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Silence

How often does today’s child experience silence? How often do they have nobody talking to them, no tv or radio on in the background, no cd’s or computers, no honking horns or blaring sirens? How often do they have none of these, all at the same time?

Today’s child is surrounded by a world that is go-go-go, and is filled with chatter. We adults are used to it, and can filter it out. But unlike adults, children cannot filter out their backgrounds by any method except falling asleep. We often don’t realize just how exhausting it is to really notice every truck that flies by, every airplane that flies overhead, every sound coming at us and the energy (if not the content) of every word being said. So I just wanted to give a reminder of the value of silence, so that we can consciously seek it out for our children. In fact, the worst culprits of noise in children’s lives is often us: the loving adults in their lives. Many of us talk at our children all day long, scarcely pausing to take a breath. We comment on everything we see, everything we think, everything. This is an especial challenge for many of us –and I include myself in this– who are extroverts, who thrive on interactions with others. Many of us have perhaps never had much practice with silence in our own lives. But despite the fact that it doesn’t come naturally to me, I work on cultivating it, for I firmly believe in its value.

Silence can bring to light what otherwise hides: for children who are anxious, silence may give them the chance to truly explore the world, on their own terms. For children who are timid, silence may allow them to form their own impressions without following someone else’s opinion. For children who are extra social or sensory-seeking, it may give them the space to discover their own inner selves in addition to their outer experiences. For the sensitive child, it may be like a huge sigh of relief. For others it may be uncomfortable at first. For all of these children, silence is valuable.

How to Find Silence Nature is a place where silence thrives. Take your children on a hike, or to a wildlife area, or on a picnic by a lake. Even going on a walk each day in your neighborhood, or sitting in your back yard, can create some time where the chatter turns off.

But you can create patches of silence in your home, too. If you are someone who chatters throughout the day with your child, then this will take some effort on your part, and some adjustment on the part of your child. You don’t want them to feel like you’re pulling away, emotionally, or they’ll simply become clingy and demanding. So how can you be fully present, while stilling the chatter? I find that humming a song is a magical way to do this. I hum when I’m doing tasks around the house, and when I do this, I find that my energy sets the tone of the play. My energy fills the room, and the children feel like I’m right there beside them, even though I’m physically somewhere else. This, while not silence in the strictest sense of the word, is still silence to children. They can disappear into their play or into their experience of the world, all the while knowing that I am nearby, without having to check again and again.

I, personally, tend to use knitting and cooking as my main ways of creating silence for the children. I’m there, I’m available to give help, emotional check-ins and the occasional conversation, but I’m always being pulled back to my knitting, or pulled back to my cooking. This back-and-forth will go well for perhaps 20 minutes, then the tone of the play will change. The little one becomes fussy, or the children become clingy, or start bickering amongst themselves. Then I put my knitting in its bag and look to really connect with the children: with an adult-led activity if they’re old enough (two and up) or with a snuggle or a piece of bodily care if they’re tiny: changing diapers, getting a snack, brushing hair; I do them slowly and in ways that help us connect. –By the way, these work for older children, too!

The Rhythm of the Day Think of the hours of the day like the oceans, with the tide going in and out. ‘High tide’ times are times of big energy, either physical or social, and ‘low tide’ times are times of inward-looking energy, either through concentration (coloring, crafts), relaxation (looking at books, time ‘away’ from others such as nap-time or being outdoors) or other types of silence. The day overall tends to be high tide in the morning, low tide after lunch, high tide again (although not quite as high) in the afternoon, then low tide leading up to bed in the early evening. Outdoor time is wonderful for children because it can be big-energy time for those who need big energy, or inward-looking time for those who need that. Children can self-regulate much more effectively outside, where they can be big or small, with others or away from others. In addition to the overall tides of the day, within each hour you will see mini-tides. I think about this as I plan my mornings with children, and make sure that there is time and space for them to come to quiet within themselves, before the energy gets big again.

This coming to silence is rejuvenating not only for the children, but for me, as well. When I first started working with groups of children, my goal was to get in five minutes of knitting each morning while I was with the kids. Just five minutes of inward-looking activity for myself. As I got to know the children better, I was able to do five minutes twice, then three times, then lots.

Final Thoughts Even during the rest of the day, be aware of the levels of noise. Be aware that young children can’t filter sounds out like we can. So, chatter a bit less, turn off the stereo or the cd player from time to time, and you may find that the ‘witching hour’ of 4:30-5:30pm is a little less exhausting for everyone.

