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Ask Adele and Elaine

adele faber and elaine mazlish | www.fabermazlish.comThe best of parents and the best of kids have their ups and downs.  If you are going through a "down" you can email us at or click here to fill out the form and send it off to us.

As you can imagine, we can't respond to every question submitted to us.  We've selected the letters and answers which appear below because we believe they may be helpful to a broad range of our readers.  Please note that by writing to us, you are giving permission for your letter, and the author's response, to be posted on this website.  Last names and other identifying information will be deleted..

We are pleased to introduce Joanna Faber, daughter of Adele Faber, as our newest member of the Ask the Authors team.  Joanna is a teacher, lecturer and parent educator who, with co-author Julie King, has written a "best-seller," companion book to How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, entitled How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen.  You can check out details of Joanna's background by clicking here.

Q: Picking Up
Q: Forging Signatures
Q: Handling Stealing
Q: Bladder Control
Q: When 'funny' isn't 'funny'
Q: Sibling Rivalry Problems
Q: Competing Siblings
Q: Lying Problems
Q: More Lying Problems
Q: Eating Problems
Q: More Eating Problems
Q: Bullying At School
Q: A Difficult Toddler
Q: A Critical 4 Year Old
Q: Name Calling
Q: A Teen in Trouble
Q: Should I read it with my Teen
Q: An Uncommunicative Teen
Q: Parent Teacher Conference
Q: Helping An Angry Child
Q: Socializing An Aggressive Pre-Schooler
Q: A Bedtime Battle
Q: Protecting Children From Labels
Q: 'Don't go to work'
Q: Encouraging Politeness in a Different Culture

Ask Your Question

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Picking Up


I have an almost 3-year old who does not like to pick up after herself. I have tried to apply several of your techniques such as describing how well she picked things up (after managing to con her into doing it!), problem-solving, and a couple of others.

Unfortunately I haven't had any permanent success. I would like to give her an ultimatum but I find it difficult to continuously think of an appropriate consequence. Short of telling her that she will have to sit in her room until she is ready to pick up her toys, I'm not sure what to do. Is sending her to her room until she makes the decision to pick up her toys punishment? Thanks for any advice you can give me.


Begin by lowering your expectations. There's no such thing as "permanent success" in getting a three year old to pick up after herself. Since all children require endless repetition to teach them to do what is of great importance to us and of no interest to them, we need to use a variety of methods that will engage their cooperation and at the same time do no damage to our relationship with them or their self-esteem. Here are a few possibilities:

  1. "As soon as ..." is a useful way to begin a sentence. "As soon as the toys are put away, we can go to the park/playground/pool. (That's instead of "If you don't pick up your toys now, you can forget about going anywhere.")
  2. Describe what you feel: "I don't like coming back to a messy house" or "It makes me feel good to come home to a clean house."
  3. Make it a game. Set the timer for five (10 or 15) minutes. "Let's see if we can get everything picked up before the bell rings. You do the toys on this side of the room and I'll do this side...Hooray! We did it! Let's call Grandma and tell her we cleaned up a huge mess in less than five minutes."
  4. Offer a choice.
    a) "This room needs a big cleanup. Where do you want to start- with the blocks or your beads?"
    b) "Would you like help or do you want to do it yourself?"
    c) "Should we work quietly or should we play music to cheer us on?"
    d) "Should we have a snack first to give us energy or should we clean up first and then treat ourselves to a snack?"
  5. Make a list: "Let's list everything we need to do to make the room look nice (make bed, sweep, put laundry in hamper, etc.) and check off each job after we've done it.
  6. Go on a shopping trip together. Buy colored bins or any other kind of storage units to help organize toys. Let her decide what she wants to put where. Make labels with pictures together. You can print, she can color.

Creating order out of disorder can be daunting even to an adult and developmentally beyond the capacity of an "almost 3 year old". Our job as parents is to help our children believe they can tackle a tough job and over time give them the skills to do it.

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Forging Signatures


My daughter forged both mine and my husbands name on a paper about late work. Her teacher noticed it was not ours and gave her 3 different chances to correct this. My daughter just lied more. I am not sure what the correct punishment is. This is the second time she has done this so her teacher is taking away a field trip to a water park that my daughter was looking forward to. WHAT SHOULD I DO?????????? I want her to be a responsible happy person and I don't want to fail her. Please Help.


Dear Carrie,

We're not sure exactly what "a paper about late work" is, but assuming it's a notification from the teacher that your daughter's work was late, it's not hard to figure out why she didn't want you to see or sign it.

A lie usually represents a wish or a fear. Chances are, your daughter feared your displeasure and disappointment and wished with all her heart that she could avoid it. Punishment would justify her fears.

Instead you can talk to her about the whole unhappy situation - how you imagine she must have felt, how you feel, how the teacher feels, why forging a signature is illegal, what she might do to avoid late papers in the future, what she can write to the teacher about her desire to do better.

It's the process of facing our mistake and learning from them that helps us all become better people. That's a lot easier to do when your parent is on your side - understanding your motives, but redirecting your unacceptable behavior and helping you figure out how to make amends.

