My 5 year old adopted son is, contrary to everyone else in his entourage, religious - a leftover from his days in a war zone. His mom died some time ago - by suicide - and since then he hasn't said a word. Instead of talking, he knocks to communicate (1 for yes, 2 for no).

Only recently I learned that his refusal to speak is the result of a promise he made to his god: the promise is that he wouldn't talk again until he saw mommy, either here in this world or in his religion's heaven. He accepts that mommy isn't coming back, but he's keeping his promise anyway.

Talking is a crucial skill in life, so I would like for him to do start doing it at some point, specially now that's he's starting school and seeing other kids. He is way mature for his age so he doesn't really feel all too happy with kids his age, but that's an issue for another day. What I really would like to know is some ideas on how to deal with the no-talking situation.

Should I be assertive? Should I ask him questions for him to be able to come up with solutions himself? Should I just acknowledge his feelings and let it happen in its own time? What kind of actions can I as a parent take in order to help him?

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    Have you considered, or is he already in, therapy?
    – Acire
    Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 20:47
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    How did you find out about this promise? Whom did he tell? Will he write (you mentioned way maturity)? How do you deal with answers that are not Y/N type? Commented Aug 7, 2017 at 21:07
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    Do you have someone (an adult) of this child's religion that you can talk to? What religion is it? (That may help some people with providing answers, esp if they are familiar with it)
    – MAA
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 0:04
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    Recognize his commitment as real, even if it is inconvenient. You can't make him talk, and he is showing remarkable self disciplineTeach him to read and write. It will allow him to communicate while honoring his commitment. When he decides that he is ready, he will talk. The hard part will be keeping the environment supportively respectful so he doesn't fall into self condemnation when he does start to speak.
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 3:23
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    If his promise is a lifelong commitment then he is remarkably disciplined for any age, and he will have to come to some sort of accommodation with the speaking world . If he has started chatting with you even sporadically, then it's probably a phase he will grow out of as he processes his grief .
    – pojo-guy
    Commented Aug 9, 2017 at 2:38

3 Answers 3


Short answer: be assertive and gentle at the same time. Gently let him know that you love him and understand his pain. Assertively (and gently) let him know that he can enjoy life, that he can be happy again. You can't force him to change. but you can show him how and invite him to follow your example.

Your concern should be How Can I help him heal, not how can I help him talk. Once he has emotionally/spiritually healed the talking will probably come naturally.

Actions you can take:

1) There are many ways to communicate. If he won't talk then sit down with him and draw. Try asking him to draw out how he feels about Himself, his Mother, God, and You. Be prepared to be accepting, understanding and empathetic. Don't try to correct at first just let him know that you understand him. That you love him. other sources

2) Since he trust in God seek out a man who speaks for God. Find a religious figure of his religion to counsel you, both of you together. Talk to the priest/cleric first to make sure he/she seems like some one who can help.

3) pray to God with him. This is the easiest and most important. Show your son that you care about what he cares about by praying with him to God. Ask for Gods comfort. Ask for God to help you and the boy to understand his will for you. Ask God to help the boy feel your love. Thank God for the chance to have this boy as your son.

If you don't believe in God that's Ok. Your not being disingenuous. Your connecting with your son and showing him how he can reach out with words to connect to others. Be it God or you.

More Ideas that might help him.
It sounds like the child is trying to Strong arm God into letting him see his mother again. This isn't how God (or if you prefer the Universe) works. We are given control over some things. for example we can cut down trees to make a home, or weave animal/plant fibers to make clothes. but we can't stop a storm from coming in and destroying our field of food in one night. and we can't bring back the Dead. For your Son: We can't control everything and we can't force God to do what we wan't. all we can do is try to be the best people that we can and Trust that what happens will be for our benefit in the end.

There is also a potential that your son is feeling hopeless (nihilistic). He may feel that with out his Mother nothing really matters. That his life has no meaning. Show him that it does! Help him understand that God, his Mother and You want him to be happy. that all of you want him to enjoy life. That you want him to grow up and do good things and make the world a better place. to help diminish the suffering that exists in this world. Find ways that you and he can do just that. Go visit those who are poor and bring them meals. If there are old people homes were you live go visit them and bring some companionship to those who are lonely in their old age. Give his life a meaning and a purpose. If he doesn't want to talk to the old people that's fine he can draw a picture for them while you talk. Your example will help him more than you know.

Post Script: It sounds like you don't believe in God. Just remember that he does and that his faith is actually a source of strength which he can draw on to be able to reconnect with other people in his life. other sources

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    Maybe sign language is an option?
    – tuskiomi
    Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 17:26

I second what Dan Anderson said, but want to focus into a specific part of his answer, prayer.

He is very faithful, and has demonstraited it. Thus you don't want to make this a battle of faith. I assume you don't practice his religion, I'd guess your an athiest, but that doesn't matter. This is what is important to him right now and you need him to feel your respecting those beliefs. If you don't do this then your setting him in a position of breaking is faith, and likely in his mind his loyalty to his mother, for you; that is not going to work well.

