Not long ago, I found myself in conversation with a young daddy. He volunteered that he and his wife had an 18 month old who had been having frequent tantrums.
“We give him the silent treatment. It makes him really mad but if we ignore him, eventually he stops.”
Sometimes a child pokes at us to get attention or just stir up some excitement, in which case it’s fine to be minimalistic in our response.
But if we regularly ignore a child when they are overwhelmed with emotions, we may unintentionally send a message that strong feelings are somehow wrong. This can fuel a child disowning parts of himself that are challenging or uncomfortable.
Relying on the silent treatment as a parenting strategy flies in the face of one of my core teachings — that children thrive when parents function as the calm, steady Captain of the ship, capable of navigating stormy seas when a child is trying to stay afloat in life’s “rough waters.”
This is part of what attunement is all about. We acknowledge the flood of feelings with words like, “Aw buddy…this isn’t what you wanted right now. It looks like you’re really mad/ sad/ afraid.”
Many of us grew up being ignored when we were naughty. Given a child’s need for connection, that approach can certainly get the job done. But it comes at a price.
When we give our children the gift of presence and acceptance when they’re struggling, they begin to internalize that all of them is lovable, leading them toward a life where they are kinder and more loving toward themselves.
To learn more about how to keep your calm in the face of your children’s upsets, join me for my PWPS Six Week Intensive course.