Best of luck!

Adele & Elaine

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Handling Stealing


Recently my sister noticed that money is missing from her home. She thinks maybe her grandchildren have been taking the money so she plans on marking some bills to be sure before she accuses them. They are 8 and 9 years old....a boy and girl. She wants to know how to handle the punishment for stealing before she leaves the marked bills out.
Any suggestions?


Instead of "marking some bills" in order to trap and punish her grandchildren, your sister can speak to them directly and privately.

For example, "Kids, something has been bothering me. I noticed that after your last few visits, some of my money was missing. I have no idea how it disappeared, but just in case on the outside chance that you thought it was okay to take it without asking, I wanted you to know that it's not okay."

If they reply, "But Grandma, we didn't take your money. We would never do that!", your sister can reply, "I'm so glad to hear it. Glad that my grandchildren understand that it's never right to take anyone's money without permission-no matter how much they're tempted."
Guilty or not, the children have heard a straightforward message from their grandmother. Instead of facing her punishment, they now have to face her values and confront their own conscience.


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Bladder Control


My 6 and 1/2 year old daughter has recently begun peeing her pants a couple of times per week - at school, at home, on camping trips, etc. We have tried talking to her about it. It seems like punishment is our only alternative. We confess that we don't know what to do to empower Megan to control herself. Do you have any suggestions for us?

Thank you


Punishment is not the answer. We support your impulse to empower Megan to control herself. In addition to problem solving with her (really hearing her out and accepting her explanations), you also need to check with your pediatrician to rule out the possibility of a physical cause to her problem. For example, even little girls can have a bladder or urinary tract infection.


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When 'funny' isn't 'funny'



Thanks for the great work you do. I have never seen this directly addressed. My husband often jokes in a "making fun of way" with one of our children. She asks him to stop and he doesn't. When I ask him to stop he says I have no sense of humor and that joking with kids like this helps them develop a sense of humor.

Is there harm in this for a child?


Yes. The old adage holds true: humor at someone else's expense ain't funny. If you feel the urge to make fun of yourself or your sworn enemy, then have at it. But in that sacred place we call family, put-down humor is a no-no. Why? Because children learn what they live. If they live with put downs, they learn to doubt themselves and put down others. If they express their hurt and are told to ignore it and laugh, they learn that it's okay for others to hurt them. Instead, parents have the opportunity to act as role models for the kind of supportive, encouraging people we all need in our lives -especially when we're trying to deal with our very human imperfections.

As far as you husband's concern about his daughter "developing a sense of humor," there are myriad ways to be playful, zany, silly, whimsical, goof around and make fun WITH, not OF anyone else. For inspiration, see our chapter, "Don't change a mind; change the mood" in Liberated Parents/Liberated Children: Your Guide to a Happier Family.

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Sibling Rivalry Problems



I just finished reading your book "Siblings Without Rivalry". I found it to have great suggestions and ideas on how to deal with problems between siblings, however most of the examples and suggestions were geared toward older children and those already in the throws of a antagonistic relationship. I would love it if you had some ideas on how to get off on the right foot when a new baby is to be introduced to the family. I have a 14 month old daughter who will be a big sister in 2 months, so you see due to her age reasoning won't really work. How do I maintain her confidence in our love for her while still seeing to the needs of the new baby? Any ideas or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.
Thank You,



Dear Erica,

You probably already know the standard new-baby advice - e.g. read "new baby" picture books together; give her her own baby doll to play with; show her her baby pictures; recruit family members to give you a hand, etc. But more important than anything is what you already have in abundance: your own sensitivity to your "big girls" new position. That, plus the skills in SWR, will help you navigate the difficult moments. I wish you much joy in your growing family.

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Competing Siblings


Dear Adele and Elaine:
I have 4 daughters, age 5 1/2, 3 1/2, 1 1/2 and 3 months. The two oldest are obsessed with being first to do everything- first out of the house, first in the car, first out of the car, first up the stairs, etc. The one who is not first will burst into tears about this. It is driving me insane. I have tried explaining that it doesn't matter who is first, empathizing with the loser ("you sound disappointed"). I have also tried setting rules about who gets to be first on each day. Nothing helps. The ironic thing is, my girls happily share a room and play together most of the time. It is just this issue that we can't resolve.


Dear Cathy,

You might want to consider investing in an inexpensive stop watch and two clip boards. Show the girls how they can clock their individual time and chart their progress. ("Yesterday it took me ten seconds to get up the stairs; today I did it in nine!)

The idea is to switch them from the distress of competing with each other (for me to win; you have to lose) to the satisfaction of competing with themselves and recording their personal best.

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Lying Problems


I saw my son break a vase in the living room and he denied doing it. What's the best way to handle lying?


A lie usually represents a wish or a fear. Your son wished he hadn't broken your vase and feared your reaction. It's a good idea to deal with the wish or deal with the fear rather than focus on the lying. Notice the difference between these two scenarios.

Mother: Who broke this vase? . . . Did you do it?

Child: Not me.

Mother: Are you sure? Don't lie to me now.

Child: No, I swear I didn't.

