Now before you start dismissing me as a crabby old lady, let’s think about something.
How many times during the day do you get interrupted? When you’re trying to make a list, or clean something, or do your work, or even just think a thought to yourself for one blessed minute — how often does somebody walk into your space and completely distract your thought processes with speech?
If you’re a parent [or a teacher], I’m willing to bet that happens about 15 thousand times a day.
I know that I rarely have a moment of silence. With two little girls who are constantly jabbering at each other, I often have to think through the same sentence in my head multiple times before I figure out whatever it is I’m trying to figure it out. It looks something like this:
My thought: “The garbage…”
L: “Mommy! Come look at this!”
[10 minutes later]
My thought: “Oh! The garbage can is almost…”
N: “Mom, she took that from me!”
[20 minutes later]
My thought: “What was I doing? Ok. The garbage can is almost full. Can it wait until garbage day? What day…”
L: “Mom, I just wanted to say… that the sky is sometimes blue. Bl-, bl-, blue! Hey! Blue starts with bl-!”
[30 minutes later]
My thought: “Oh, wait. The garbage can is almost full. Can it wait until garbage day? What day is garbage day? Oh, it’s…”
N: “You’re my best Mommy.”
L: “No, she’s MY best Mommy!”
N: “L! No! I said she’s MY best Mommy!”
L: “She was MY best Mommy first!!!”
N: “MOM! LILA SAID YOU’RE HER BEST MOMMY BUT I SAID YOU’RE MY BEST MOMMY!”
[2 days later]
My thought: “Well crap. Garbage day was two days ago.”
I KNOW you have situations like that in your own life. And you know what? Those constant interruptions are irritating.
So where am I going with this? A few months ago, we went to the Children’s Museum. L and N were quite busy throughout the day, but I noticed something. Every time they were quietly and intently working on a project, an adult who worked there would start talking to them. Meaningless, non-essential things, like, “Wow, good job!” or “What color is that?” And the girls would look up, startled, and begin to withdraw from their work. They would quickly lose interest, forget what had fascinated them to begin with, and move on to something else.
Now, I’m sure those adults meant well. They probably felt a bit awkward — and everyone knows that the only way to beat awkwardness is to fill up the silence! Except children. Children don’t do that. They didn’t feel awkward until their intense concentration was interrupted by a meaningless word of praise or a test of their knowledge of colors. And then their whole experience was ruined.
I see this almost everywhere we go where adults are leading or just overseeing some kind of craft or exhibit for children to explore, and I always want to reassure them that they don’t have to interact with us. Don’t worry, L will be sure to let you know when she’s ready for some conversation — but it won’t be when she’s deeply engaged with her creation.
So please, stop talking to my child. There are some important things going on in that silence.