Is the silent treatment cruel? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 04:52 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Today my dh and I took my DD (2.5 yrs) on an outing that she really enjoyed. Eventually it was time to leave and after giving her a (one more time!) warning, we left. She was very upset and expressed her extreme displeasure on the walk back to the car, and while getting into the car, and while driving away. After about 10 min of commiserating with her, and explaining why we needed to leave (the venue was closing), and attempting to distract her with the next stop (a store she enjoys), we finally told her that if she didn't stop whining, yelling, crying, and complaining, we would ignore her and go straight home. She continued going on and on (she is very verbally precocious) and so we stopped acknowledging what she was saying and sat in silence.

OMG you'd think we were tormenting her. She was screaming at us, "MAMA! PAPA! I AM TALKING TO YOU ABOUT SOMETHING!" "MAMA! TALK TO MEEEEE!" and kicking in her seat and trying to kick me, and really becoming out of control. I have actually never seen her so upset - not being acknowledged was clearly the worst experience she has ever had. She is normally very mild mannered and rarely has a temper tantrum so this was very much out of character for her.

I really did not wish to engage in the conversation with her anymore and I could not get her to change the subject. I felt as though ignoring her as she continued to pursue the argument was the appropriate choice of action, but I was very taken aback by how very very upset she was by this.

Is the silent treatment inappropriate for a small child?

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#2 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 05:50 PM
 
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I edited out my offensive response. didn't mean to be rude.
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#3 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 05:55 PM
 
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I disagree with the above poster. You tried for 10 minutes to sympathize with her and hear her. I don't think what you did was that cruel.

I do the same. After about 10-15 minutes of listening to one of my kids go on and on and on about something that can't be changed, I will say "I am done with this conversation." and I will not engage any more.
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#4 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 06:00 PM
 
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I disagree with the above poster. You tried for 10 minutes to sympathize with her and hear her. I don't think what you did was that cruel.

I do the same. After about 10-15 minutes of listening to one of my kids go on and on and on about something that can't be changed, I will say "I am done with this conversation." and I will not engage any more.
I completely agree with this! I do my best and then I say "I'm done with this topic".
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#5 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 06:03 PM
 
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Wow Katie, read my thread, "Anyone try this?"

I think the silent treatment, per se, is not cruel for many children, though not ideal. For the sensitive child it could be devastating but for the strong-willed, optimistic child? Just very irritating.

However, having had a toddler like yours, Artichokie, I am all too aware of what happens when you feed the whine monster. Mine HATES it when I do not feed her arguments. Of course, mine is older and they really are arguments (not fights, just arguments).

I think at 2.5, I would be quiet for some time, then reply with, "I will speak to you when you are calm," or "shhhh..." Sometimes I would start singing and wait for her to join in. Because empathizing and validating at that moment is to the child, reinforcing really, really irritating and unsustainable behavior. So there has to be a way to tell the child you are there for her WITHOUT getting dragged into a whine/complaining vortex.

If you can stand to read my possibly-pregnant, certainly-hormonal venting about my 3.5 year old (and remain calm about your impending future as the mother of a verbal, strong-willed little girl--tip, it's a good grape year, so buy wine now) you will find a TON of useful tips in there.

Especially tips that last beyond the 2.5 stage. A lot of stuff that used to work with us that no longer works was also brought up there.

Good luck. 2.5 was the beginning of my adventure in trying to remain gentle with someone who has been trying really hard to see how gentle she really needs to be with me. And it has tested my every limit.

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#6 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 06:10 PM
 
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"The silent treatment" makes me think of shunning and pretending someone doesn't exist. I do think that's cruel. But that doesn't sound what you're talking about. I wouldn't argue and I'd say, every so often, "I'm not going to talk about that anymore" or whatever (but the same thing every time.) So she knows you're there and not ignoring her existence, but she also knows you aren't going to sit and argue with her. Don't feed it. Kids that age want arguments and power struggles much more than you do and will work harder at it.
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#7 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 06:19 PM
 
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I have definitely taken a similar approach by saying something like, "I have explained why we had to leave. This is not up for discussion anymore. When you're done we can talk about something else." Then I don't engage. If there are signs of quieting down I might sing or try another topic or distraction. I don't think you were cruel. It sounds to me like she was surprised by the new approach, instead of getting attention by way of attempted distractions there was suddenly no attention.
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#8 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 06:25 PM
 
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I disagree that it's inappropriate. It's a tool i have used similarly - i don't just blank her without warning, but i do, after some long moments of tantrum/etc. say "ok, i'm not going to discuss this anymore". I have also been known to say "i'm sorry, my ears can't hear whining".