Mother: You're a little liar. I saw you do it and now you're going to be punished.

Instead of trying to trap the child in a lie, it would be best to confront the youngster with the truth:

Mother: I saw you throw the ball and break the vase.

Child: No I didn't! I swear.

Mother: I'm sure you wish it hadn't happened, Danny. I'm upset. I expect you to be able to say "no" to yourself when you're tempted to play ball in the living room. Now how do we get this mess cleaned up.

By not labeling a child "liar," by accepting his feelings, and sharing our own, we make it safe for him to come to us with the truth.

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More Lying Problems


Our daughter (aged 6) has developed a habit of lying. Usually these lies regard something my wife and I do not directly observe. For instance, at a friends swim party this past Saturday someone pooped in the public pool. Our daughter denied that she did it - before anyone asked who did it. When my wife was in the locker room with her, there were obvious poop stains on her bathing suit; yet, she denied that she pooped in the pool. This is just one instance. We don't want to cast her in the role of "liar". What can we do?

Thank you


If you know she did it, then say so without making it an issue: "That must be really embarrassing. That's not the kind of thing you want to tell people. I'll bet you wish it never happened. I'll bet next time you're in the pool, you'll make a beeline for the bathroom as soon as you feel the slightest urge." If you can then share an embarrassing tale that happened to you, that might help her feel like less of a pariah.

By creating a climate where all her feelings are accepted, where she knows she won't be shamed, blamed or punished for her mistakes, she'll eventually feel safe to tell the truth.

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Eating Problems


Dear Adele and Elaine:

I desperately need help in dealing with my three year old. He won’t sit at the table to eat for more than four bites. Then he gets down and starts running around.. My husband and I get tense and we yell at him. Later in the day, while he’s playing or in the bathtub, I feed him myself with a spoon or by putting food in his mouth with my fingers. I know this sounds weird, but it’s the only way he’ll eat. He will even say, “Mommy, you have to feed me.” Since I have an eating disorder, I lean over backwards to not make food an issue. But, I feel totally inept getting him to sit down and eat. Please give me some advice. The entire situation makes eating horrible. Help! I’m at my wits’ end.

(Name withheld)


Our usual response to parents who are concerned about their children not eating enough goes along these lines:

  1. Check with your pediatrician to determine: a. whether your child is getting his nutritional needs met; and/or b. how much food a three-year-old needs in order to be healthy.
  2. Get rid of all junk food in the house.
  3. Involve the child in finding recipes (there are cookbooks for kids in the library), shopping for ingredients, and preparing the food-washing, rinsing, chopping, peeling, etc. a. Serve small, varied portions on a big plate. For example, 3 raisins, 2 cubes of cheese, 3 frozen peas, 3 cherry tomatoes, 3 slivers of carrot, etc. If he asks for more, give him a small portion. b. Or put the food on a serving dish in the middle of the table and let him choose what he wants to put on his plate.
  4. Refrain from commenting on how much or little the child has eaten. What he puts in his stomach is his business. Your job is to provide a variety of nutritious foods.
  5. Instead of “bathtub feeding,” establish a regular meal schedule–breakfast, lunch, dinner and small snacks in-between.
  6. Remove food if he shows no interest and wait for the next meal or snack–served at the table.

If these ideas yield no results, then we urge you to talk over the problem with a professional counselor.

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More Eating Problems


Dear Adele and Elaine,

How can I limit my 4-year-old daughter's quantity of food eaten a day when I am sure she eats too much> I told her that she would be fat but I don't think it was good because now she keeps telling herself that she can't eat because she would be fat...That's a bit sad...

from a reader in Poland


We agree. We don't think it's a good idea for children to be worrying about getting fat. We usually advise parents to rid the house of junk food and keep a supply of fruit, vegetables and whole grains on hand that a child can fill up on and enjoy without guilt. Of course children also need to be encouraged to engage in active play. The combination of wholesome, low-calorie food and plenty of exercise usually leads to healthier, happier children.

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Bullying At School


Dear Adele and Elaine,

Please, I have urgent need for help on the subject!

My five-year niece is suffering a lot at school. Her Mom (my sister) already practices many of the principles contained in your book "How to talk..". It helps a lot, but the problem is still there. Could you, please, offer us your sound advice?



Dear Betty,

It's hard to give "sound advice" when we don't know the specifics of your situation. If your sister were to pick up a copy of How To Talk So Kids Can Learn (If all else fails, she can get it from the library) and look at pages 152 and 153, she's find a number of valuable ideas there. The one suggestion we'd like to underscore is, "Talk to the Teacher."

The book we've written for children to sensitize them to the effects of bullying is called Bobby and the Brockles Go To School. (You can find it on our website) Perhaps your nieces teacher could read it to the class.

