibit products and services for families. Faber will present a workshop called “Skills for Engaging Cooperation” at 8:30 a.m. and 11:30 a.m. Saturday. Dancers, puppets and drummers will circulate through the entertainment stage. A highlight will be a live version of the PBS show “Where In The World Is Carmen Sandiego?” at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturday. Spokane celebrities will read aloud at The Story Bus, and a local dentist will present “The Crocodile and the Dentist.” A movement and dance area will feature gymnastics, ballet and folk dances for children. An art activity room, sponsored by the Spokane Art School, provides hourly activities for children ages 6 to 12. The fair also features a quiet lullaby room for breast-feeding and changing diapers and a child care room for toddlers and preschoolers. Tickets to Faber’s lecture are $6; $10 for her workshop. A $12 package includes the lecture, the workshop and one adult fair admission. Tickets are available at the door. Fair tickets are $2 for adults. Children 12 and under are admitted free. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Saturday and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, call 456-3733. - Jamie Tobias Neely