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Should Parents Give Their Kids the Silent Treatment?

Whether you’re on the giving or the receiving end, shutting down is bad for relationships. Here’s why.

Have you been in a situation where you’ve raised your voice several times to get the kids to stop fighting or to stop messing the house but to no avail? Then after countless attempts, there comes a time when you realise that you can’t take it anymore – and choose to go cold turkey, completely stopping communication with them? If you haven’t realised by now, this is when the silent treatment begins.

It is unfortunate that in recent times, most parents are resulting to this method to teach their children a lesson. However, parents should never fall into this trap, as using the silent treatment as a form of reverse psychology will never get your kids to fully learn from their mistakes. In fact, if you look at it from their perspective, some of them may even be too young to understand your intention behind using the silent treatment.

What Is It?
Silence or the silent treatment is a behaviour that we experience or deploy in our daily life. It means you stop engagement with the person
or reduce it to a bare minimum. “In a typical family situation, a child or a parent would not speak to each other; they would avoid eye contact, and generally not be in the same space with each other,” explains Neo Eng Chuan, principal psychologist at Caper Spring.

“In psychological terms, this behaviour is termed as ‘withdrawal’ or ‘shutting down’. In the case of an adult, silence would convey a sense
of rejection, or that “I no longer love or care about you”. “However, in the case of a child, it usually means protest, that I am unhappy about a particular situation, or the way I have been treated by the parents.”

Does It Work?
While the instant communication halt may cease the immediate issues, it will in return make your kids uncomfortable because they’re not used to Mummy being silent. In fact, research indicates that children would rather be yelled at than ignored. “Though the silent treatment seems to work for the moment, there are huge negative consequences that follow on. Children may start to feel unloved and could even develop deep beliefs about their inadequacy,” states Dr Margaret Paul, bestselling author and relationship expert.

However, let’s not confuse the silent treatment with the cooling off period, because in terms of the silent treatment, it is when you go all out to ignore the existence of the other person. This is something parents need to understand, as most times, Mummy and Daddy may think that they are just cooling down and not avoiding the little ones.

Regardless of the circumstances, the silent treatment should never be used as a discipline tool as it truly causes more harm than good. “It is not a useful tool, as the difficulties or disagreement is not addressed. That said, the silent treatment could sometimes be used as a last resort because other approaches or methods have not worked. It is also likely that this could be a natural progression arising from a heated argument. If it is the case, this state of interaction should not remain for too long,” advises Eng Chuan.

Ways to Curb the Issue
As an alternative to the silent treatment, therapist Susan Forward advises addressing the problem directly. “By doing so, it will send out clear signals to your children that you are not going to play the game of awkward silence,” she adds. But in reverse, if children are the ones giving their parents the silent treatment, then what parents should do is to validate the child’s protest or anger – that they are unhappy with the parent for doing this or that. And then, go on to explain the rationale for their decision.

“Apart from feeling dejected and ‘abandoned’, some of the more serious negative effects of the silent treatment are when a child starts using it as a way to get what they want, or as a medium to portray unhappiness.”

Additionally, parenting experts share that a good way to snap your child or yourself out of this process is to give them or yourself some space to sort out the emotions and feelings. Don’t try to force your child to talk, and don’t cajole, threaten or give in to their demands. Instead, a brief separation may give them time to think through the situation. Yes, there will be days when your anger gets the better of you and you feel like completely giving up. But here’s the bottom line – if you don’t give the silent treatment any power, both you and your child will stop using it because it doesn’t get you anywhere.

Communication is key and it should always be used and not lost in all scenarios, because let’s face it, no one (including you and I) likes receiving or giving the cold shoulder to anyone.