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A Difficult Toddler


Dear Adele and Elaine,

My 2.5 yr old is normally a very pleasant toddler, very peaceful and calm and non-confrontational. But occasionally she throws things, and sometimes they're heavy things that could do some damage. She seems to do it for no particular reason sometimes, as well as when she's angry or if we ask her not to do something. She also sometimes hits us or her baby sister, and pushes her sister as well. When she's going through a bad patch (like when she's been ill), this happens more and more often. She's not a hard-work toddler, and I expect and respect the occasional meltdown/tantrum when life doesn't make sense to her. We respect her needs as much as possible (she's still breastfed, sleeps in our bed, and isn't forced to do anything she doesn't want to) but I'm finding this unpleasant behavior very hard to deal with - in fact I haven't got a clue how to deal with it. My instant reaction is to snap, or say 'no' very firmly (although ideally we try not to say 'no' to her much) - it makes me very angry to see her hit/throw/push - but I'm aware that it's not the best course of action to get angry with her, and is frequently counter-productive. We love your books, and feel that putting your principles into practice has made our lives a whole lot easier to live. We'd very much appreciate some guidance or suggestions or anything! I know you're very busy people.

Hope you can help.



Dear Clare,

Two year olds like to throw things. They throw when they're happy and they throw when they're upset. They also hit their parents and their siblings.

Our job? To help them get through this normal developmental phase by teaching them the difference between what they may and may not do - over and over again - until they learn what they need to learn.

How? By accepting their feelings even as we stop and redirect their unacceptable behavior. For example:

  • "Hold it! Blocks are not for throwing - even when you're angry. Here, you can throw the pillow or the balloon."
  • "Ouch, that hurt! I can't let you hit me. But you can tell me what you feel. You can say, 'I don't want you to be with the baby now. I want you to be with me!' "
  • "No shoving! Tell your sister what you want with words, not shoves. Tell her, 'My doll. I'm not ready to share.' "
  • "the carpet is not for cutting. Let's see, what can you cut? How about this paper? Or this cardboard? Which one? You decide."

You'll discover many variations of this kind of talk on your own. By following the basic principle of acknowledging her feelings while giving her guidelines and choices for how she can express them safely, in times you'll see the fruits of your patient teaching.

Now, about dealing with your own anger - (Isn't it amazing how angry a little 2 year old can make us?) You may want to pick up a copy of our first book, Liberated Parents/Liberated Children. There's a section there on anger that many parents have found very comforting as well as useful. It goes into some detail on how one can express anger without being hurtful.

Best of luck and continued pleasure in your growing family,

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A Critical 4 Year Old


Dear Adele and Elaine,

How can I respond to a sentence said by my daughter (4-year-old) like this: "You are bad parents, you are not clever, you do not let me do what i want!" I think there is no point in explaining to her that we are older and wiser and we know more, etc.

Thank you for your answer!

Best wishes, a reader from Poland


You can tell your daughter, "Lucky for your Daddy and me, we have another view of ourselves. But we hear how frustrating it is for you when we stop you from doing something. And even though you know we have our reasons, you still wish you could do whatever you want to do, when ever you want to do it." A statement like this acknowledges her feelings while establishing limits and leaving the door open for further discussion.

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Name Calling


Dear faber and mazlish,

I read ur book: how to talk...almost everyday!! i try to use it but i'm failing. i hear myself criticising and name-calling all the time!!

anyways my daughter is 7 years old. she's constantly calling me fart and other things we do in the toilet! i live in saudi arabia in a muslim community so i'm glad she doesn't hear words like the "f" word and others. how do i solve this problem?

Name Withheld


The fact that you hear yourself name calling and criticizing and want to make changes is progress. But it's hard to change without support. Could you find any other parents - even one - who share your desire and will form a "study team" with you? You can read and discuss the ideas in the book together or use our How To workshop program to help you.

Our hope is that as you stop name calling and start problem-solving, offering choices, etc., that your daughter will also stop name calling and speak more courteously. In the meantime, she needs a way to express her angry feelings.

How about giving her her own "Angry Book," a notebook where she can write or draw whatever she wants - even the words you don't want her to say.

It will take time for both of you to make changes, but time is on your side.

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A Teen in Trouble


Hi, we need help!

I am the mother of a 17 year old boy who has been an outstanding kid. He is a 4.0 student, quarterback of the varsity FB teams since sophomore year, point guard on the varsity basketball team since his sophomore year, nominated optimist club youth of the year two years in a row, and number 1 in his class and I could go on. He has been a great kid and never had any problems or trouble with him until now.

He was given a citation from trespassing because he and some other boys were on church property and had been throwing eggs out into a pasture by the church. He knew it was wrong but just didn't listen to that little birdie this time. He is being punished by us (grounded for a week), punished by the school (missing golf meets) and punished by the courts. We (my husband and I) decided that was enough.

Well, we went to a meeting with the parents of all the boys that got caught and found out that our son was also smoking a cigar that night. Now my husband wants to take away his car, sell it, make him get a job (he is a life guard in the summer), and buy is own car and insurance. Am I wrong to think this is too harsh for a first offense?

My son and husband have become very distant and can't talk to each other. I have a 14 year old daughter that is getting upset by this because all they do is fight. My husband and my son are just a like and they have a way of fighting that they say things to hurt each other. Example: my husband told my son he was a "bad person" now. My son's reply was "Screw you!", I am not a bad person". My son keeps trying to tell my husband that he wants his dad back, the one he used to be able to tell everything. My husband tells him it will never be the same now and their relationship will never be the same. I am afraid he is going to push him out of the house. What do I do? Please help.


