Stop Talking

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Almost everyone was home for Christmas, and my daughter remarked to her husband-to-be, “enjoying conversation” around the table for the first time with so many of us- “Now you see why I am so loud!  It takes work to get a word in edgewise!”  Apart from a comment about having two brothers, this is a commentary on being human, at least.

As a parent of young children, I did a lot of yelling.  The “Where are you?” kind, the “I’ve already called you to dinner twice!” kind, and the “My eyeballs will fill with blood soon” kind.  It certainly can be emotionally satisfying, like a good run or splitting wood, but side effects can include guilt and creating children who are adult-deaf.  Not so good.

As with many other parenting lessons, I learned much more about this in the classroom as an intern.  Keep in mind that I had been a parent for 5 years when by then, so, you might say it was a little late for me to be learning the basics.  However, I was also quite motivated.  When an adorable preschooler looked at one of my supervising teachers, hands on hips, and remarked : “You aren’t the boss of me!”, I was fascinated to see what would result. Threatening and yelling I had down.  Anything else (except a little bribing), was a mystery.

So one remarkable technique was shutting up.  Seems simple; is hard to do. One way “shutting up” was used was to close mouth and take child by the hand to what needed to happen.  There was sometimes a kind, empathetic smile, and a shrug.  No matter how many words came out of the child’s mouth, there was no talking.  There was mostly no looking.  The grownup might sit down and do some knitting nearby.  They might wash a dish or two. They definitely did not argue, cajole, implore, take away privileges, give reasons or look annoyed.  (Of course, remember that Montessori teachers never have to take children to a doctor’s appointment by a given time, or return a phone call in the classroom.  Or, if they did, they would have an assistant to help out.)

Another shutting up technique is to take upset child and hold them in lap. There might be back-rubbing involved.  There might be looking at a book, or singing (does not count as talking, unless you are singing a ditty like : “If you don’t stop screaming I will throw your My Little Pony out the window, tra la.”)

Yet another one was for adult to calmly start concentrating on something, which may turn out to be intriguing to child, like tracing an inset, or unloading the dishwasher.  This may allow child to switch gears while saving face.

A relative of shutting up is to talk very, very quietly and calmly.  This is also hard to do, but can be very intriguing to the child, who can’t figure out what the heck is going on.

The simplest shutting up is to pick up hysterical child and go home.  As a wise woman once told me, children are made small for this reason.  Any carry position which does not allow the child to kick you is allowed, except by hair.

This may seem manipulative, and, if we wanted to be manipulative, it is certainly at least as easy to shame children into submission.  Worked on me. However, shaming is bad.  Read Brene Brown and everything written about Attachment Theory (not “Attachment Parenting”, which is another issue entirely).

What shutting up actually does, as Laura Markham put it, is to give you a chance to stop seeing your child as the enemy.  My favorite form of the “shut up and hug” method is to get down or sit down on the floor.  As a Montessori teacher, I have to do this a lot, anyway (“Montessori teachers do it on the floor”), and so my floors are clean at school. As a wise parent once told me, it is hard to yell at a child when you are at eye level, and so respect must seep in.  Once you feel empathy and respect, it is hard to yell or shame. And that is good.

Because, ultimately, all your have is your relationship.  And that is what makes them want to come home at Christmas with their husband-to-be, or dog.  And their laundry.

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