Kids who hate loud noises (a few ideas)

“AAARRRRKKGGGH”

This was (roughly speaking - I may have got the spelling wrong) the word *Josh yelled when a leaf blower was used outside our office in a session last month.  At the same time, he put his hands over his ears and ran to the corner. 

Josh hates loud noises and gets really distressed whenever they occur around him.  It’s especially hard for him when they are sudden.

And Josh of course is not unusual  – there are many children who are extremely sensitive to loud noise.  Many children I see clinically will report some sensitivity to noise.  Sometimes noise sensitivity is associated with a broader sensory disorder (for example, Autism Spectrum Disorder), but sometimes these are just noise sensitive kids without any further disorders in the background. 

I should add here however that occasionally noise sensitivity can be due to a physical issue with their ears or hearing (apparently sometimes kids with grommets struggle more often with this issue, or those who have uneven hearing) – and so it is often worth checking with a GP to see if this is the case - particularly if it occurs suddenly.

Once a physical cause is ruled out, we will sometimes want to do some work to help kids adjust to loud noises.

For most kids, this means very gradually and kindly getting them to be around increasingly louder noises without them “escaping” (ie, running away, putting their hands over their ears, needing to wear headphones) from the noise.   Let’s call this “Loud noise training”.  Here are some of the steps involved.

1.    The first step is to give children information about why they should try to get used to loud noises.  This means asking them to think about what is important to them and how these things might involve noise.

Here’s what I said to Josh for example to help him understand why we wanted to do some noise training:

I think getting used to noise is important because the world can be a noisy place!  Let’s see if we can think of some fun but noisy places….  (Eg theme parks, shopping, playgrounds etc)

Also - school is noisy.  If you don’t go to school, then you don’t learn and you miss out. 

So it’s important to learn to get used to noise so that you can learn, do lots of things and have fun.  We are going to train your brain so that it knows that “loud noise is safe”.

2.    Then we need to work with children on providing them with some strategies about how to cope with loud noises.

Different children will use different coping strategies, but here are some strategies children I’ve worked with have used:

Distraction – “Let’s play our imagination game/do some dancing/read this book when the noise happens”
Relaxing their body – “let’s take a deep breath and make our muscles floppy as SOON as we hear a loud noise”
Calm sentences -  When I hear a loud noise I will say one of the following: “Noise cannot hurt me.  Noise is safe.  Noise is just noisy!”
Prediction (a form of control) – Giving anticipated noise a score out of 10 for how loud the child thinks it will be, and then waiting for it and giving it a score out of 10 for how loud it was.

3.    We should tell children that we'd like to deliberately get them to practice being around louder noises for a while.  (Important: it’s essential to only do this at a safe level – please never blow suddenly loud horns into children's ears or play anything at a level which causes the child any pain.)

For example, I might say this:

We are going to practice listening to some louder noise for a few minutes together and do something fun while we do this.  This way we can train your brain that “noise is safe!”  Which coping strategies would you like to use while we listen to the noise.

Extra Tips for noise training

1.    Be consistent – for some children with quite severe noise sensitivity it takes a while to get used to loud noise - for example this kind of training usually needs to happen regularly (each day or every second day) for at least 8-10 days to see progress. 

2.    If you are doing regular noise training - consider using a visual chart – some children like to see when and how much loud noise training they are going to do. 

3.    Let kids choose the loud noise.  Families I’ve worked with have used radio, horns, bells, music or TV noises.

4.    The noise should come from an outside source – NOT headphones.

5.    Often kids do better if they have a fun activity in place while the noise is on

6.    Use thanks and affirmation at the end for sitting through the noise, eg  “Wow, you are getting so good at managing noise these days”

One last point – it’s not always important for all children to do this kind of loud noise training.  For some kids, it’s easier to just avoid loud noises (hence why some kids wear headphones in supermarkets etc).  This is fine if you just have too much to work on as a parent/carer and it’s not interfering with regular life.    

But if you would like to work on this issue, follow the above steps often produces some positive results.

One last, last point. If you’ve read this far and thought: “hey all this sounds good but Kirrilie, I really don’t have the time for all that” (I get it: life with children) then maybe do at least these things:

1.Kindly tell your child:  learning to get used to noise is good for us. 
2.Ask them: What could you do to help yourself cope better with loud noises?
3. In the car occasionally turn the radio up and ask them to use one of their strategies for a minute.
4.Thank them and appreciate their efforts.
6.Try not to let them avoid loud noise all of the time (ie the constant wearing of headphones) – as this can make things worse over time.  If you really need to, then that’s okay – but have a plan for when you might try to get them used to loud noises again in the future.

Good luck with it.  If you'd like to try this but want some support, you might be interested in our online child psychologist support service - go to www.calmkidcentral.com for more information.

*Hopefully you know by now that all the examples I use in this blog have them names and details changed.  *Josh is a made up kid - a combination of lots of children I've worked with over the years.  The leaf blower on the other hand, is entirely real.  It drives me mad every morning :)