Let me try to understand. An outstanding high- achieving teenager joins his friends one night in an impulsive, madcap prank. The boys throw eggs in an empty pasture and experiment with smoking a cigar.

As a result of this one atypical incident, the boy is subjected to a citation by the courts, grounded at home, punished by his school and declared a “bad person” by the father, who, until now had been a lifelong source of love and guidance. What’s more, Dad is now considering the need for an additional major punishment.

Why? Does he feel it is his duty to stamp out this one sign of imperfection in his otherwise remarkable son to make sure it never happens again? Is there a competition among the parents to see who could administer the most severe discipline?

I suggest you and your husband get hold of a copy of How To Talk So Teens Will Listen and Listen So Teens Will Talk. It’s a quick and easy read and you can discuss it together. It will help you both understand that teenagers, no matter how bright, because of their developmental stage, can and do get carried away – either by their hormones, the pressure of their peers or by their own impulses – any one of which can cause them to suspend their normally good judgment. (Look up the latest research on the undeveloped teen brain.)

That’s what parents are for – not to beat kids down when they err, but to support them, to help them understand what’s wrong and stand by them as they figure out how to make things right again. The communication skills to make that happen are all in the book and can be easily adapted to your situation.

It would be a shame to upset the once- happy dynamic of your family and throw away a wonderful relationship with a wonderful boy out of a misguided sense of duty. Your son’s relatively trivial offense needs to be placed in perspective before any further damage is done.

Grownups, as well as children, need to know there’s always a way back!

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Should I read it with my Teen


A psychologist friend recommended that I buy 2 copies of your book, one for me and one for my 17 year old son, so that we could both read it and discuss it. Is this a good idea, or is it better for me to read the book alone as a parent and start introducing the new methods unilaterally?

kind regards
Adam P


Dear Adam,

We like your psychologist friends' suggestion. Your son may or may not choose to discuss our new "teen" book with you, but at the very least, it will spur his thinking about some of the important relationships in his life.

In any case, be prepared to hear him challenge you from time to time with, "Hey Dad, according to this book, you should..." which will give you a chance to reply, "Oh which page? Let me see....Okay, I'll rephrase...How's this?"

The idea of making better communication between you a joint, light hearted effort could prove enjoyable and rewarding to both of you.

Let us know how it goes for you.


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An Uncommunicative Teen


Dear Adele and Elaine,

I’m hoping you can point me in the right direction for a solution to a problem we’re having with our "just turning" 15 year-old daughter. She is quite an athlete, social with her sports team, social at school (as far as I can tell) and remains close with her 20 year-old brother. BUT with her dad and me at home, it is so very difficult to get anything from her. It is always averted eyes, head turned, “walk away one-word answers.” Even though I know she loves us, still we’re having a hard time with this situation. Now I feel my attempts are even more ridiculous than ever. I am somewhere between my old methods (which seemed to work fine till the turning of 13) and awkward with some new words I'm trying to use. I feel the "shutting out" of me is way more than I can handle.

Here’s an example from yesterday. Our daughter was selected to attend a school-sponsored leadership conference. She left Friday morning and returned Sunday early evening. I heard her on the phone talking to friends - “It was awesome, the people were great, those grade 12's were so funny!... a counselor from Australia was way cute... " When it was my turn, I got "it was fine".

Please, I need help in learning how to engage with her. It seems I just annoy her.

Thanks ever so much.



Dear Cecillia,

It can be extremely upsetting to be rejected by your own child - even temporarily. Although we parents might intellectually understand why our kids feel the need to pull away from us during their adolescent years, emotionally it's still painful. Part of our hurt comes from the thought that we're no longer important in their lives. But we are. The journey to adulthood can be confusing and stressful. Despite their averted eyes and monosyllabic responses, our children still need us to be there for them - with ongoing support, respect and love.

So what can we do to stay connected? How can we “be there" for our kids so that when they do need to talk, there will be a mature, responsive adult ready to listen? Parents have told us that one surefire way to discourage conversation is to ask a lot of questions. If you put yourself in a teenager’s shoes, you can readily experience the difference between “So how was the conference?...Who was there?...What did you do?...Did you have fun? And “Welcome home. I’m so glad to see you! Whenever you’re ready, I’d love to hear how the conference went.” Teens appreciate our interest in their lives and our willingness to hear whatever they’d like to tell us, whenever they feel like telling it.

But as far as the larger issue you raised is concerned - "help in learning how to engage" - that's what our new book . How To Talk So Teens Will Listen & Listen So Teens Will Talk is all about. You'll find many more specific communication skills there - all clearly illustrated - that you can put to immediate use to enhance your relationship with your daughter. You'll also find helpful information for dealing with some of the more serious problems that our teenagers face in today's world.

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Parent Teacher Conference


Dear Adele and Elaine,

Over the past three years I have read How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and How to Listen So Kids Will Talk and How to Talk So Kids Can Learn a few times each. I find I need a refresher every now and then and greatly appreciate your hard work and time you put into these wonderful books. I wish everyone in the world would read them.