I think validating feelings is very important, but it's also very important to recognise when behaviour has become about a power struggle or confrontation rather than what sparked it off. For example if my DD1 says she's angry i will always ask why, listen to her, see if i can help her work out a way to feel better and generally try to help. I do not sit for the hour + she is perfectly capable of, validating that the minor setback which made her angry is a major setback she deserves restitution for.
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#9 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 06:31 PM
 
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My only thought was to wonder if your DD is by any chance still RFing. I could see myself doing something very similar, but DS is RFing still and tends to be a bit insecure in the car as he can't really see us, YK? Periodically he'll just ask "Mama?" as though to make sure I'm still there.

So not aknowledging him - even if I had warned him I was through talking about it - would totally freak him out. Maybe another way around it would've been to start discussing something (anything!) else with your DH so she knows you're still there but are through with her conversation?

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#10 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 06:32 PM
 
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I generally have a hard time with the silent treatment. If my ds were shouting out:

"MAMA! PAPA! I AM TALKING TO YOU ABOUT SOMETHING!" "MAMA! TALK TO MEEEEE!"

I would say "I hear you honey. I know you're sad, but we're really really done talking about that now." And I would probably put on his favorite CD and sing along loudly.

IME, the silent treatment in its true form can make these sort of clashes worse. Leaving fun places is particularly hard for DS. He is only just starting to realize that he will get to back another time.

Rebekah - mom to Ben 03/05 and Emily 01/10, a peace educator, and a veg*n and wife to Jamie.
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#11 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 06:42 PM
 
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I think it's pretty cruel at any age, but it must be particularly frightening for a small child. I think it's fine to be done discussing a certain issue, but there's no need to ignore a child altogether.
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#12 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 06:57 PM
 
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I think the silent treatment in general is somewhat harsh, however, I would let my child know that I was not going to talk to them about this situation anymore but if there is something else they would like to talk about, I'd be happy to talk to them.

I also would typically put some music on at that time and if they were screaming out of control (non-sensically), try to engage in some song. That works alot in our family...turning sadness to song is magical!

I don't think I could ignore this line:
"MAMA! PAPA! I AM TALKING TO YOU ABOUT SOMETHING!" "MAMA! TALK TO MEEEEE!"
I would have to acknowledge them.

But I think a pp had a good point about being RF...if this was the case, it could make the child really uncomfortable.

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#13 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 07:10 PM
 
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I don't think that it was cruel. You tried to talk to her about it, you asked her to stop screaming and you let her know that you weren't going to talk to her about it.

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#14 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 07:30 PM
 
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I think it's pretty cruel at any age, but must be particularly frightening for a small child. I think it's fine to be done discussing a certain issue, but there's no need to ignore a child altogether.
yes, this is what I mean too. I don't think it is cruel to tell a whining child- I am not going to talk about this anymore, and to stick with that. But to ignore the child altogether- I think is inappropriate.
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#15 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 07:39 PM
 
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The silent treatment is an inappropriate response to a person of any age, for any reason. There is a difference between ignoring a person (cruel) and ignoring a topic (fine).
In this case I would have said, "Sweetie, I've explained why we left, I understand that you're upset. Let's talk about something else- would you like to sing a song?" If she's distracted, great. If she's not, and she continues to scream about leaving, I would just continue to repeat the above statement.
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#16 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 07:42 PM
 
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I sometimes will hold my son's hand while we are driving, and he is very upset. And after 10 minutes or so of explanation, it is better for me to just say "Uh huh, you are very sad" and "it's ok to feel sad."

Or "I love you so much."
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#17 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 07:43 PM
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The silent treatment is an inappropriate response to a person of any age, for any reason. There is a difference between ignoring a person (cruel) and ignoring a topic (fine).
In this case I would have said, "Sweetie, I've explained why we left, I understand that you're upset. Let's talk about something else- would you like to sing a song?" If she's distracted, great. If she's not, and she continues to scream about leaving, I would just continue to repeat the above statement.
I agree with this. The silent treatment is even worse for an extrovert who uses interacting with other people to calm down. Also a tantruming child needs a calm adult to help them deal with their overwhelming emotions.
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#18 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 08:55 PM
 
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I think it's pretty cruel at any age, but must be particularly frightening for a small child. I think it's fine to be done discussing a certain issue, but there's no need to ignore a child altogether.
Agreed. I would have continued to say things like "I know you are sad." or continue to distract, or hold hands or something. But to completely ignore would not be something I would do. I too am curious to know if your child is still rearfacing. We choose to continue to rear face but, when we travel as a family DH or I always ride in the backseat with little man.
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#19 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 09:55 PM
 
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Yeah after 10-15 mins of validating/helping etc, I would be totally fine ignoring. I know some folks think its cruel, but really as we get into minute 16 of the whining/crying/freaking out about something I can't change, the best you might get is being ignored!

