By: Jolie Rosenthal, Occupational Therapy Student (OTS), University of New Hampshire
As summer progresses, so does the frequency of your child experiencing loud fireworks, roaring hand-dryers in the public bathrooms at the beach and pool, and the variety of sounds of other children playing outside. All of these sounds can be considerably triggering for a child with auditory sensitivities. Loud noises can provoke anxiety, rage, and irritability for children with auditory sensitivities. As difficult as it is for the child to deal with, it may cause extensive stress for parents as well. There are various coping mechanisms, tips, and techniques that can be implemented to help mitigate the undesirable effects of auditory triggers on children.
Noise cancelling headphones or earbuds (One you probably know)
- Noise cancelling headphones can be kept in the car or your handbag for easy access in any situation in which the environment will be auditorily overwhelming for children like firework events and outdoor concerts.
- Regular earbuds can be used to play soothing white noise and relaxation inducing audio frequencies which may distract from or cover up the loud auditory stimuli and comfort the child.
Give warnings and prepare
- Children can be warned before certain sounds occur like those produced from vacuums, toilets, and hand dryers.
- Inform your child that there is going to be a loud noise and to cover their ears; show them how they should cover their ears, and count down slowly before turning on the vacuum, hand dryer, or flushing the toilet to give your child time to prepare.
- Before entering loud environments like a concert or fireworks event, do some ”heavy work” movement activities with your child which can calm the child and decrease feelings of sensory overload. Heavy work involves activities in which one is exerting oneself and receiving feedback from the body. Examples include: going on monkey bars, using a bicycle, digging in the sandbox, and practicing yoga (GriffinOT, 2021).
- Putting on compression clothing before entering a triggering environment can increase the child’s comfort as well.
Coping with the noise – What are my tools?
Oftentimes, loud noises make children upset and they may need a way to release their emotions. Taking a break and removing your child from the auditory triggers can be helpful, but is not always able to be done. In relaxed calm settings, pre teach your child how to use some “tools” for their calming toolbox when they become overwhelmed by sounds. Then when you are in the situation they will have an idea of how to use some of these simple calming tools:
- Children can chew safe rubber chewing jewelry like necklaces and bracelets.
- Stress balls can help children channel emotions.
- Take three to five deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth and hold for a few seconds. This is one of the best ways to calm down.
- Engaging in a hands-on activity is another way to distract our mental brains from the fact that we don’t like the sounds. Simple toys and activities like a coloring page with markers, playdough in a ziplock to squeeze, or drawing in a sketch book can help calm our minds (S. Smith, personal communication, July 19, 2021).
Give your child the control
- Let your child flush the toilet, turn on the hand dryers, and start the vacuum so they can take the time they need to get ready for the noise. Plan and build in extra time in louder environments sometimes so that you don’t feel rushed in these situations.
- Encourage communication between you and your child so they can recognize triggering stimuli and notify you before the situation escalates.
- Let your child be in control of carrying their own noise headphones, chewing jewelry, and other materials that may be soothing to them.
Griffin OT. (2020, August 30). The mystery of heavy work. GriffinOT. https://www.griffinot.com/the-mystery-of-heavy-work/
“This [Covid] feels like having a newborn: You don’t know anything, you have to do everything, but so much feels out of your control. Everything is scary. As soon as you figure something out, it changes. There’s a lot of pressure and judgement. I’m afraid I’m doing it wrong.”
As we enter the fourth month of lockdown, there’s a lot of excited talk about finally “opening up” and getting back to a “new normal.” Some states are opening businesses and public spaces quickly, while others are opening in slow, deliberate phases. There is no single roadmap for this, no one set of guidelines, and so many of us still feel confused, exhausted, and out of control in ways we might not have felt since we first became parents.
But remember, having a newborn allowed you to develop some amazing strengths as a parent: you were able to live in the moment, adapt quickly to new situations, prioritize (sometimes ruthlessly), and accept what you could not control. Reconnect with those strengths and lean into them as the world starts to reopen. With a little planning and a lot of communication, your family can make this transition in a way that feels thoughtful and safe for everyone.
Things to consider:
- Telehealth availability is high, but so is the demand. Start making appointments—both virtual and in-person—for healthcare, therapy, and other family services now, even if the actual appointment is a ways off.
- Some places may be quieter or less crowded than usual. However, keep in mind that social distancing and more thorough cleaning procedures might mean some things take a lot longer than usual, and some areas may be restricted. Don’t hesitate to call ahead and let providers know about your child’s particular needs.
Talk about it.
- Learn how to read your child and understand to what level he needs the situation explained to him. Be attentive to both verbal and nonverbal communication about his level of understanding and his feelings about what he’s hearing (this could be vastly different for every child). Put things in direct, black and white terms as much as possible.
- A plan is the best antidote for anxiety, so talk to your child about what to expect when you leave your house. Prepare him for how people might look (masks and gloves) and how people might behave (anxious or standoffish). Make sure he knows what’s expected of him in regards to distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing.
- Stress the importance of respecting others’ choices in regards to social distancing. For example, Grandma’s not crazy for continuing to quarantine—she’s older and therefore higher risk, plus she might have other risk factors that lead her to be more cautious or anxious. On the other hand, you might know someone who has to return to work or is choosing to engage in more social activity than your family’s comfortable with. This is a situation that makes people emotional and defensive, and it’s not helpful to argue with others or be confrontational.
- Talk to your family about how to manage transitions—into summer, into reopening, etc. Develop good “transition habits” as a family. All the rules of transitions apply: stay regulated, ease yourself into it, try not to force too many “new” things at once. (More on this next week!)
Take it slow.
- Choose your family’s “safe” social circle and expand it slowly. Think of it like concentric rings, with the core/innermost circle being your household. The next innermost ring might include grandparents or your next door neighbors, and the ring beyond that might include cousins, friends, or coworkers. Make sure everyone in each ring agrees to the same “rules” about social distancing. Be explicit with your child about how you choose the members of your circle and what the rules are.
- When you’re ready to start going out, apply this same idea to stores, offices, and establishments. In this instance, the innermost circle would be grocery stores, doctors, and other truly essential businesses. The second ring might be department stores and barbershops, and the ring beyond that might be restaurants.
- Go on the first few outings alone if possible. This will let you get a lay of the land, acclimate yourself to the new way of doing things, and be better prepared to set your child’s expectations. Don’t be embarrassed to reach out to friends, neighbors, or the establishment itself and ask what to expect.
- Check in frequently when you’re out with your child, and have an exit plan ready in case he needs a break or is misbehaving. If he does start to become frightened or overwhelmed, remind him you can both leave right away, with no consequences or punishment for him, and try again later.