I am hearing of a problem with my oldest daughter, who is 6 and in Kindergarten, from her teacher. Generalizing the teacher’s feedback, I hear that my daughter is an extremely a bright young girl, but that she really has to learn that she is just one of the 21 other children in the teacher’s class. The teacher says that my daughter wants to answer every question and she always wants to be the center of attention. When I asked the teacher for more information she went on to say that my daughter is a free spirit and that it is important for the teacher and myself to not squash that, but my daughter needs to know she is not her only student. I left feeling my daughter is irritating to her teacher. I don’t know what to do with these comments to positively help my daughter. I am very shy and have bent over backwards to help my children so they have confidence speaking to or in front of others. I praise what I like that they do and I enjoy her participation. I don’t know what to do or what I should be trying to accomplish. I was most recently saddened when my daughter came home from school and happily told me that she only raised her hand once at school today. I think I am guiding her in the wrong direction, but don’t know how to show her how to balance participation properly. I would like to guide her to be what her teacher wants her to be at school but I can’t even put my finger on the “problem” to try and guide her. Over the past few months I have been counting on the fact that 1st and 2nd grade will be more difficult and she won’t already know all of those answers so she won’t volunteer so much, but lately I am worried that that isn’t the right answer either. I think she is behaving very well considering she already reads chapter books on her own but goes to school where they are teaching the children to recognize sight words and all of the different sounds each letter makes so they can learn to read. She never says she is bored and always comes home happy with well colored-in papers. She takes her time to work hard on the assignments she is given and seems to enjoy them even though they are easy for her. Can you guide me so I can lead her to behave more appropriately in school, please? Thank you, in advance, for your experienced help.



Dear Kristen,

Your daughter sounds like a delightful little girl. She's already learned a hard social lesson: You can't behave with the same spontaneity in a classroom as you do in your own home, since you need to be sensitive to the needs of twenty other children. She's proud of her accomplishment and that's as it should be.

Now it's her teacher's turn to make an adjustment. She has a bright, spirited child in her class that she needs to encourage and educate - not stifle. Could she suggest some alternative activities to engage your daughter and other advanced readers in the class (there are probably a few others) while she slowly teaches the "b" sound to everyone else? Perhaps the "readers" could sit at a separate table where they could write, read, do an art project or create a play together. Could your daughter be used as a resource to help other children? Could her teacher tell her how many times she can raise her hand each day -three times? five? In summary, now that your daughter has learned to restrain herself, her teacher needs to provide activity, challenge and expression for her.

So what's a mother to do? It seems another conference with the teacher is in order. Please re-read our chapter, "The Parent Teacher Conference" in How to Talk So Kids Can Learn. The story on page 249 might be especially helpful.

In the meantime, continue to enjoy your wonderful little girl.

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Helping An Angry Child



I am reading How To Talk for the second time now. I first picked it up when my oldest was 3 and I had an 18 month old and I was 6 months pregnant. I was very exhausted and very little sunk in. She is now 6 and a half and believes she is the centre of the universe. My two younger daughters have appreciated the techniques outlined in the book and I feel much better. She is a serious case of But, But, But. She is visually impaired and is not yet reading so putting signs up is not an option. She uses Always and Never, like, you always make me do all the work and I never get to do anything. You hate me, you never let me have anything. You never listen to me. I am so bored, what can I do that's fun.

Most of the time after I have talked about my feelings (where her feelings are more important) and expressed my dissatisfaction, she screaming so she can't hear me. I feel like she is a giant bee that I can't swish away. I do have other children to care for, how am I supposed to get to her so we are a happy family?

Thank you so very very much



Dear Kristen,

What a frustrating situation you describe! Is it possible that your daughter's negative attitude stems from feelings of discouragement - both at home and in school? After all, she was, in rapid succession, displaced as a "beloved one and only" by two younger siblings; and surely it can't be easy for her to experience success in school when she's struggling with a visual impairment.  If that is indeed the case, then you need to go on a "campaign of positivity" to help this child feel valued, enjoyed and competent.

Some ideas:

  • When she complains, refrain from talking about any of your dissatisfactions. She's much too needy now to care about how you feel. Instead, empathize with what she's trying to tell you:
    • "Is that how you feel, that you have to do all the work? I'm so glad you told me. Boy, you'll be happy when your sisters are old enough to pitch in more." or
    • "Oh no, those are awful feelings to have! Sounds as if you can use some comforting. How about sitting on my lap and telling me more about what's bothering you. suppose we write a list."
  • Plan for time alone. Something as simple as a walk or a trip to the supermarket together, while someone watches the other two, can be a bonding experience - especially if you invite her by saying, "How about coming to the store with me? I'd like the pleasure of your company."
  • Aim for at least five compliments a day. Study the chapter on descriptive praise and catch her doing something right. For example:
    • "You did it!"
    • "You figured it out!"
    • "That was a big help to me."
    • "Boy, you don't give up easily!"
    • "What a funny joke! The way you told it made me laugh."
  • When possible, direct the two younger girls to their big sister for help. "Ask your sister how to cut/fold/spin/measure that. She's good at that."
  • Schedule a conference with her teacher. Tell her what you're doing at home and ask how she can support your efforts at school.
  • Read Siblings Without Rivalry . You'll find many ideas there about how to help everybody get along.

