What is the role of silence in a parent-child relationship? Does it mean that your son or daughter is getting into some trouble in another room? Does it mean that they are (finally!) asleep? Does it mean that they don’t want to talk to you or confide in you? Does it mean that you’ve just asked them to say hello to a friend and they kept silent? Does it mean that something is wrong?

[quote_right]when should we turn off the chatter and allow kids to narrate their own lives?

[/quote_right]Quiet can be something longed for by parents and also something to be feared. Many parents wish for it after a hectic day, but worry when they are faced with it at unforeseen times.

When children are very young, parents and other adults have to do all of the talking for them. We get in the habit (rightly so) of narrating events of the day or talking to other people on behalf of the child. This is necessary for modeling social interactions and helping to create a language rich environment for kids. But when should we turn off the chatter and allow kids to narrate their own lives?

I’ve written about stepping back to allow kids room to help themselves before (Help!), but using quietness skillfully is taking it one step further. In his book, Parent Effectiveness Training, Dr. Thomas Gordon talks about a wonderful way to use quietness: listening. When parents intervene in their children’s’ lives and thoughts all the time, they may be communicating nonacceptance of their children. It can inadvertently show that they don’t trust their children’s judgment in making their own decisions, solving their own problems or creating their own view of the world around them. Offering children silence can help them feel accepted and actually want to communicate with adults more often.

Plus, it’s much easier to let your thoughts wander if it’s quiet, no? This can allow for episodes of creativity or reflection. It can make kids’ inner voices easier for them to hear. And it can also take the pressure of adult demands off of them. I, personally, wrestle with the thought that I ask too many questions of kids or subtly demand too much of their attention. Pointing out fire hydrants on the drive somewhere can be a fun game or it can be an intrusion on some good quality, quiet time. Parents need decompression time, but they sometimes only get it once the kids are in bed. When do the kids get their own quiet time? Only while they sleep?

So, here comes the challenge: Actually keeping quiet.

  1. Set a date. Pick a morning or afternoon in the next week to practice.
  2. Choose a quiet activity for yourself to do. This may help set the stage for your quiet state of mind and your quiet state of house.
  3. Actively work at not interfering in your child’s play or problem solving. It takes will power to keep quiet!
  4. If your child initiates talking to you, think for a second before answering. You don’t want to snub them of course, but maybe they don’t need the paragraph of information that you have at the ready to answer their question. Try keeping it short and sweet as much as possible. Then once the question has been answered, go back to being quiet.

Maybe some quiet from you will help everybody stay a little calmer or help your kids get really good at reading your nonverbal cues or make them more ready to communicate with you. Maybe. At least at the start, you’ll have one afternoon where you let yourself and your kids off the hook to have some quiet time together.

Goodnight to the old lady whispering hush.