I have defintely said to my own and to other kids I'm around, things like, "when you are ready to talk about something else, I'm right here." or "I'll go in the other room when you have calmed down we can xyz." or "Tell me when you are ready/willing to..."

While I value validating and helping through moments, sometimes kids need to do it on their own and sometimes continuing to engage with it just continues it for longer. Sometims they just need a few minutes to freak out about it and then we can all move on.
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#20 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 10:23 PM
 
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Did anyone read the Great Brain series as a kid? In those books, the parents (Utah, early 1900's) made the bizarre choice (from the community's pov) never to strike their children. They punished them only with the silent treatment. The narrator (these are based on his own childhood) often mentioned that they'd rather get whipped like their friends than have the silent treatment for a week. But it certainly didn't seem to do any lasting harm.

I don't think the OP harmed her kid at all. But mostly, it reminded me of those books.
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#21 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 10:44 PM
 
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I would say "I hear you honey. I know you're sad, but we're really really done talking about that now." And I would probably put on his favorite CD and sing along loudly.

IME, the silent treatment in its true form can make these sort of clashes worse. Leaving fun places is particularly hard for DS. He is only just starting to realize that he will get to back another time.
Thats what I do, but I say "I am all done talking about this, (because they apparently arent) Ill talk about anything else you want or we can listen to music. If that doesnt work I just put on the radio and right away they always stop because they dont want to not constantly converse.
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#22 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 11:00 PM
 
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Thats what I do, but I say "I am all done talking about this, (because they apparently arent) Ill talk about anything else you want or we can listen to music. If that doesnt work I just put on the radio and right away they always stop because they dont want to not constantly converse.
I meant we, mommy and Daddy...but good point!

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#23 of 57 Old 07-25-2010, 11:16 PM
 
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I don't think what you did was cruel at all. I'm at that stage too. My very verbal 26 month old occasionally has tantrums like that, where no amount of me distracting him, understanding where he's coming from, or explaining to him why he can't have his way, works. After 15-20 minutes, I've just had enough, and will tell him, I just can't hear this anymore. If we're in the car, I put on music or open the windows (weather permitting) to make some "white noise". At home, I go into another room. Of course, I don't usually not respond at all. Every few minutes or seconds (I don't know, time goes SO slowly during a tantrum, doesn't it?), I will say something along the lines of, "When you're ready to talk calmly, I'm ready to listen" or, "When you're ready to listen and not yell, I'm ready to talk with you again." This way I let him know I'm there for him once he wants me there. But really, continuing to interact with him when he's like that just gets him more and more wound up.

Interestingly, I've found this to not be the case with my (older) son. When he used to tantrum (he doesn't very much anymore, but back in the good ol' toddler days), he NEEDED interaction with me to calm down. He wouldn't calm himself unless I was holding him or "talking him down" from it. My younger son doesn't respond the same way at all, so it took a few iterations before I got what he really needed. (I kept thinking that what had worked for DS1 would work for DS2).
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#24 of 57 Old 07-26-2010, 04:03 AM
 
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In this case I would have said, "Sweetie, I've explained why we left, I understand that you're upset. Let's talk about something else- would you like to sing a song?" If she's distracted, great. If she's not, and she continues to scream about leaving, I would just continue to repeat the above statement.
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nd I would probably put on his favorite CD and sing along loudly.
This is just ignoring the child while talking at her.

I agree that it lets the child know you're still in the car, which is important if that is the issue.

It is not any more emotionally gentle because it does not recognize what the child is saying.

I think these are disingenuous tactics. "I'm not listening to you or responding to what you're saying, but I'll just talk/sing so that you think I'm not ignoring you."

For a child focused on the discussion or topic, I don't see how it would be any more gentle.

It does keep up a connection for an inarticulate child that is using the topic as a bridge for connection.

But that is not always the case.

