Does your child have a fear of noises?
Laura has recently given birth to her third boy, Tommy. The other two are just three and six years old, and the noise levels would be too much for many mothers to handle. But Laura loves that her boys express themselves.
Now she has a newborn in the house, but doesn’t plan on keeping the volume down. Even when Tommy is sleeping, she lets things carry on as normal.
Occasionally, the two older boys wake Tommy up with singing and shouting. Soon, however, Tommy learns to recognize the habitual noise, and can sleep through it.
The soundproof room
Samantha and Ben have a two-month-old girl, Lisa. This is their first baby, and they’ve pulled out all the stops to make Lisa feel comfortable. They have given Lisa the most quiet room in the house. Noises from outside don’t get in, and when Lisa is sleeping, Samantha and Ben stay at a distance. They use a baby monitor to make sure she is fine.
Lisa sleeps soundly. But as she gets older, it is clear she has a fear of noises. One day, Samantha drops a book she is holding in Lisa’s room. The sound of the book hitting the floor wakes Lisa, who is startled and scared. She starts crying, and neither Samantha nor Ben are able to soothe her.
Fear of noises is normal (and healthy)
Rowan, a five-month-old, is experiencing his first thunderstorm. He wakes up to the sounds of whistling wind and sudden thunderclaps. This experience causes him to scream, and he won’t stop. It’s unfamiliar and overwhelming. It may even be traumatic.
His father, John, tries to comfort him. John remembers his own fear of thunderstorms. He still retains some of that fear. Yet he is well aware that he is safe in his home, and he wants Rowan to know it too.
He holds Rowan in his arms and gently rocks the screaming baby. He does not try to shush Rowan, but rather sings to him in a calm voice. Eventually Rowan calms down.
A few months later, there is another big thunderstorm. Rowan wakes up and cries, but he is calmed by his memory traces of his father holding and singing to him. Instead of being scared and trying to escape the noise, Rowan has a regulated reaction. His father again rocks him and sings to him, and he soon falls back asleep.
Regulated fear of noises
A balanced fear of noises is natural and should be regulated, not suppressed.
Rowan will probably be alarmed the next time he hears thunder, but he can calm down with the help of the resonance of the memory traces of the emotional intimacy he experienced with his father during the lightning and thunderstorm.
When the parent prepares his child for the anticipated event (such as the thunderstorm above) through a familiar song, game or story significant to the event, he enables his child to befriend the new event or the new person. It is like a GPS for the baby. In psychological terms I would say that “the emotional immune system (the healthy narcissism) of the child has sufficient time to retrieve memory traces that match the new emotional experience. Consequently, the change and the event as a whole are experienced as quasi-familiar and can be managed and controlled”. (The Enigma of Childhood p.33)
The baby GPS
A baby who is given the chance to get used to loud noises, can identify his surroundings as a familiar whole. It is one he knows how to cope with. It is like a GPS for him.
It is, in fact, more than a GPS. It allows the baby to feel safe where he is, rather than trying to get him somewhere else.
Remember, a fear of noises is natural and healthy in your baby. Even as an adult, some noises will scare you. But taking away the noise does not allow your baby to learn what is safe, and that loud noises can be okay.
In my book, The Enigma of Childhood, I have addressed how to bring balance into your child’s emotional life. Balance and regulation are the key to good psychological health.
By understanding your child’s fear of noises, you can help him or her regulate the feeling. The outcome? A happy and healthy balance!