Warmly, ~Miss Faith

Comments

  1. Thank you so much for writing this post, it has brightened my day. I am an introvert and have the opposite problem as you, I need to make a conscious effort to talk to my son all day. My nature is to not say a lot unless there is something to say. When my son was born I was bombarded with the advice to ‘talk to your child constantly so that they will learn to talk’. This was especially challenging for me when my son was a newborn and the conversation was totally one way. (As he grows and interacts with me, even though he is still pre-verbal, chatting with him has become a joy.) This advice has made me feel as though I’m not doing enough for him, so I find myself trying to talk when I normally wouldn’t, like while we’re out for a walk…I’ll identify objects we see along the way or sing little songs, but it feels unnatural. Your post helps me to realize that silence is a good thing, and that is a relief! Thank you.

    • Tori, Thanks for sharing this. In fact, simply keeping up a running monologue doesn’t improve children’s language acquisition; it’s the interaction between the two of you that plant the seeds of language. This is done through noticing children’s cues and reacting to them; something many introverts are better at than some extroverts. By this I mean, you see him point to an orange and you say, “An orange!” He keeps reaching and you say, “You want the orange?” He gurgles “rah!” and you say, “That’s right, orange! Orange!” as you hand it to him. (I learned this about language acquisition from the book “Nurture Shock” by Po Bronson. A great book that looks at myths our culture has about parenting, and what research has shown instead.)

      • Thanks again for your thoughtful reply! I’ve put “Nurture Shock” on hold at the library, I’m excited to read it. If anything, your post and reply have changed my attitude about interacting with my son. It’s nice to know that I’m doing the right thing for us 🙂

  2. I’m wondering about the reverse situation, when it’s the child who’s talking non-stop? Like the poster above, I’m an introvert and I loved this article because I truly value silence. My 2.5 year old is verbal to the extreme, and by the end of our (napless!) days, I am pleading with her to stop talking for just 1 minute. This is the largest cause of my anger with her, and I feel bad for being angry at her for doing something that’s not technically inappropriate or wrong. How do I encourage my little chatterbox to observe and absorb sometimes instead of processing all of her thoughts out loud?

    • Thanks for writing! I totally understand feeling exhausted by a child talking non-stop. In that case, it seems like the trick is to help them learn to appreciate silence as well, instead of them just feeling like you’re pushing them away by telling them to stop talking. How can we cultivate an appreciation for silence in children? Humming is one great tool, because it ‘feels’ a little like you’re talking to them, so they don’t have to fill up the silence. Also, try cultivating connecting-silence moments, where you point something out to them (a bird on a branch, a flower blooming through the snow, a candle burning) and gaze at it silently along with them. If they try to speak, shush them softly or hold a finger to their lips, then in a moment turn and make delighted eye contact with them, and talk about what you saw. Another way to help them enjoy the silence might be to bring them on your lap and invite them to ‘listen’ with you. You might comment softly on what you hear–a bird singing, a car driving by, the water-heater kicking on–then drift into silence for a few moments. Remember that this is something that they’re learning to do with you, so start small and make sure it’s enjoyable and connecting, and then gradually they’ll be able to do it for longer and longer. This way, the quiet moments will be something that they can really enjoy with you, instead of feeling like you’re trying to shut them down. Does that make sense?

      • Thanks Miss Faith, that makes great sense and I’ll be using your ideas for my 4 year old who also talks A LOT. Also, she tells me and other adults a lot of made up things. When I know for certain it is made up and say ‘that’s an interesting story’ or even imply she has made it up by saying ‘that’s interesting’ she says ‘it’s real!’ How would you react in these kinds of situations?

        • Thanks for writing! I can’t tell for sure, but it may be that what your daughter is looking for is a ‘real’ response to her imaginative comments, instead of the studied indifference she’s getting. When kids say things that are made up to me, I easily correct them into the subjunctive tense (just like I would correct any other grammatical mistake at age 4), or add a ‘you wish’ or ‘you’re imagining’ in front, and then treat what they have to say as interesting. Ask questions, be interested. Just because it’s imaginary doesn’t mean it’s not important! (Of course, if she talks all the time, there may be times for talking and times for less talking. But it shouldn’t necessarily be the topic that determines whether she gets interest or not). Does this make sense/ring true?

  3. Another great bit of advice! The part about outdoor time is just what I’ve been searching for. My 1.5yo and 3.5yo daughters are out of sync with each other in the afternoons, since the younger one is refreshed from a nap and the older one is tired after a busy morning at nursery. I’ve been trying to find a home rhythm that would meet both their needs. Tomorrow I will try moving our outdoor time forward so they can play/rest in the garden. Excited to have these new ideas to bring to my family. Thank you.

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