It's not that the stay-at-home-parent gets to stay home with the kids. The kids get to stay home with a parent. Lucky Mom to DD1 (4 y) and DD2 (18 mo), Wife to Mercenary Dad
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#25 of 57 Old 07-26-2010, 04:11 AM
 
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No I do not think you were cruel at all. I think that 10-15 minutes of explaining why you had to leave was more than enough conversation. At that point she is just arguing.
Did she try and talk to you about something else or was it only about having to leave?
I think that acknowledging her emotions is vital in situations like these. Asking her why she is upset and telling her that you understand. Maybe you felt sad to leave because you were having so much fun watching her.
I know that when it is time for us to leave, when DD is having a lot of fun, I give her a heads up at 5 min. and 2 min. before departure. I often have a snack or milk for her because I know she is hungary from all the excitement. Also, I remind her that we will be coming back at some point.
Remember, we try the best that we can and there is no possible way to be perfect. We can only try our best and you did. Hugs to you Momma. There are times when there is no right answer and I think that you handled the situation better then many other parents.

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#26 of 57 Old 07-26-2010, 09:09 AM
 
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This is just ignoring the child while talking at her.

I agree that it lets the child know you're still in the car, which is important if that is the issue.

It is not any more emotionally gentle because it does not recognize what the child is saying.

I think these are disingenuous tactics. "I'm not listening to you or responding to what you're saying, but I'll just talk/sing so that you think I'm not ignoring you."

For a child focused on the discussion or topic, I don't see how it would be any more gentle.

It does keep up a connection for an inarticulate child that is using the topic as a bridge for connection.

But that is not always the case.
I can't speak for everyone, but I believe it is far more gentle because it does not make the child feel isolated and scared as though the parents have left the building or physically cannot hear the child, a conclusion that may be absurd to you or me but to the 2.5 year old mind, not so much.

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#27 of 57 Old 07-26-2010, 09:42 AM
 
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Silent treatment isn't appropriate for any child, or even adult. I can understand the temptation to not talk and just ignore the child in the situation you describe, but obviously for your child it was quite traumatic. I believe it is a traumatic experience for an adult as well.

If you were upset over something and felt like venting or ruminating to DH about it, and instead of support were faced with a silent treatment? Extremely isolating, invalidating, and cruel. And yes, some people have a higher need to vent and ruminate.

In such a situation I would keep on reaffirming that I loved her, and that I knew she was sad / upset / angry...I would also try to engage her in a different conversation. With my 2 year old it works to remind her of other things she's done. Like, "Remember the farm animals we visited yesterday? I remember a pig. Who else was there?"

And yes, she might cry and whine about something else at that time, but she knows I'm there to help her calm down, rather than leaving a 2 year old to her own devices.

My kids are 8, 5 and 2!
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#28 of 57 Old 07-26-2010, 10:03 AM
 
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I don't disagree with what you did. You acknowledge her feelings but at the same time enough is enough. I know with one of my children if I kept on acknowledging her she kept on going and was more emotionally distraught. I would tell her, I hear or heard her but I was not going to discuss it anymore. We tried to distract her but sometimes that didn't work.

I have also told my dc and husband, once I calm down I will discuss the matter like a human being not a raving lunatic and walked off.

I do believe there are times that we need to teach our children to "suck it up" because talking, complaining, et is not going to help the situation just drag it out. I have told my children, yes it sucks but it is time for you to suck it up and get over it, lets do xyz. Or we cannot changes things, yes it sucks, lets move one to better thoughts about things we can change. I don't do this all the time but there is a time or place. To acknowledge this sucks, there is nothing we can do, lets move on.
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#29 of 57 Old 07-26-2010, 10:59 AM
 
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This is just ignoring the child while talking at her.

I agree that it lets the child know you're still in the car, which is important if that is the issue.

It is not any more emotionally gentle because it does not recognize what the child is saying.

I think these are disingenuous tactics. "I'm not listening to you or responding to what you're saying, but I'll just talk/sing so that you think I'm not ignoring you."

For a child focused on the discussion or topic, I don't see how it would be any more gentle.

It does keep up a connection for an inarticulate child that is using the topic as a bridge for connection.

But that is not always the case.
I think it's distraction from what is stressing the child out. I think the child's point of view has been recognized and they are not letting it go and need some assistance in finding direction. If the discussion has no further place to go and is just going in the same circles, the child needs reassurance that it is ok to move forward and away from the situation. Coming back to it later when everyone is calm is always an option.

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#30 of 57 Old 07-26-2010, 11:01 AM
 
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Are you serious?
It is completely inappropriate and (imo)cruel. A child needs to be validated and loved and shown that they exist in anothers' eyes. How completely frightening to a little child to have her parents ignore her. wow.
I disagree. Strongly.

Mother to R- 2/09, & C- 5/11

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