The hope is that, overtime, as your daughter slowly begins to feel more empowered and more appreciated, that you will begin to realize your dream of having a basically "happy family".

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Socializing An Aggressive Pre-Schooler


How should I deal with a three year old that likes to touch other children in nursery, often hitting or kicking others and then laughs and thinks its funny?

As the teacher, I’ve tried many of the suggestions in your books; saying “people are not for hitting”, explaining that we can’t touch someone if they don’t like it, and showing him how to ask the other children if they like it, showing him times when he is gentle.

Awaiting your suggestions.


Dear Reader,

The first thought that occurs to us is whether anything is going on in this little boy's life that might be prompting his behavior. Is he getting enough attention, hugging, touching at home? Is there a new baby in the picture? Does he not want to be in school? Or is this simply an exuberant child who likes to physically connect with others and doesn't yet understand that the "whack" which gives him such pleasure to give is not a pleasure for others to receive?

But no matter what the underlying reasons for his aggressive behavior, the other children in your class need to know they're protected by their teacher, and the little boy you describe needs to be stopped - each time - and redirected, if possible with a choice. For example: "No hitting allowed!" "That hurt Todd." "if you want to hit, you can hammer nails or pound the clay... You decide."

You can acknowledge his feelings: "I can see you're in the mood for some rough play. I can't let you kick Jeffrey, but let's think of what you can do with all your energy that won't hurt anyone. Take giant steps around the room? Skip?... Hop?...Do jumping jacks until you get tired?"

You decide when you're in the mood to play gently. Then you can join the children who are playing with blocks. Or maybe you'd rather draw."

Our hope is that over time, this approach will result in a little boy who can recognize his own feelings and better manage his own behavior.

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A Bedtime Battle



I have a 6 and 1/2 year old son, when we start to get ready to go to bed he starts a tantrum. We have tried some down time before bed time, a routine which he gets a snack, a bit of television and also a story every other night. As soon as we say 'ok, let's get ready' he falls on the floor and complains he can't walk, doesn't want to get ready at all. Finally when we do get him into his bed he doesn't want us to put him down... We have tried to give consequences relating to the bed time, cutting down privileges and even trying to reason with him/ Also we have just taken him by his hand and without saying a word just bring him back to bed. We can't seem to find the way that works with him...Can you give us advice that we could just understand why all of this is happening.

Thank You

A Concerned Parent


Dear Concerned Parent,

Here are a few suggestions that might help take the battle out of bedtime;

  1. Eliminate snacks right before bedtime. A snack can get a child charged up when he needs to wind down. If he's hungry, he can have a non-sugared snack well before bedtime.
  2. Eliminate TV before bedtime. TV can stimulate children and leave them irritable, wanting more TV and feeling resentful at having to turn it off.
  3. Consider changing the routine. Post a note:
  4. Story Time begins at 8 p.m. tonight. Admission free to all children with teeth brushed and in pajamas. Love, Mom
  5. Ask yourself, "Has he had enough exercise? Is he tired enough to go to sleep? One Mom said. "I find if I run my boys like dogs, they sleep like little lambs."
  6. Review the steps of problem solving in How To Talk So Kids Will Listen (pages 102-110) and use them to enlist your son's cooperation in figuring out what would help him make the difficult transition from wakefulness to sleep. When you get to the part where you write down possible solutions, you can offer any number of choices. For example, "Do you want your light dimmed or off?" "Do you want to sleep with your teddy bear or lion?" "Do you want to listen to soft music or would you rather have quiet?" "Do you want me to tuck you in now or do you want to read a while and call me in when you're ready to go to sleep?"

Finally, you can post the ideas you both agree to on his bedroom door and congratulate each other on finding some possible ways to make bedtime a pleasant time for all.

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Protecting Children From Labels


Once again I am so comforted by the skills in your new book - they work wonders many times when I least expect it.

Before I even had children, I used to cringe when I would hear my sister-in-law characterize her children as, "Evan is the bad one. Jeremy is too short." On and on. I'm sure her children had overheard this labeling.

I remembered this about "How to talk so kids will listen, etc.", which wasn't in the current book about teens, and I wish more of this topic had been covered. All I remember is that labeling "disables" a child, and makes them not want to try to do better. ("Why? If I'm lazy anyway...").

The problem I run into is that so many times other adults want to know the differences in the children. One adult says, "She's more focused, while the other is more all over the place", looking for confirmation of the observation. I am sure this adult has good intentions. However, even though it is true what she is saying, I feel uncomfortable confirming it (the kids probably didn't hear it), because I like to leave room for change, but I do confirm it gently, because it is, technically, true. This has come up a few times at the end of their sessions with her.

What is the proper response? One that gives them the ability to try another role, or do something differently? Please help. Many times over the years I have been caught off guard with these unwanted characterizations, or requests for characterization, in their presence, and I've never known how to deal with it.

