Some kids can be highly sensitive to noise. This can make everything from grocery shopping to school fire drills a challenge. Here are some in-the-moment ways to help kids who are sensitive to noise.
1. Give advance warning.
If there are loud sounds that you know are coming, let your kids know what to expect ahead of time. For instance, remind them about the self-flushing toilets and hand dryers in a public restroom. Help them find a place farther away from the noise, if possible.
2. Muffle sounds.
Have earbuds, noise-canceling headphones, or earplugs handy. They can provide some protection from noises that can’t be avoided. It may take some experimenting to see which type works best.
Keep in mind that kids who are also sensitive to touch might find certain ear protection uncomfortable. And make sure the ear protection just muffles sound. Blocking it out altogether can cause safety concerns.
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3. Address safety issues.
When sensitivity to sound makes it hard for kids to filter out unimportant sounds, they also might not be as able to tune in to important ones. Those might include safety warnings like sirens or alarms.
Kids might try to get away from those noises quickly without noticing what’s happening around them. Encourage them to pay attention to what they’re seeing—flashing lights or kids lining up at the door—and to tell an adult if they need to get away. Practice how to respond in these situations.
4. Problem-solve with others.
Talk to teachers about working out a signal to give advance warning of planned fire drills. Talk also about strategies like letting your child sit near a door during assemblies in order to slip outside if the noise becomes overwhelming.
Create a safety plan for your child so teachers know what to expect and what to do. It can also help if the teacher assigns a classmate to be a “safety buddy.” That student can talk your child through the situation.
5. Take new experiences slowly.
It’s not always possible to avoid noisy places. It might help to introduce your child to new places slowly and at quieter times. If you need to go to the new mega-supermarket, for example, call the store to find out when it’s the least busy. You can also check out new places ahead of time—without your child—so you can explain what to expect.
6. Help set boundaries.
The sounds of an action-filled video game or of playful roughhousing can be a stressor for some kids. Teach your child that it’s OK to set boundaries with friends. You can help plan what to say. For instance, “I like that game, but the sound of the buzzer hurts my ears. Can we play a quieter one?”
7. Use white noise.
For some kids, white noise in the background helps to soften the impact of jarring or annoying sounds. A fan or a white noise machine in your child’s room may help with sleep. In public, let your child try listening to light sounds using earbuds.