Using Silence as an Invitation

Tina Feigal, M.S., Ed.

fatherdaughterDo you remember a time when purposely using silence actually worked to resolve an issue for you?  Maybe it happened and you didn’t even realize you were doing it.  I’ve become a big fan of silence as a powerful tool, not to “give someone the silent treatment” but to invite their thoughts and feelings into the space between us.  When children are upset or pondering a big question (which happens much more often than we realize) we can offer them an invitation by just giving their thoughts time to formulate.

How would this work in life?  Let’s look at a scenario:

Your anxious child comes to you with an urgent message:  “Dad, I need to have my new swim suit ready for tomorrow, but I left it at Sarah’s and there’s no time to go over there.”

You: “Sounds like a problem. ”

Child: “Yeah, and we need to get my suit!”

You: “OK.”  Pause and let the silence invite your child to think of her own solution.

Child: “Maybe just for tomorrow, I can use my old one and ask Sarah to bring the other one on Wednesday.”

You: “Great idea! That will work perfectly.”

We often get caught up in rapid fire/fix-it-now conversations with our children that seem to solve issues quickly and help us move on with our fast-paced lives.  But when we do this, we actually rob our kids of something so valuable – the ability to think for themselves.  We also subliminally tell them that they aren’t capable of resolving issues, and that they need us to guide their every move.  Then we get mad when they don’t solve their own problems!  “You’re eight years old!  (Or eighteen or twenty!)  You should know how to deal with this by now!” How should they, when we’ve been so quick to “resolve it and move on?”

I’m not faulting parents – believe me, I’ve been there, and my sons have been oh-so-reslient and forgiving.  But I do want to wake us up to the fact that children’s inner wisdom needs to be heard.  And that it’s much more present and powerful than we realize.  But we need to allow silence to invite it in.

Once I was talking to a mom and her seven-year-old daughter.  The mom posed a question about how to get along with siblings better.  Then I encouraged her to wait, wait, wait.  After SEVERAL minutes, the daughter erupted with the most elegant ideas about how siblings should get along.  Mom was stunned.  She’d never dreamed that her daughter had such grown-up thoughts.  It just took her some time to formulate them (after all, she wasn’t used to such a long silent invitation, either!)  But when the silence lasted long enough, voila!  Her inner wisdom blossomed, and mom came away with a whole new appreciation for how advanced her daughter’s thoughts had become.

Emotional child development can catch us by surprise. We’re so used to the “measurable” in our world that we forget about the less tangible, but equally amazing emotional and cognitive growth that kids of all ages experience.  We’ll often say to our nieces, “Wow, did you grow 6 inches since I saw you last? I bet you need new clothes every other month!”  But how often do we allow time for our nieces to demonstrate their emotional growth?  Can you picture saying, “Wow, I love watching how your mind works on the topic of humans and the environment!”  No, we stick to the visible.  That’s a huge mistake, because ultimately we want to raise thoughtful, sensitive kids.  How tall they get is pretty insignificant compared to how deeply compassionate their ideas become. We get to choose what we encourage and cultivate.

So the next time your child has an issue with how the world works, offer the silent invitation to his thoughts. “Minimal encouragers”, such as, “What an interesting question,” or “Tell me more about your ideas,” will let the child know the invitation is on the table.  (Also, turn off the video games, so the thoughts aren’t sidetracked by endless electronic stimulation.) You will be delightfully amazed by his emotional development.  Offer silence so you don’t miss the magic!

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Copyright © 2013 Center for the Challenging Child






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