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