The 10 year old pacifier: Are we silencing our children?

As I have been home the last 3 months with a newborn little boy, I have become quite familiar with the use of a pacifier. After just a few short days home from the hospital, I remember holding my little boy as I was trying to get him to stop crying. I quickly reached for the pacifier and stuck it in his mouth with the hope it would silence his cries. It did, and I instantly felt relief. I then started thinking, did I miss an opportunity for him to be telling me what he wants? Am I taking the time to learn what each of his cries mean so that he can communicate with me?

As I sat and thought about this more it made me realize how much this same question generalizes to kids of all ages. How many times is my 3 year old talking to me or communicating with me, and I tell her to hold on, or invalidate what she is saying, i.e. putting a pacifier in her mouth. As children get older, I see them on electronic devices at dinner or in the car being silenced when they can and should be communicating or conversing.

Educators have made note that students are entering kindergarten lacking conversational skills, and have attributed it to use of electronic devices and changes in home dynamics and family expectations. Social skills are becoming more of a challenge and less of a strength.  As parents, are we teaching children to communicate, understand and express feelings, and/or role modeling it appropriately? Just as I silenced my little baby with a pacifier, we as parents are doing the same thing to our children with the use of too much electronics, ignoring their feelings, punishing meltdowns without teaching problem solving or calming skills, or rushing their stories due to daily hustle and bustle called life.

How do we learn what our children’s “cries” mean and teach them appropriate ways to express them? Do we teach our children to communicate with other peers and have conversations without a screen in their face? How do we as parents ensure that we are not silencing our children?

1. A feeling should not be dismissed. When a child expresses something, they are trying to convey a feeling. Help them name that feeling, as well as accept it. Then coach them as to how to work through it.

Ex: “I hear you whining. It sounds like you are disappointed that you don’t like what we are having for dinner. Is there something that you would like to add to the dinner I made?”

2. Put screens down, turn off television or the radio, and teach conversation. Even as adults, we are guilty for keeping our children silent when we have stuff we need to do. My new year’s goal is to decrease the amount of time I am on my phone when my children are present, whether it is talking, texting, or social media. My daughter loves to talk in the car, about everything! I often tell her to wait or quiet down because I’m on the phone. Instead, I can try listening to her questions, talking back and forth and teaching her great conversational skills. These are all things that help children learn how to understand feelings, take turns in conversation, and communicate with others.

3. Replace screen time with family talk time. Teach children to ask questions about others, share their feelings, and even pick daily topics to talk about. As a family, create a conversation jar where family members can take turns picking from the jar. You can find several lists online with fun and interesting topics.

Ex: Let’s all share something good that happened today? What’s your favorite holiday and why?

Although these feel silly, at all ages, it’s great to teach children how to ask questions and listen to others.

If you ever have concerns about how your child is communicating, if they are struggling making friends, or having difficulty managing their feelings, check out our social skills groups available every Monday evenings.