What should we do when our children grow silent?
There are days when we all would long for some silence as parents—during those long colicky twilight hours; the “why” stage of toddlerdom; the early grade school years when we’re treated to an unending litany of made-up knock-knock jokes; and the “you’re so uncool, why can’t I . . .” rants, stomping, and door slamming of pre-teens and teens. Yet, there are also times when we get concerned once that silence materializes. Our authors this month give us some options for how to deal with that kind of silence. So far, none of them are willing to offer ways to achieve silence during those other stages. . . .
It seems that we live in fear of quietness. Not only do we as a culture shy away from it, but we don’t particularly like it when our children grow quiet.
I would encourage you to embrace the quietness.
One of the benefits to homeschooling for six years was that I easily was able to incorporate quiet time with God into our day. Now that most of them are in brick-and-mortar schools, it is a little more difficult, but my children have learned the benefits to taking quiet time.
Jesus modeled quiet time on a regular basis. Whenever his disciples couldn’t find him, it was usually because Jesus took time out to be in solitude with his Father.
What a gift to model to our own children. When we are frustrated, scared, confused, or even full of joy, how often do we find solitude to hang out with Jesus? When my children are angry or overwhelmed, they can learn to take the time to break away from the chaos (or even the perceived chaos) and lean on the true Comforter.
What about when our children grow quiet to isolate themselves in an unhealthy way? Tad and I work hard to create space. Safe space. Space to feel disappointed, hurt, overwhelmed. Let them share without judgment or the need to fix (this is a constant struggle for me). Listen. Really listen. Without reacting.
Sometimes our kids just don’t want to talk to us. I truly believe that is okay. Tad and I have prayerfully asked for guidance to find Christian mentors for each of our children. We found people who foster relationships with our children so they can go to them when they don’t feel like they are ready to talk to us. We intentionally ask people who we know will provide the spiritual guidance that will bring our children closer to Jesus.
One last thing I would like to add is to pray. Pray for your children. Not only in the quiet of your bedroom at night, but also out loud in front of them. Maybe pray outside their closed door. Maybe pray in the car while they are strapped . . . I mean, buckled . . . in. Maybe even put your hands on them and literally pray over them. Let them hear the words you share with your heavenly Father on their behalf. Maybe pray in their room when they aren’t in there. Whatever it looks like in your home, keep praying.
One of the greatest skills of parenting is communicating with our children. Truly hearing them, reflecting their words, giving them an understanding that their thoughts and feelings are heard and acknowledged. Don’t we all want people like this in our lives? What a wonderful demonstration of love to be fully present with another person in close communication.
As children grow and develop and experience a multitude of new things, there is a lot to process and understand. What if we get the sense that our child doesn’t want to talk about it? Here are a few things to keep in mind:
Parents of young children: Now is the time to set the stage for a lifetime of proper communication. Get them used to talking about their day. Consider making it a bedtime ritual. Share one great part of your day and one not-so-great part—both child and parent. Then spend time in prayer thanking God for the highs and asking for his help regarding the lows. This early communication sets the stage for the teen years.
Another thing to keep in mind is our children’s temperaments. By nature, don’t some kids seem to think out loud and others internalize? Some kids want/need to be verbal. Others, not so much. We parents have these same natural preferences.
Here’s a recent example in my family. I picked up Kayla from an after-school practice and said, “Hi.” I got a hi back, and then I settled into a comfortable silence. After a few seconds, Kayla said, “Ask me something about high school.”
Boy, do I have it made in the communication parenting skill area with her! Not only did my extroverted daughter tell me about her day, but she even interjected questions to herself for me! “Let’s see, what else happened today?”
Now my seventh-grade son, Josh, is a bit different. I picked him up from school and made the mistake of asking him a close-ended question: “How was your day, buddy?” He replied with, “Good.” Insert silence.
I have come to understand that Josh prefers to process his thoughts internally and needs to be drawn out with more questions such as, “What was your favorite thing today?” “How come?” “What did everyone play at recess?” Reflecting some of his thoughts and feelings keeps the communication going. But there are times when an introvert simply needs to spend time in thought in order to process effectively. Silence is important.
Is it a problem when our kids are silent? Maybe for some. If Kayla grew silent, I’d be quite concerned. I would check on her for sure. Josh’s silence can be harder to decipher. Is it his natural tendency or could he be troubled? Whichever the case, my wife, Kelly, and I make it our goal to watch for those opportunities to check in and give both kids the understanding that we are here and willing to talk if or when they need to. It is our way of demonstrating our love for God in their lives.
Sometimes I think half the battle of parenting is not to take anything too personally. When your teenage boy goes quiet, for instance, it’s usually not about you.
It can be a hard adjustment, though, because wasn’t it just last week when he was sitting in the kitchen, going on and on while you were browning the ground beef? I once listed everything my 11-year-old son talked about in a 20-minute stream-of-consciousness deluge, at which my only requirement was to nod and grunt. His oration included palindromes, peristalsis (which is why you can drink milk upside down), how his arms were getting stronger (so adorable), and the middle name of Harry Truman. (It’s “S,” by the way. I know this because he told me.)
But then the chatterbox morphs into the one grunting, and you panic a little: Why doesn’t he talk to me anymore? Is he in trouble? Does he hate me?
What I learned is this:
- A bit of silence is normal. Teens are supposed to grow up and separate from their parents. Part of that is talking to you less often.
- Asking a million questions does not work. Even though you just want him to know you’re interested in his life, it can come off as prying and controlling.
- It sometimes works to ask about a friend: “So why isn’t Riley going out for choir this year?” That can lead to an actual conversation—about other friends, Riley’s pool party three weeks ago, and maybe even the girl he’s had his eye on. (Mission accomplished.)
- Respect his privacy. Don’t share the news about that girl he has his eye on with your book club.
- Don’t make everything a teachable moment. If he tells you he’s going to skip college and take his garage band on the road, just say, “Okay!” Chances are, he’ll figure out how dumb that is all on his own. But if you shut him down right away, the next time he has a big dream or crazy idea, he won’t bring it to you.
- Have adult conversations about adult topics at the dinner table—the latest political question, a home budget issue, something you saw at the store that made you uncomfortable. Let everybody weigh in. Treat all responses, even the immature ones, with equal respect.
Now it’s possible that a teenager’s silence is a warning sign. If he’s hiding in his room all the time or is exceptionally surly, he may be struggling with something bigger than he can handle—a traumatic breakup, guilt over a sin, an Instagram situation that exploded, some kind of violence, even depression or substance abuse.
In this case, although he’s silent, he’s actually crying out for help, and you need to be the parent. Search his room. Check his social media. Ask another adult he trusts—an uncle or teacher—if something’s going on that you should know about. If the situation warrants, talk to a counselor with him.
But that’s the exception. Usually a little silence is just part of your teenager’s individuation—growing up and separating himself from you. (This is the goal, remember? We don’t want to be doing their laundry when they’re 23.)
If you give him respect and love and space, he’ll know he can come talk to you whenever he wants to. You’ll be browning the ground beef some evening, and suddenly he’ll feel the need to tell you—everything. Whether he’s 11 or 17 or 30, just nod and let the boy talk.
Author: Multiple Authors
Volume 104, Number 11
Issue: November 2017