Is that a harsh title? Some might see it that way, but the truth is that parents require silence from time to time. It's especially pertinent since so many of us are working from home and participating in Zoom meetings to keep our bread buttered. One wayward child can sent a business meeting of dozens sideways if given half the chance. Quieting your child once or twice is easy enough, but what is the strategy for keep them quiet for extended periods?
Simply turning to your child and saying "Shhh" or "Be quiet, please" is doomed for failure because it gives the kid exactly what they're seeking: Attention! Ignoring a child is not only cruel, but it just plain won't work. An ignored toddler is only going to ramp up the energy and distraction until they get what it is they're looking for. The secret to keeping children quiet for extended periods is to give them attention in the quietest way possible.
Develop Their Autonomy
The problem with simply telling your child to shush is that it becomes a battle between your meager words and a kid's overwhelming desire. You can pretty clearly see who the victor will be in this case. The secret is using that tiny quiet as an opening to discuss why you can't be interrupted right now. Bring them in on the plan and help them to develop their own autonomy.
Kids have fantastic imaginations and love nothing more than a game, so create a game where silence is the goal and allow them to stretch those imagination muscles. You can be cavemen hiding from hungry dinosaurs or secret agents on a stealth mission. Come up with a hand-signal them means "quiet, the dinosaurs are outside". It can be the same hand signal between scenarios.
This allows you and your child to get on the same side as you. Working together as a team is so much more conducive to the family dynamic than being in conflict with each other. Unfortunately, a hand signal isn't going to be as effective as we'd like forever. At some point you're going to need to bring out the big guns. That's right, we're mobilizing the toys.
Prepare In Advance
Preparation is key when it comes to keeping kids quiet during an important meeting, especially when they're little. Older kids seem to understand the reasoning behind why I'm asking them to stay out of my office, but toddlers are just the masters of their domain. So you'll need to be ready for the moment they inevitably burst through the door at the most critical point of your big meeting!
It might seem crazy to litter your work area with buckets of Lego and cans of Play'doh like some kind of insane minefield straight out of a Home Alone movie, but when the time comes you'll pat yourself on the back. Hand your child a pack of crayons and a drawing pad and buy yourself another 5 to 10 minutes of uninterrupted meeting time.
The Quiet Game
Drawing is a great 'game' but it doesn't last forever. The attention span of a young child is impressively short. After that 10 minute drawing they'll be looking for the next activity and you'll need to be ready for it. One of my favorite quiet time activities is the Lego game. Hold up a piece of paper with a number on it, and your child will then need to construct something using exactly that number of pieces.
This helps them with their counting, hand-eye coordination, and overall creativity with minimal input needed. As with most things, you'll probably only get through 3 or 4 rounds of this and if the meeting is ongoing then you'll need to deploy the Play'doh! (By the way, if you want to learn how to make your own Play'doh then check out our article on low-budget playtime ideas!)
Practice Makes Perfect
When you aren't in the midst of a meeting is the perfect time to run through some scenarios and teach your child a bit more about proper quiet-time etiquette. Keep the door open and stay silent, then ask them if they think it's OK to come in. Close the door and start speaking into the phone and pose the same question. Good answers should be rewarded, while bad answers should be corrected. Not punished.
Practice time is also a great opportunity to practice the quiet-time hand signal. If you get through a meeting without interruption there should absolutely be a prize at the end of the tunnel. I'm not talking about anything exorbitant. We'll save the trips to Disneyland for when I get a year of no interruption! Something simple like reflective neon shoelaces or curly no-tie pastel shoelaces can be enough to do the trick!
Prepare To Fail
Every parent out there can testify under oath that there is no such thing as a perfect plan, especially when kids are thrown into the mix. Don't beat yourself up if the plan isn't falling into place, that just means it's time to put in some more practice! Your coworkers probably aren't going to roast you too hard over having an uninvited participant, because I can almost definitely assure you that they're been in the same situation.
With that in mind, try to be understanding if an awkward situation does arise. This is a life skill that can't be understated. Not only does it help you understand your child's point of view, but it can also turn into a bonding experience in its own way. Perhaps you can share this article with anyone having problems keeping their kids quiet during important conversations.