What To Do When Kids Aren’t Talkative
Sometimes your children use their mouths to do their writing, rather than their pencils or keyboards. It’s okay to listen to their words, to have Big Juicy Conversations with them and jot their thoughts onto the page for them. That counts. That’s writing.
One of our BW moms shot back an email: “What if getting my child to talk is like pulling teeth? What if she won’t talk? Then how do I help her to write?”
Great question and appropriate.
I’ve noticed that everyone will eventually talk—to themselves quietly in a room when no one else is there, when their guard is down and they have a safe audience, after they have had time to process what they want to say, when they are momentarily caught up in their delight or fear or excitement or anger.
What happens too often in “school-ish” settings (where our kids know that we are “teaching” and they are now “learning”) is that we ask for talking or words or writing. The “ask” paralyzes the quiet child. The gears log jam and the child’s mind goes silent. In that moment, the parent experiences a minor rejection. That felt-sense (though not legitimate, but nonetheless real) creates the look of disappointment, or worse, frustration and irritation on the parent’s face. The child can perceive this reaction as rejection,
Once the child experiences the parental blow-back due to a failure to conjure words on command (this is how it feels to a slower processor, to a quiet child, to the introverts of our world), a cycle begins and is reinforced—the parent asks the “innocent question” and the child recoils in suspicion and self-protects by not answering.
Over time, both parent and child become stiff around subject areas that are meant to be learning experiences. Each one tenses as they approach topics or attempt to work on narrations (both oral and written).
What to do?
To begin, remember that you are at home, that this is the child you love, and that the inner life of that child exists (is alive and well). There is a world of thought happening that is not visible to you, not audible to you! It is not absent.
Then see if these attitudes and approaches help:
Become a detective. Rather than asking for information and narrations and oral freewrites or reports, pay attention to your child. If he or she is suddenly quite curious about airplanes and is reading books, watching videos, drawing them, and playing with them, take note. The next time you see the child with a plane, sit quietly nearby. Observe. Show interest (don’t ask the child to speak, simply participate—watch the movie, play with the plane, get out a pencil and try drawing one too). Be a “buddy” rather than a teacher or parent. Allow for snippets of information to flow toward you (bite-sized comments). Keep these in your own mind, jot them down somewhere, note them for your own peace of mind.
Practice private writing and thinking. It’s so easy to want our kids to be more like us so we will feel we know how to manage their development. Flip the script. How can you enter the world of the quieter child? Does it help, for instance, to suggest to the child that she may freewrite at any time in the day, in any location when she’s ready? That she can have a private time of freewriting away from the eyes of family members? Does it help to let her know that you won’t be asking for narrations or oral reports, but that you’ve provided her with a lock and key diary to record the observations and thoughts she is having that she can keep for herself so she doesn’t forget her ideas and experiences?
Explain the goal of her education. We do tend to use too many words with our kids. Still, sometimes it does help to let our kids in on our goals. You can share with your quiet child that you want her to learn to write and express herself when called on, but you want to be respectful of her process. Issue invitations to speak or write, rather than creating demands. Solicit her ideas about what helps her free her mind to share. Let her know you are on her side, not wanting to create pressure, but wanting to offer support.
Catch your child in the act of thinking. Use the Brave Writer tried and true method—when that child does speak—no matter when, no matter where—that’s the time to jot down the words. Don’t expect them to flow out in one long paragraph when you ask for it. Rather, when the time comes that your child trusts you with his words, that’s the time to listen attentively, to show positive interest, and (if possible) to put those words to paper.
Quiet kids sometimes worry that they will be opposed, that they will appear “dumb,” that their words will be scrutinized or laughed at. They sometimes worry that older siblings will take over or hijack their words. One on one time can help to foster a little more space for self-expression.
For writing, try a couple of these strategies too.
- Keep copywork and dictation going.
- Try a dialog journal where you write a question on a page for the child to answer by the next day. Then your child writes a question at the end of his answer and you write a response on the next day.
- Let the child talk into a digital recorder alone in a room.
- Eavesdrop on your child when he or she is playing with another child. Write down what you hear.