Taylor stood behind her mother. The tension pervaded the room like a low cloud cover on a brisk autumn morning, but not as soothing.
“What’s the matter, Mom?” she finally asked.
“Nothing,” Mom said softly.
“You sure?” She stared at her mother’s back as she stood washing the dishes.
Taylor wanted to reach out and touch her mother, but didn’t. She didn’t need to touch her to know Mom’s body felt stiff. She lowered her head and sighed. Her slippers shuffled across the floor as she left the room.
Her mind revolved with some degree of certainty. “Sure seems like something is the matter.”
Followed by the words only a 6 year old can deduct, “I must be crazy.
For yes, something seems wrong, but Mom insists nothing is the matter. And Mom is right.”
Many of us have had an experience like this. Maybe we were the inquirer, maybe the responder. Often the sounds of silence run deep in a home which strains for the words to talk about uncomfortable situations.
Children struggle to make sense of circumstances when they are not offered appropriate explanations. Left to wonder whether they caused or contributed to the trouble, they may conclude, “I must be wrong for imagining a problem the others deny,”
Ultimately this follows a slippery slope toward low self esteem and lack of self-confidence. Trust in your own judgment and intuition are damaged. What begins as an inkling of self doubt multiplies from there. This burden may linger into adulthood.
Children don’t need long drawn out explanations. Clear and direct is best. Maybe Mom is upset with Dad or vice versa. Consider saying, “Sometimes Mommies and Daddies get upset with each other. They just want to be quiet for a while. It won’t last long. It will pass. It’s nothing you’ve done.” The simplicity and reassurance of your words can soothe their concerns.
Maybe someone died, bestowing the grace of mourning in a family. Once again simple explanations are most helpful. Reassurances like “We’re just sad about this. We may find it hard to smile, laugh, or joke for a while. Do not worry. We’ll make it through.” Books which explain the grieving process to a child are invaluable. Stories can help them make sense of the loss as well.
Substance abuse and recovery are uncomfortable topics of conversation with children. If you are looking for a way to approach recovery with your children, my stories will help you break the silence.
Next time you’re tempted to say “Nothing” when someone who loves you asks the simple question, “What’s the matter?” perhaps you’ll reconsider.
Breaking the silence can do wonders towards validating children’s feelings and brings a sense of safety and security into the home.