The Silent Treatment
Spiteful words can hurt your feelings, but silence breaks your heart.
You have so much to tell your child, but your child won’t talk to you. Sometimes the silence lasts for a few hours. Sometimes it can linger for days. During the teenage years, it can drag on even longer. When your child won’t talk to you, consider these ideas.
Tips for . . .
- all parents
- Know that kids will stop talking to you when they get mad. Learning the art of peaceful conflict resolution takes years for children to master (and many adults are still struggling with it). Silence is often another way for kids to show their anger at you or someone else.
- Some kids are more private and internal than others. While some kids think aloud, others keep their thoughts to themselves. Thus, some kids are more apt to be silent, while others are more likely to keep talking.
- If your child lives with your ex part of the time, stay close by keeping in touch in creative ways. The asset-building book Stay Close includes 40 clever ways to keep talking when you’re apart.
- Learn to tolerate some silence instead of always giving in and trying to smooth things over. Silence can feel tense, and many parents want to rush in and make it better. Sometimes, though, it’s better to live through the tension, particularly if you want your child to learn a lesson.
- Be in touch with other adults. When kids aren’t talking to you, they most likely are talking to someone else. When you connect kids with other adults, and you stay in touch with those adults, you’re more likely to feel that you don’t need to be the only one your child talks to. Consider the asset-building book Connect 5.
- parents with children ages birth to 5
- Young children rarely stop talking to you for long, so learn to live with the silence when it does happen. Most likely your child will be angry (and may even crawl under a table). After a few moments, crawl under the table with your child. Sit with your child in silence for a while. Then ask, “Are you mad at me?” Listen to what your child has to say.
- Sometimes young children become silent when they become absorbed in an activity. Don’t interrupt. Instead, watch and enjoy your child totally immersing him- or herself in doing something stimulating.
- If you are in a two-parent family, young children can go through phases when they only want to be with one parent and not the other. This is normal. If you’re the one being snubbed, continue reaching out and connecting with your child, but don’t force your child to spend time with you if he or she wants to spend time with the other parent.
- parents with children ages 6 to 9
- Sometimes children will stop talking when they become upset by something that has happened away from home. Give your child space, but after a little while ask if something has happened. Probe, but don’t push.
- Give your kids a break from you (and yourself a break from your kids). Hire a trustworthy babysitter. Have your kids spend a night with grandparents or another family member. Sometimes kids, just like adults, need a change of pace and scenery to connect more with their families.
- Keep reading together. Even if your child doesn’t want to talk to you, pulling out a favorite book and reading aloud can often break the silence in a safe way.
- parents with children ages 10 to 15
- As kids go through puberty, their moods can go up and down a lot more. This also can affect how much—or how little—they talk to you. Many kids can talk for hours on a cell phone but then have nothing to say to their parents. Don’t be surprised if this starts happening in your family.
- As kids separate from their parents, they can feel that you’re being intrusive when you ask questions. Continue being there for your child, but don’t always expect your child to give you a lot of information.
- With technology being such a big part of many young teenagers lives, don’t be surprised if conventional communication (such as talking face to face) is less interesting to them than text messaging, posting updates on their Facebook or MySpace pages, or talking on a cell phone. See if your teenager wants to communicate with you through any of these technological methods.
- Even though your child may stop talking to you, don’t stop talking to your child. One parent had a young teenager who refused to speak to him for two years. Every night when she got ready for bed, he’ knock at her door, hear her grunt, and then go in and tell her a little bit about his day and how he was thinking of her. Years later, she asked her dad, “Remember those junior high years when we had the best talks?” To her dad, those times were painful, but to the daughter they were reassuring.
- parents with children ages 16 to 18
- One of the difficulties of talking with older teenagers is that it’s sometimes hard to get them to stay home long enough to engage in a conversation. Even with busy schedules, negotiate times for your teenager to be home—for some family meals and for a family time. During those times, ask your teenager specifics about friends, school, and what’s happening in his or her life.
- Monitor where your child is going and with whom. Even though it may not seem like meaningful conversation, your teenager gets the message that you care. A helpful asset-building book is Ask Me Where I’m Going.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for another adult to step in if your teen won’t talk to you and you’re afraid of what he or she may be getting into. Another adult can take your teenager out for a soda and just check in.
- Take your teenager out to eat or out for a treat. Your teenager may be more likely to talk if you get out of your home and onto neutral territory. They also tend to talk more when they’re eating something they enjoy.