Saturday, May 16, 2009

Silence is Golden

In the days of "children should be seen and not heard", parents used to preach that "silence is golden". Sometimes, they would even give the misbehaving child "the silent treatment". These days we understand that silence can be golden as a treatment for children who seem "out of control". Children traumatized by abuse, neglect, chaos, or loss often have difficulty soothing themselves. The normal primitive fight/flight response that protects us from danger goes into overdrive. Everyday events, like homework, chores, or being told no drive the child into something close to a post traumatic stress response. They live with so much stress that even small annoyances send them over the edge. Bruce Perry, M.D. and Daniel Siegel, M.D. describe this neurological disregulation. That is, when faced with perceived threat, we "lose our minds". The parts of our brain that logically process information, the cerebral cortex and neocortex, turn off. Some children become disregulated faster and stay disregulated longer. You are right! They are not listening. They cannot hear us trying to explain, reason, or lecture them. They hear Charlie Brown's teacher, "Wah, wah, wah." Like a child with a temperature we cannot talk them down. They need comfort, care, and calm. The powerful parent using this "silent treatment" stays present, lending his or her self control by silently soothing to help the child regulate. The less said, the better. There will be time to teach a lesson to a brain that's on.