I always feel like time stands still in a restaurant when I’m with my kids in tow. Suddenly, when one of them gets loud, it’s as if the world stops and everyone is looking at us. I’ve noticed this with both of my daughters, ages 8 and 5. Whether they are excited, upset, seeking attention or just talking in their regular, indoor, ALL CAPS kid voices, I often find myself wishing we were on Zoom and I could just hit the mute button.
In commiserating with other parents, I realized this is a common problem for many families.
We asked some experts why kids are so loud and what can we parents do about it.
Building a sense of self
Kids are not born with a sense of self, says Pediatrician Dr. Arthur Lavin, who also serves as the chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Psychological Aspects of Child and Family Health.
“Kids have to build a foundation of who they are through peer-to-peer relationships,” Lavin says.
Around ages 4-6, he says, kids develop an awareness of others and can start to sense it in others. That’s when they start to tune into their feelings, thoughts and actions, and recognize how others see them, putting emotional regulation into play.
“It is at that point those kids who tend to raise their voice may understand that it isn’t socially acceptable,” Lavin says.
Ironically enough, Lavin says that as kids pass age 8, when puberty and peer pressure come into play, kids may lower their voices dramatically, as this early stage of adolescence is defined by fitting in.
“Typically, tweens and teens don’t want to be noticed or call attention to themselves, so they’ll actually lower their voices.”
Excitement kicks in
Dr. Jerry Bubrick, senior psychologist at the Child Mind Institute Anxiety Disorder Center, says that similar to a dog wagging its tail when they are excited, kids naturally get louder as their excitement kicks in.
“Oftentimes, when kids are younger, they don’t know how to modulate their volume,” Bubrick says. “So, a parent might notice they are loud, but the child doesn’t know they are speaking loudly, they just know they are excited.”
Potential hearing problem
While most babies are screened for hearing problems at birth, in some cases, a medical disease can impair hearing in childhood. Loud volume paired with unresponsiveness is usually a warning sign that something is amiss. Many times, a teacher will pick up on this at school.
Experts agree that if concerns about a child’s hearing arise, it is best to consult with a pediatrician who can perform a hearing screening in an office or refer to an audiologist.
How to handle volume concerns
If parents have ruled out a hearing problem, when possible, Bubrick suggests asking the child what level they believe their volume is, on a scale of 1 to 10.
“If they say 5, for example, try asking them to lower the volume to a 3,” he says.
In public places, he encourages parents to make non-verbal signals for the child to lower their voice, such as getting their attention with a light physical touch, like a tap on the shoulder, or hand motion of putting a finger to their lips to signify that the volume should be brought down.
“Yelling always makes everything worse,” says Bubrick, who notes that a parent raising their voice sends mixed messages to a child who they perceive to be loud.
Instead of yelling, he suggests catching their child at a good volume and praising them.
“This will help children figure out the learning process of what’s appropriate,” Bubrick says.
COVID close quarters has everyone on edge
Bubrick notes that as many parents and kids are still home at the same time due to the pandemic, parents are likely more frustrated by the little things that didn’t bother them before 2020 — like the perceived noise level coming from their children.
“As frustration grows, your tolerance diminishes, and you may get more sensitive to noises that bother you,” Bubrick says.
His easy-fix solution: Get a white noise machine to muffle sounds when you need to focus.
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