My Child gets upset by loud sounds, how can I help them?

Young children, particularly between the ages of 2 – 6 years, are often described as disliking loud and sudden sounds. They may cover their ears, complain, cry or want to run away. This is often an understandable and natural reaction. The world can be a noisy and confusing place to a young child. They do not have the experiences an older child or adult might have. They may think that the loud noise is a threat or danger. It is a good survival instinct. Some of the sounds most frequently noted to upset young children:

  • Hoover
  • Balloons popping
  • Discos, loud music and parties
  • Clapping
  • Shouting
  • Fireworks

What causes it?
Usually, the child’s reaction is a result of their anxiety about a particular noise. It may have frightened them the first time they heard it. Now, they associate the noise with fear.

Don’t worry, this is very common and children nearly always grow out of it.

What you can do to help
It is important to know exactly what sounds trigger a negative reaction. The most practical and helpful thing you can do is to warn your child when the noise is likely to occur. If your child becomes stressed at a certain sound, move them away from the sound (if possible). Then comfort and reassure them. Do not punish them. Once your child is settled, try to explain what made the sound and why. Understanding will help to reduce anxiety. Often their anxiety can be reduced if they are gently allowed some control over the sound. Make it a game:

If clapping worries your child, try encouraging them to clap their own hands. This can be a fun game when you clap to a rhythm. You can try taping the frightening sound. Then make a game with the recording. Start at a low volume and gradually, over time, increase the volume. Help them become less frightened, by making it part of the fun. It is important to be gentle and encouraging. You do not want to make your child more frightened of the sound. With time and understanding, most children will lose their fear of a sound. Some situations like loud parties and discos may just be overwhelming to a child. The noise and crowds can be scary, particularly if they are only a few years old. It may be best to avoid these situations until your child is a bit older.

What NOT to do

  • DON’T make a big fuss over their reaction.
  • DON’T punish them. The calmer you are, the calmer they will be. You do not want to make this one behaviour a negative focus.
  • DON’T force your child to be exposed to these sounds. You want to reduce their anxiety. Be gentle and try to explain what is happening in a way they will understand. Give them control of the sound. Make it a game.
  • DON’T think they are just being awkward. They are likely to be truly frightened. Remember that loud and sudden noises are scary. A child needs to be taught how and why a noise is being made.

The use of ear defenders/earplugs for everyday situations is usually not advised as they need exposure to these sounds to enable them to get used to it. Also, ear defenders will reduce all sounds and so the child will become used to the silence, making sounds seem louder when they are removed. They will also cut the child off from important auditory information, which can hinder development.