The Silent Treatment
When my children were 3 and 6, I woke up one morning with laryngitis. My whispers were barely audible, and I wondered how I could possibly orchestrate the happenings of the day with no voice. I've never lost my voice before or since, and that one day without it proved to be a huge gift.
After I came downstairs, I drew my children near and said, "Mommy cannot talk today (my 6-year-old could barely contain her joy), so I need your help. You will need to pay extra attention when I ask you for something, OK?" They shook their heads in bemused agreement.
I was astounded at the level of cooperation, peace and harmony we experienced that day. I could not bark commands across the house. I could not bark commands, period. To preserve what was left of my voice, I had to go to the children to get their attention. It was amazing for me to learn how very few commands and words are required to get through the day. As I reflected on this extraordinary experience, I realized I could bring the same peace and calm to days when I did have my voice, if I just didn't use it as much.
There are many opportunities to bring more silence into your daily interactions with your child. The goal is to look for these moments and transform them with the following five practices:
1. Honor Your Child's Pace.
"Hurry up." "Come on." "Let's go." Children are often at the mercy of our hectic lives. If even sometimes we can allow them to set the pace, we bless them greatly.
2. Create a Quieter Environment.
Noisy environments, such as TV, cell phones, radios or a blaring stereo, provide little space to feel connection with our children or to hear our intuitive whispers. Try turning off your cell phone, TV and radio for short intervals during the day and bask in the stillness. Consider going on a TV fast for a week. If that sounds like too much, start small by turning it off during mealtimes or during the morning and bedtime routines.
3. Infuse Your Interruptions With Silence.
"Excuse me. Excuse me!" Have you ever witnessed a child who has learned the polite words to say, but not the polite tone to use when interrupting? My children learned a lovely skill for getting their preschool teacher's attention without interrupting or shouting, "Excuse me!" The teacher asked the children to place a hand on her shoulder (quietly and gently, no tapping or poking) if they needed her while she was working with another student. In return, she agreed to acknowledge them by placing her hand on theirs (that way they feel "heard"). She would then turn to talk with them at the earliest break in her conversation with the other student. We adopted the practice at our home for both parents and children and it continues today.
Another way I have taught my children to peacefully get their needs met if I am on the phone is by writing a note to me. (Part of my commitment to "Parenting With Soul" is that I'm rarely on the phone when my children are home. If you spend a large amount of time on the phone instead of connecting with your children, this practice will lose its effectiveness.) My children heartily adopted my value of silent interruptions.
4. Use the Salesman's Silent Secret.
When negotiating, making a proposition or answering a question for your child, follow with a moment of silence:
"If we get into the car by 2 p.m., we'll have time to stop by the playground on the way to the Cub Scout meeting." Silence
"No, you may not sleep over at Molly's house tonight." Silence
"You need to wear shoes in the store." Silence
In sales this is known as the "silent close" and can feel uncomfortable at first, especially for those of us raised in the word-ridden Western society. Here is the secret of the silent close: Whoever speaks first after the proposal is offered will make a concession in the negotiation. So make the proposal, then zip your lip. Often you find that the level of cooperation soars.
5. Create and Draw From Your Reservoir of Silence.
I heartily agree with Thomas Keating when he wrote in Open Mind, Open Heart: "The deeper your interior silence, the more profoundly God will work in you without your knowing it." As I developed my own silence practice, my parenting instincts improved, and life with the children became smoother. When we regularly experience the soothing experience of silence, we create a well we can draw from when things get hectic.
Practical Ideas for Cultivating Silence
Try one or more of these ideas for cultivating silence in your life:
- Take five minutes in the morning to sit in silence before joining your family.
- Look for moments in your day when you can sit quietly for a few minutes.
- Exercise in silence.
- Take a walking meditation.
- Do the dishes in silence.
- Enjoy a meal in silence.
- Turn off your car radio or stereo.
For example, after hearing about the benefits of silence, Cheryl decided to bring more of it to the time she spent cuddling in the morning with her 6-year-old son, Matt. She shared this interaction:
Matt: I'm sick.
Cheryl: Do you want a cough drop?
Matt: I hate school.
Matt: I don't actually hate school. It's just that my friends are mean.
Cheryl: That doesn't feel very good, does it?
Matt: Actually, if I don't go to school, I get to see Dad. (His father worked nights.)
As often is the case, the silence invited the child's expression of strong feelings. She also acknowledged his feelings about missing his dad, which opened the communication lines even more.
We've all experienced silence that connects and silence that disconnects. The difference is your intention. We've experienced stunned silence, confused silence and numb silence, but for most of us, the friendly silence of one of these six practices will be a new experience, bringing new rewards.
Since ancient times, silence has been worshipped as an important part of many spiritual disciplines. When we make it a part of our parenting discipline, we intensify loving connections with our children. Begin today to infuse your parenting with silence and enjoy the almost immediate rewards.