How to Respond to the Silent Treatment

Tips for Getting Your Child to Talk

The silent treatment is a powerful tool your child may use against you at any age. Learn to break the silence to maintain a positive relationship.

Silence isn't always golden, especially when it comes in the form of the silent treatment from your child. Kids often use this tactic as a defense mechanism when they're upset or embarrassed. They may use it as a way to get what they want or retaliate if they're mad at you. Learn to take an approach that encourages her to open up instead of making her clam up even more.

Don't Show Your Cards

Being on the receiving end of the silent treatment stinks. You might feel hurt, upset or frustrated. These emotions are natural responses to the situation, but don't let your child know you're feeling that way. If you make a big deal about it or act upset, your child knows he's getting to you. He may continue using the silent treatment to push your buttons or try to get his way.

Instead of taking it personally or getting upset, remember that your child is trying to deal with the situation the best way he knows how. He might not have any other problem-solving strategies to handle whatever happened that led up to the incident. Keep yourself calm on the outside even if you're feeling frustrated inside.

Don't Give In

Kids often use the silent treatment to get their way. Maybe she's trying to get out of being grounded after she broke a rule. Instead of acknowledging that she did something wrong and accepting the consequences, she turns the situation around by giving you the silent treatment. She might use the silent treatment to get you to change your mind after you tell her she can't do something. Some parents want to make their kids happy and hate the idea of their kids being upset with them, so they reverse their own decisions to break the silence.

Don't give in when your child tries to use the silent treatment to get her way. Perhaps you decide not to ground your child after all, just to get her to start talking again. She's happy and talking to you again, but what did she learn from the situation? She learned she can get out of her punishments just by treating you poorly. She doesn't learn to take responsibility for her actions or improve her behavior. It's not always easy, but stick to what you say to show her she can't use silence to get her way.

Address the Issue

Instead of going silent yourself, acknowledge that your child is not talking. Let him know that you're ready to talk when he's ready. Make it clear that his silent treatment is not the way to resolve the situation. You might say, "I understand that you are upset. We can't work through the problem if you aren't talking to me. I can't force you to talk, but I will be waiting when you're ready to discuss this." Stay calm while you address the issue.

Give Your Child an Incentive to Talk

One way you can encourage your child to open up faster is by taking away electronics or another privilege until she talks to you. For example, you might make her hand over her phone until she ends the silent treatment. Or you might tell her she has to stay in her room until she's ready to talk. Don't make it a vindictive move or turn it into a big deal. Simply say, "I'm going to hold onto your phone until you decide you can talk to me again," or, "You can take time to think about this situation in your room until you're ready to talk."

Don't Press the Issue

Once you address the silent treatment and issue your "incentive" to open up, sit back to let your child think about the options. Nagging him or repeatedly asking him to talk may cause him to clam up even longer. Give him space to think about what happened and how he can fix the situation. Some kids just need some time to wrestle with their feelings before they're ready to talk again.

One thing you don't want to do is to turn the situation into a power struggle. Fighting with your child or using his techniques against him doesn't resolve anything. It can escalate the situation and cause hurt feelings.

Model Healthy Ways to Handle Situations

Kids often use the silent treatment when they don't know how to deal with emotions or difficult situations. Teaching them better problem-solving skills can help them manage those situations without resorting to the silent treatment.

Start by looking at your own reactions to upsetting situations. Do you shut down or lash out at others? Make an effort to talk about your feelings and handle difficult situations with grace to show your kids how to behave.

You can also coach your child through a difficult situation. If she's upset because you won't let her spend the night with a friend, help her name the emotion. You might say, "I can tell you're disappointed that I won't let you spend the night with your friend. I understand that. Maybe you can get out your sketchbook and draw. I know that helps you calm down when you're upset." You can also offer an alternative option. You might say, "Tonight just doesn't work for a sleepover. Maybe we can talk to your friend about scheduling a sleepover next weekend when we're not busy."

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