Alison Faison

How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen

During my early childhood education classes, I learned about ages and stages of children, developmentally appropriate practices, and family-centered early care and education. The recommended 2017 book, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen: A Survival Guide to Life with Children Ages 2-7 by Joanna Faber and Julie King, offers many practical ways for adults to reword our observations and requests of children, so that they will actually hear us and then respond by taking independent or cooperative action. Encouraging children to become problem-solvers and learn a cooperative approach to conflict helps adults and children steer clear of ineffective punishments, as well as conserve precious energy. Faber and King write, “There’s no telling what solution kids will come up with when a problem is put in their hands. When the solution is their own, it will usually work for them. And when you have multiple kids, you have multiple problem-solvers instead of just multiple problems. The larger message is: When there is conflict between us, we don’t need to put our energy into fighting each other. We can combine forces to search for a solution that respects the needs of all parties. The child is an active participant in solving his problems.” (page 127) Adults can also learn to be problem-solvers in ways that differ from some familiar, but unhealthy modes picked up in family of origin settings or in stressed and fear-based communities.

When we model faith-formation behavior for our children, we are showing them non-violent ways to problem solve, help ourselves, and help others. Jesus did not perform miracles to helpless people as an end it itself, he gave them powerful tools to navigate their challenging and judgmental surroundings to nurture a more open-minded framework for including others and accepting oneself with empathy. We make mistakes. Sometimes punishment seems like a quicker, easier way to stop a certain behavior. “Punishment has a short shelf life. Little kids grow quickly. It’s physically difficult to punish a child who is larger and stronger than you are. As children become more independent it becomes harder to enforce punishments. How do you ground a teenager or take away his screen privileges without becoming a prisoner of your own punishment?” (p. 128)

In the book, there are many anecdotal stories of adults and children working things out. There are also examples of ways to rephrase words so the message is not condemning or dismissive. For example, Let’s say your child is going to get their vaccine. #1 Acknowledge Feelings “Instead of, ‘Come on, it’s not that bad. Just let her do it, and it’ll be over.’ Try, ‘It can be scary to think about someone sticking a needle in your arm.’ Instead of, ‘Don’t cry. You’re a big boy. Try, ‘That hurt! You didn’t like that!'” #2 Offer in Fantasy What You Can’t Give in Reality “I wish they could put the medicine inside a lollipop. You’d eat one a day for a week and then you’d never get sick.” #3 Offer a Choice, #4 Give Information (p. 310)

This book will be in the Calvary Library in the Parenting section. The library is next to the chapel and the lounge. Check it out the next time you are waiting for worship to start or after you have picked up your children from Sunday Studio.

More to Explore

100 Things Every Child Should Know Before Confirmation

The next time you are at childcare or Sunday Studio, please pick up a free copy of Rebecca Kirkpatrick’s book 100 Things Every Child Should Know Before Confirmation. This book focuses on the practice of planting the seed of faith, feeding the soil of each child’s soul, and watching children and youth grow. We want them to know the oral tradition roots that originate with the Israelite People, the Gospels that tell the life of Jesus, the acts of Jesus’ followers, and the liturgical seasons of the church starting with Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost.

How to safely intervene when someone is targeted by violence.

How does supporting a targeted person relate to church and being in relationship with others in a Christ-like way? Wherever humans are, divisions can be created. Like Jesus, we need to know how to show up, de-escalate, be present, ask for help, ignore attackers, respect targeted people, and then have the courage to follow up with the situation until it is addressed and supported. People of all races, genders, religions, and economic status are targeted, but we know that black and indigenous people of color (BIPOC), LGBTQI+ people, as well as those experiencing poverty are most often targeted by attackers. How did Jesus show up for children, tax collectors, sex workers, widows, and everyday folks? Jesus took accountability by sitting and eating next to people, as well as walking with them. That seems easy enough, but our society's actions show us stories filled with the bystander effect or the phenomena of nobody acting even when they are watching violence in front of them.

How to talk with someone experiencing mental health challenges.

“‘How are you showing up today?’ That’s a language we use a lot,” Thomas-Bush said. “As a person of faith, how are we going to show up loving our neighbor, loving ourselves?” Thomas -Bush works with youth at Myers Park Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, NC. This youth group was featured in Our kids and mental health, an April 20, 2022 article in Presbyterians Today. “In 2019, more than 1 in 3 students indicated they persistently felt sad or hopeless, an 11% increase over 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report, 2009–2019. The report also showed that 16% of students made a suicide plan.” We cannot ignore youth, this data or assume that youth will get help on their own. Most adults suffering with mental health challenges do not reach out for help. It is important that we notice behavior changes that go beyond typical age-appropriate developmental behaviors and check in with the person. Parents, adults, youth leaders, and teen peers are realizing that listening without judgment, as well as asking direct questions can be the needed openers for someone to safely share their mental health challenges and then get the resources that they want.