Updated: Feb 17
Your house is noisy, I guarantee it. You yell (to reach their ears), you smash dishes (just putting them away), you stomp your feet (especially if you are upstairs), there are machines running, notifications going off, the dog is barking, you let the TV blare in the background, there is chaotic noise everywhere and you have no idea. The sound in your home increases over time just by virtue of living life. I would like you to consider, however, that the sounds in our homes are an expression of the chaos and pace of our lives. And it is absolutely overwhelming and stress-inducing for your child, I guarantee it.
Most important is the sound of our voice. Children are attuned to our voice more than any other sound their lives. Their brains and bodies, in conjunction with ours, have been fine-tuning this connection since our very first moment of contact. Every hug, moment of laughter, every meal, every instruction...all re-entrenches the brain-to-brain connections we have. The slightest lilt or inflection in our voice sets the child's emotional affect and behavioral style for the interaction. It is amazing how much influence you can have with your voice, so I encourage you to make one basic change. Stop raising it. It doesn't matter if you are yelling because they are in the next room, you are yelling. Every decibel you go up, you will get returned to you in escalated behaviours. I promise. Go to where your child is when you speak to them, and decide the volume you want the conversation to be at. And set that tone. If they are louder, keep focusing on the tone and volume before you ever try to talk about the topic. Make it your goal for the month! I am going to reduce the volume of our family's conversations by half this month, it doesn't matter what else we achieve.
I think of sound in two ways; as an output of the family's behaviors and emotions and as a behavioral and emotional instruction to the child's brain. Children sound to us what they hear from us. In most home visits I have done, the first thing I do is a sound audit. It is tricky, mostly in getting parents to re-hear their lives as the tone they are setting for their child's mind and body. I once walked a Dad through his home with a blindfold on and he said his house sounded like the warehouse he worked in. (No wonder he had no rest and relaxation at home). In a sound audit, we get control over the noise, re-set the tone in the home with our own sounds and music settings and stick to them so they become the signals for our child's routines and transitions.
If you audit your home for sound you must:
change or limit background noises
select sound and music to set the emotional tone of the home
select sound and music to signal transitions in the routine
lower your voice ALL OF THE TIME
walk to where your child is, do not throw your voice
never match their volume, set the tone by reducing yours...they yell, you whisper
start to include silent connection, sitting or laying together with no speech
never have a parenting or spousal conversation with a raised voice in front of children (this is a goal, no one is perfect)
Children will move through noise their whole day. And the world sounds chaotic and overwhelming if you have any neurodevelopmental or sensory challenges. Our homes should sound RELIEVING when they walk in the door. When a child feels sensory relief, they feel physical relief. It moves from their nervous system to their body. And when relief is in their body, you see it in their behavior.
Improvements in children's behaviors come from how we set the tone of their lives far more than how we instruct them with our words.
For more on sounds and tone-setting your home and your car, raise the topic in your next session. For a handy assist, record your dinnertime and evening on your phone and we can take a listen!
Britta Regan West
MA, RCC, TITC/CT-CFST
Clinical Counsellor, Clinical Traumatologist, Compassion Fatigue Specialist