Silence is golden.
But for the entirety of my young life, I needed noise. Music, TV, something had to be going on or I felt antsy. Time was a valuable thing, and if I wasn’t using every second of it, what a waste! I carried that feeling right into my adulthood, and you would rarely find me without some kind of distracting sound in the background: a stereo set to my favorite rock station, the news droning as I cooked dinner, even a television show while I napped on the couch.
Then I became a father.
My life became a cacophony of playtime, meals, fits and tantrums. I was always running around, trying to balance what I needed to get done and the needs of my laughing, crying, fighting, and pretending children. The house that had once been filled with music and TV cop shows had been replaced with one of shrieking kids and electronic toys.
When nap time came around, my nerves were frayed. The creak of the house settling was enough to make me tense up. I didn’t want to listen to music, or watch a movie. I wanted to lay back on the sofa and do nothing. I found peace and joy in just sitting in the living room, listening to the absolute silence of my house. It was glorious. Never before had I truly appreciated what silence could do, and I would savor every moment of that silence until the spell was broken.
I noticed when I began incorporating these quiet times into my day that I experienced a serious improvement to my general well being. My stress levels were lower, my mood was brighter, I was more patient with my children and partner. Much of this I attribute to those moments of silence solitude.
As it turns out, scientists agree.
Silence and the Brain
It’s a funny story. In a 2013 study, scientists were attempting to do an experiment to test the effects of different noises on mice, and how it might impact the function of their brains. The control group was, as could be expected, exposed to silence.They expected to see the levels and type of noise have the greatest impact on the mice, and their cognitive abilities.
What they found, however, was that after exposing the mice to silence for two hours, they grew new cells in the area of the brain associated with learning, memory, and emotion. While new cells developing in the brain is not necessarily a beneficial thing (it doesn’t always translate to greater brain function, for example), this time it was different. Those cells actually became fully functional neurons, thereby improving the brain of the mice.
Pretty neat, huh?
While that is interesting all on its own, they’ve also done studies on what the constant noise pollution in our world is doing to us. It’s not pretty.
In one study, children were exposed to the constant noise of an airport. Those children developed a severe stress response over the course of their exposure. During that time, they were less focused and even more prone to ignoring harmful stimuli. Their speech recognition was also impaired. It is a phenomenon that has been seen elsewhere, such as in noisy classrooms, or public events. The longer the exposure, the worst the symptoms. Over time, it can impact a child’s ability to learn.
That isn’t all, though. Another study looked at an alleged correlation between hearing loss and heart disease. What they found was shocking. According to the study, a steady exposure to constant noise without any breaks can lead to higher blood pressure and heart attacks. Yeah! Just noise.
Giving Silence a Try
I was already convinced of the benefits of silence long before I learned of these studies, at least in my own day. I had found it a fantastic little lifehack. But after going over the research, my family and I were convinced that some silent time every day was worth a shot. We just had to be realistic in our approach to it. There was no chance of getting my energetic, boisterous kids to sit still in silence for two hours. In that, the mice have my kids beat.
My family and I decided to go with a modified version that still met the general criteria. Every night we start by having dinner together at the table, one of the most important things I feel you can do as a family. After we are done eating, it is time for the kids to begin winding down. That is when we sit down and talk about our day, anything interesting that happened, any problems that may arise, and even make plans for the rest of the week. Some of our best weekend outings have been planned this way.
Once the conversation has come to a nature end, it is Quiet Time. For thirty minutes, we are going to keep the noise at the lowest possible minimum.
Here is where it gets tricky. The no TV, no music bit was simple. Kids are able to entertain themselves when they are pushed to do so, you merely have to take away the distractions. The rest is what took some time to get use to. No talking to each other, ourselves, or our toys. No pretend play. No humming or singing, or grumbling (that took a couple of days to get past).
The kids are encouraged to finish any homework they have, otherwise it’s reading time. The wife and I have our books as well, and we just sit quietly together. No discussions or strain, no allowing the stresses of the day intrude on our solitude. We just read together, and enjoy that time spent doing it.
After just a week, there’s been a tangible change in tension around the house. Not only that, but the practice of making yourself silent for a stretch of time has given the kids an appreciation for slowing down and just taking in the moment. I’ve noticed them do it during the day, unprompted. They no longer feel the incessant need to fill each moment with noise and activity. They can enjoy themselves with full awareness now. For that matter, so can my wife and I. Plus, I am actually reading those books I always swear I don’t have time for.
Beginning Your Own Daily Stretch Of Silence
The other day I was reading a Reddit thread where a woman’s parents had incorporated an hour of silence into her day. In her teen years, it had given her a chance to slow herself down and actually improved her relationship with her parents due to their more positive parenting style. But she admitted she had dropped the ball when she became a mother, and never bothered to incorporate the practice with her children. A fact she regretted.
What I wanted to know was: why didn’t she start?! There is no right or wrong time to begin insisting on having Quiet Time. Whether your kids are young, teenagers, or you don’t even have children and just want to calm down your own day, it is never too late. You just need to decide on a block of time, and remain consistent with it.
I have found the best hour for Quiet Time is that space between dinner and the kid’s bedtime. It helps them to unwind, and will improve their sleep pattern, since they are getting away from screens. Blue light is one of the greatest sleep disruptors around us.
You may also want to set parameters for what is and isn’t acceptable during Quiet Time. In my home, we just do homework or reading during that half hour stretch. But that might not be ideal for your family. Anything that requires you to quietly engage your brain is going to be beneficial. Some ideas may be:
- Going for a quiet walk around the neighborhood together.
- Drawing or painting at the kitchen table.
- Playing with Legos or blocks.
- Putting together models or figurines.
- Making collages from old magazines or newspapers.
- Coloring in coloring books, or make colorful mandalas.
- Arts and crafts.
- Learn to sew or croquet.
The truth is anything works, as long as it is done silently. Looking online, you can find literally thousands of ideas for people of different ages.
The Sound (and Power) Of Silence
With so much noise around us, from traffic to overhead music in stores, it is important that we started considering the impact it is having on our brains.
Silence can be a powerful thing, and taking time to simply enjoy the moment is a blessing. I, for one, can tell you it’s not something I would’ve ever considered in my younger years. Now I see it as a part of my day I could never do without. While they sometimes complain – the draw of video games and Youtube Let’s Plays can be a strong current for kids – I think my children would ultimately agree that things have been better since we started taking the time out to be quiet.
Bio: Tyler enjoys going to the mountains near his home in Draper, Utah to connect with his wife and children through camping, hiking, and quality time together. When he isn’t rebooting in the outdoors, he shares his fatherly experiences with the world through writing and creative designs. Tyler often works with Help Your Teen Now an organization focused on helping teens and parents. Follow Tyler on: Twitter | LinkedIn
Image courtesy of Pixabay