Stop Arguing with Your Kids: How To Win The Battle Of Wills By Making Your Children Feel Heard

This book works well as a manual for parents. It is clearly written, it has plenty of real life examples and regular eye-catching bite-sized summaries, and it convincingly explains the importance and the process of listening to your children’s feelings, thereby defusing arguments before they start. For many parents, it may be a godsend.

Rating: 4

Stop Arguing with Your Kids: How To Win The Battle Of Wills By Making Your Children Feel Heard

By , 2004. ISBN 1593850034. The Guilford Press. 229 pages.

This book works well as a manual for parents. It is clearly written, it has plenty of real life examples and regular eye-catching bite-sized summaries, and it convincingly explains the importance and the process of listening to your children’s feelings, thereby defusing arguments before they start. For many parents, worn down by whining, tantrums, or constant battles about cleaning rooms, homework, computer use, etc., ad infinitum, it may be a godsend.

Divided into three parts, How Responsive Listening Works to Eliminate Arguments, How to Apply Responsive Listening to Different Age Groups, and Complications, the book covers just about everything you need to “inspire co-operation in your children” (chapter 4) and “break…the cycle of chronic arguing” (chapter 5). Nichols is a psychologist, family therapist and speaker who has plenty of experience and is not afraid to refer to his own mistakes.

Nichols compares his approach to that of Thomas Gordon, originator of the Gordon method for improving relationships between parents and children. Gordon stresses the importance of active listening, “I” statements and win-win strategies. Gordon sees power as the central issue, that relationships based on power over another are inherently likely to cause suffering. This contrasts with the attitude behind Nichols’ theory, which he sums up here: “Listening is a means to an end, and the end is creating interactions in which the parent is in charge” (p. 89).

Nichols compares Gordon’s “active listening”, in which parents “give back” the message that they have heard from their children, empathically, which makes them feel heard, with his own “responsive listening” which is more concerned with encouraging children to open up and express themselves further. While he makes it clear that the differences in method are mainly created the way some parents put the theories into practice, he makes a valid point that “a perfunctory acknowledgment isn’t the same thing as a sincere and sustained attempt to listen to what a child is feeling” (p. 24) and that “When you’re trying to empathize with someone’s feelings, saying ‘I understand’ is not very understanding. It implies that you already know what they’re going to say. Since you already know what they are feeling, there’s no further need for them to talk about it”. (p. 24) So, the idea is for the parent to encourage the child to open up, after which they will come up with a creative new solution based on their new understanding of the child.

Nichols considers that the use of “I” statements by parents may add fuel to the fire of the argument cycle, by focusing too much on the parent rather than getting the child to open up. Of course, though, when the parent brings themselves and their needs squarely into the equation, the power relationship has already been slightly diffused, equalised. Does that mean that the arguments continue between equal partners? Or does the parent need to efface themselves completely to preserve their authority? How much authority do parents actually have, over and above their duties to protect children in a practical way? These are fundamental questions which are outside the scope of the book, although the issue keeps arising between the lines.

On the whole, though, the book makes a positive contribution to a parent’s toolbox, making the psychological mechanisms in play between children and their parents clearly visible, and suggesting practical strategies in the spirit of genuinely listening to our children.

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