Thanks kindly,



Dear Robin,

Thank you for your warm response to our work and your thoughtful question. It's one that has troubled us over the years. How do we deal with all these well-meaning adults who have the need to typecast children, yet have no idea how harmful it can be - either to the individual child or to his relationship with his sibling. ("If he's the "smart" one, then I suppose I'm the "dumb" one. And what's more, I secretly hate him for being "smart")

But the question remains: How do we protect our children from these well-intentioned people and at the same time respond courteously? Here are some possibilities: (Feel free to add your own variation.)

  • "I suppose I can understand why you might say that, but I see my girls differently. To me they're both capable of being "focused" and 'all over the place.' "
  • "Is that what you think? Well, I've noticed that when Susie gets a game/toy/tape that really interests her, she can be extremely focused."
  • "I guess my kids do seem to have different ways of learning. But all that matters to me is that their learning style works for them."
  • "Hmm. That's a hard question for me to answer. I'm just not comfortable with the idea of looking at my kids as being one thing or the other. I've seen them both change and grow so much over the years, I wouldn't even want to consider type-casting either one of them."

If, by chance, one of your answers reaches a person who is non-defensive and responsive, you can tell her about the chapter in siblings Without Rivalry called "Siblings in Roles - If He's 'This', Then I'll be 'That' " It's a clear and lively exploration of the harm done by labeling and the many ways we adults can help all our children become their finest selves.

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'Don't go to work'


My name is Ana. I have a wonderful son named Anthony. He is 7 years old. Since, he started school I have seen a change in him. He has been wanting to get into several different after school programs, but unfortunately, I am a working mother and I can't get off work on time to get him to these activities. He told me that he hates me going to work. He has a fit when I have to drop him off after school at my mother's or the babysitters. I just can't make him understand how important it is for me to work. I devote all my free time to him. I just don't know what to do. I mean I explain that Mommy has to work because we need a roof over our heads and we need to eat and I have to get him things that he wants and needs. What am I doing wrong? Please help.

Thank You,



Dear Ana,

Probably the best solution to Anthony missing out on his after-school activities, is to enlist the help of a mother who would be willing to pick him up along with her own children and drop him off with your mother or the sitter. (Perhaps the teacher or class mother could help you find a willing Mom. In return you could offer to help her out on the weekend with a playdate or errands.)

As for convincing Anthony of your need to work, you can rest assured. You've done it. He understands. Now it's your turn to understand him. You might say something like, "Boy, you really don't want me to go to work, do you? Even though you know all the reasons, you still wish I could home with you...If it were up to you, I'd be around all the time - night and day. I'd like that too. (Big hug) How about a kiss (lipstick on paper) for you to put in your pocket whenever you miss me."

Kids really are comforted when we give them in fantasy what we can't give them in reality.

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Encouraging Politeness in a Different Culture


Dear Elaine and Adele,

I have learned a lot from your books. I have read many parenting books, and yours are the best combination of practical advice, theory, and giving hope to parents. Now I hope you can help me with some tips on improving my children's politeness.

Recently, my family moved to an Asian country for a year, for my husband's work. We've been here before to visit, so it's not a total culture shock, but still I know things are difficult for my children, adjusting to new schools, new neighborhood, and new lifestyle. However, problems we were having in the States before we left are now glaringly obvious. Children here are expected to greet their teachers and other adults politely. My son, age 8, and daughter, age 4, refuse to do this. They rarely look at others when talking and won't greet visitors who come to our home. My daughter refuses to say hello to her teachers when I drop her off for preschool. Both children frequently complain loudly about conditions (just this morning, my son yelled, "Who opened the window? It's cold.") and refuse to do family activities. I've read your article on the Angry Child, and I know I need to undertake the campaign of positive belief in my children. Do you have any additional tips for encouraging normal, everyday politeness without constantly nagging and reminding the children?

Thank you for your consideration.




Dear Jane,

The situation you describe can be hard on everyone in the family. Here are a few ideas that might be helpful:

  1. Lots of listening to and acknowledging of negative feelings. For example:
    - "There's so much that's new and different here. It can be hard to get used to."
    - "Boy, it's not easy to figure out how to get along with all these new people."
    - "Oh, so that's what bothers/upsets/frustrates you...I see."
  2. Give the children in fantasy what they'd probably like in reality. "I'll bet sometimes you wish we were all back home and not having to deal with all this anymore."
  3. Ask the children about the best and worst part of their day. Join in with your own experiences.
  4. Meet with the children's teachers and brainstorm with them for ideas on how to cultivate friendships between your kids and their classmates both during class and after.
    Role play with the children. Let them be the teacher who greets the new student. You be the student who ignores them and looks away. Then start again. This time model a pleasant, polite greeting. Now reverse roles. You play the teacher and they play the children who at first ignore their teacher and then greet her pleasantly.
  5. Do the same role plays with puppets. (Even a sock puppet will do) Let the children manipulate and supply the voice for the puppets.

I hope some of these ideas help ease you over the hump of what must be a huge adjustment.

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