The Silent Treatment

April 12, 2017

The Silent Treatment

Having those “tough talks,” those emotionally charged conversations about issues both in and out of school, does not always come easy for parents, particularly when you have a child whose automated response is to give the silent treatment.

As a parent, perhaps you feel a great deal of frustration when your child is in “silent treatment mode.”  Frustration grows because your child is cutting you off from understanding his or her thoughts and feelings. While it may also feel hurtful that your child is not wishing to communicate out loud, you should not take this response personally.

In reality, your child is trying to communicate with you through nonverbal cues. This shutdown mode can say several things

  • This issue/topic is bringing up feelings that may be overwhelming and confusing to understand
  • Your child is trying to shield you from worry or taking on their own difficult feelings
  • Your child is modeling your own behavior (consider if you have this shutdown response when things get stressful for yourself)
  • Your child is trying to hold back from saying or doing something that will be hurtful to you or others. They may just need a few moments to “cool off” and let the heat of the topic subside
  • Your child may think that what he/she has to say is important to you
  • Your child is fearful that your response will be angry or create a sense of shame or guilt

Let your child have some time to process. What does this look like?

  • Having them to go their room to journal, listen to music, or do something creative alone (no screens or electronics)
  • Let them be active outdoors and get some fresh air

If the situation calls for punishments, you can still reiterate to your child that poor choices were made and therefore there are consequences. However, you want to also give him/her a moment to sit with feelings and thoughts so that a conversation can be had a later time. Reiterate that while he/she may need some time to just be silent, the issue will be addressed and not ignored. If your child still refuses to talk after given some time to process, encourage him/ her to write in words his/her feelings. Writing letters or drawing can feel less threatening and often bring up a more detailed dialogue of the issue at hand. Lastly, avoid asking the question why? The word why to a child often feels like they are the problem. Instead you can use questions like

  • How did you get to that choice?
  • What other choices did you have?
  • What would you have done differently?
  • What role did you play?
  • What was that like for you?
  • What did you feel like you needed?


For additional resources on how to support your child through difficult conversations refer to these links!

The Silent Treatment