Excellent Tools for Maintaining Consistent Respect for Our Children in Blackard’s “Say What You See”

“When we demonstrate love and respect, that’s what we get back(pg 5).


You know what’s so cool about this book? It IS a nutshell. It’s a little 50 page handbook that you can read in a half hour. I discovered the book at my daughter’s Montessori preschool.  They were hosting a Language of Listening: Say What You See workshop for parents and had a stack of books available for purchase.  I missed the workshop but was happy to purchase this $8 quick read that had the school’s recommendation.

Sandra Blackard put together her “Say What You See®” handbook and seminars based on communication concepts and techniques that she gleaned from play therapist, Dr. Garry L. Landreth, the author of Play Therapy: The Art of the Relationship.

She presents the concepts and techniques in a simple, easy-to-retain way that every sleep-deprived, toddler-challenged parent will appreciate.

The premise of the book is centered around the idea that loving, respectful relationships flourish when we see the good in our children regardless of their behavior — a great reminder and often difficult to put in practice. When we focus on the healthy need every behavior demonstrates rather than the behavior itself, we can build a new level of understanding and a deeper connection with our children.

“Say What You See” is broken down into six basic communication concepts that allow us to redirect our impulse to judge or express anger and instead see the good in our children in all circumstances.

1) “Responding to the Good in Children”.  According to Blackard, when you say what you see, love and respect are automatic.

2)  “Listening to Understand”.  Everything children do and say is their way of communicating and they must continue to do so until they feel understood. You can listen to understand your child’s perspective by saying what you see and your understanding works like a fire extinguisher for their upset.

3)  “Demonstrating Understanding”. You can do this by giving children your full attention at their eye level and matching the child’s mood with words, actions and facial expressions.

4)  “Saying What You See.”   Making observational statements about what you see as they relate to what the child is doing, saying, feeling and thinking.

5) “Adding Strength”.  To acknowledge your child, Blackard suggests refraining from generic “good job” praise which only leads a child to develop a dependency on parental approval and instead help build your child’s sense of self by adding statements about your child’s strengths after you say what you see.

6) When setting boundaries or rules, you can encourage self-control and creative problem solving by adding what your child can do after you say what you see.


1) What is the healthy need being expressed when my child tackles or hits me?

According to Blackard, the healthy need is physical connection.  We can instead show them a secret handshake or a high five, or my common offer of a tickle fest.  OR we can say what we see, acknowledge frustration and desire to hit something and offer up a pillow instead as something they can do.

2) What are some examples of “Saying What You See” as they relate to what a child is doing, saying, feeling, or thinking?

Doing:  “I see you drawing orange circles” (focus on process vs. product) or  “I heard a crashing sound”  (versus “what are you doing in there?” which sets up defensiveness or lies.)

Saying:  Repeat or rephrase what they say.  “You are really, really, really, really hungry!”  (direct quote from my daughter an hour after dinner).

Feeling:  Validate all feelings.  “You’re feeling really frustrated and sad because you really wanted to do that yourself.”  (another direct quote from our house).

Thinking:  Say what child appears to be thinking.  “Looks like….”  “Seems like….” , etc.

2)  Where can I get a copy of this handbook?

You can buy the book and DVD from the Language of Listening web site.

3)  Are there any Austin area workshops? YES

See web site for details, two are coming up next week.


1) Modeling feelings to show understanding.  My fondest memory of putting this into practice was when we took our toddler with us to a meeting with our attorney at his office. She was 22 months at the time and somehow we thought she could entertain herself in a small conference room while we talked about the light subject of our wills.  HA!  When she got upset because my husband opted to hold her for a while, I tried this method to see if it was the true “fire extinguisher”.  I got super expressive both with my facial expression and voice to match her feelings and state what I thought she was frustrated about.  And despite it working brilliantly, our attorney still made some crack about her having a crazy mom.  I didn’t care.

2) Focusing on CAN-DO’s. I’ve been practicing the, “This is what you can do” forever, having picked it up elsewhere.  For me, it’s effective 80% of the time in redirecting behavior.

3) Adding strengths. I have not put this into consistent practice having really just learned about its effectiveness in this handbook.  I’ve been nervous about the detriments of praise since reading Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting and have focused on making statements about accomplishments or new skills learned instead of saying, “Good Job”.  I’ll say things like, “You are getting dressed all by yourself!  How does that feel?” or “I see you sharing with your sister. I can tell she likes that.”  I really like what Blackard has to say about this in helping children recognize their own strengths and am excited to put this into practice.

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4 Responses to “Excellent Tools for Maintaining Consistent Respect for Our Children in Blackard’s “Say What You See””

  1. amy says:

    is this any different that karp’s happiest toddler on the block?

    good for you for not caring what the attorney said. i’ve found that carrying out these methods really makes other adult uncomfortable – but other children are sometimes almost giddy with excitement. why? because an adult is “being silly” (adults don’t usually act this way) or because the adult is actually “getting” what a child is communicating? i’m not sure!

    • The point that “Say What You See” author makes in matching toddler emotion is totally the same as Karp’s Happiest Toddler on the Block. Yep. I was trying that on before I read this handbook. When Silly works — why the heck not, right?

  2. Monica,

    I just found this blog post from a friend who forwarded me your recent Big tent post.

    Wow! You summarized the book. I’m honored! My hope has always been that my unique simplification of what works with kids would help make other author’s works more accessible. Seems it does given the references to Kohn, Faber & Mazlish, & Karp. If your readers don’t know Ginott, they should look him up, too. I sound the most like him, though I hadn’t read his work when I developed mine.

    Concerning the CAN DOs, the best phrase in the world for even young children to hear is, “Must be something you can do!” Try that while brainstorming with the child. You will be amazed and delighted with their unusual solutions. It will probably increase the rate of effectiveness into the high 90%s. Then if there is no real world solution, step into fantasy and wish with the child. This extreme level of validation should get you near 100%.

    Also, I’m currently updating the little book. One thing I will add is the 3 basic needs to look for when considering CAN DO solutions: 1. experience (I’ve got this body, now what can I do with it); 2. connection (provided by attention and understanding); 3. power (what can the child control?) When a solution for experience and power cannot be found, connection gets them through.

    Thanks for sharing SAY WHAT YOU SEE with your readers!


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