Instead I suggest you can make it clear that while you respect his reason and faith you don't think this is what God would want from him. God doesn't want him to be unhappy, he doesn't want to force an undue burden on the children he loves, and ultimately your son has to be able to speak to share his faith with other's to help it spread. After all just because the boy promised God he was willing to keep his vow, and demonstrated that willigness, that doesn't mean God demanded or expected him to keep it. In addition the bible (or no doubt whichever religious text is applicable to his religion) shows numerous examples of God respecting those willing to act in Gods name but also freeing them from the commitment. Abraham's willingness to sacrifice Issac is the most obvious example to me, and it's something believed by christian, Jewish, and Muslums, if your son isn't any of these I still suspect that whatever religion he is has some equivelent story. The point is that God is often Willing to not hold his people to harsh acts in his name or to release them from vows. Your son has already shown his faith to God in keeping silent this long, surly it has been long enough now that God would be willing to release him of that vow, would in fact wan thim to be able to talk and live his life.

Of course your a mere mortal, you can't tell him that, but God can. God is the one person who can give him permission to break this vow without feeling he has condemned his faith. That's where the prayer comes in. Explain this to him and ask him to pray to God on it. He can ask God if this is what God wants, when/if God wants him to speak. He doesn't need to pray for permission to speak, only for guidance in what God would want from him. Does God still demand this of him?

If you phrase things this way you give him an 'out', a way to speak without needing to actually break his vow. If in his prayer he does not feel as if God is telling him he needs to continue this vow then that means he is free to speak while still having demonstrated his faith, and love of his mother. Until he feels that time is right your respect him and work with his not speaking, but at the same time you can also make it clear that you would much prefer his being able to speak and that you can't wait until he feels he has been released from that promise. This respects his wishes while still allowing you to reitterate all the reasons life would be easier for him to speak.

If you pray with him you can pray out loud and ask god for permission for him to speak by listing all the reasons why you want it for him and that your son being freed to speak would be a blessing for you because of how much you love your son. That breaking of the vow would not being asked by a selfish son that doesn't want to keep his promise, but by a loving mother who respects her sons faith but also wants loves her son so much she can't stand not having him to talk with. Breaking the vow is now partially a sign of love not of giving up.

I would suggest you seek out a religious figure, as already suggested, also, but I suggest you do this after praying with your son as I mentioned above. In fact pray with your son the night before you go to a religious figure for guidance. Ask God to show her son the right way, and to be there with you tomorrow when you go seek guidance from his priest/rabbi/Mullah/whatever. This means the religious figure will be someone you already prayed for guidance to, someone who God can speak through to give absolution of the vow. Then when/if the figure agrees that God doesn't want your son to keep the vow any longer, that your son has already done more then enough to demonstrate his faith, your have received the guidance you prayed for; litterally as close as you can get to Word of God.

Having said all this, religion may not be the only reason for your son to keep his vow. He may feel this is something he owes his mother, that to speak with you is to somehow be forsaking her. He may not have communicated this to you, either because he can't using just yes/no answers, or because he himself doesn't fuly understand his feelings. Thus in addition to addressing the religious angle I suggest you also address his feelings towards his Mother. Help provide him other ways to remember and respect her, such as making him a locket with a photo of her in it, or starting a routine of thanking his mother for entrusting him to you (prossibly as part of your praying with your son).

If you research, or ask another question on here, your get many other examples of things to do to help him feel close to his mother. For now I just wanted to point out that his feelings may be as much about not wanting his mother to feel he has given up on her, or replaced her with you, and as such you should work to address those potential emotional feelings as well as the religious side of things. Maybe explain you would like to hear more about his mother, who your so thankful for since you wouldn't have him otherwise, and you would love to hear him tell you about her in his own words.


Well... there is always another option for seeing departed loved ones, isn't it?

Very recently I spent a long time chatting with my grandma. We talked about stuff, I updated her on my current relationship, my day job, how life was going. She baked a cake for me, and then we sat on the couch to watch a re-run of one of her favorite shows, while eating some oranges.

The thing is - she isn't on this world for like eight years now.

All of those things, that I remember vividly, did happen on a dream. I avoid to delve deep enough on the metaphysical level of things to be sure to say that this was just my brain playing tricks on me or something supernatural, but for all that is worth I did met her for a couple hours, even if only inside my own brainwaves.

I'm not saying that this will be easy or that it will even work, but you can try to trick your kid intro dreaming of his mother. You can imprint the idea that good people from the other side can sometimes chat with us in our dreams, paying a visit when we are far away enough from the waking world.

Maybe you kid already dreamed with his mom.

Play with this idea a bit. Maybe you can reap some interesting results.

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    Adding onto this (and I'm not sure if this is real since I've only seen it in TV shows): it seems as if in some Asian cultures, it is common to have a shrine-type-thing in the house for departed loved ones with a photo and perhaps some other decor. They are talked to and updated on life on a semi-daily basis. I think it is similar to going to a grave to talk to the departed person. Perhaps something like this could be set up to let him "talk" to his mother? Commented Aug 8, 2017 at 22:25

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