Aural agony

May 31, 2008 at 1:03 p.m. ET

There's an aspect of parenting for which I was totally unprepared (though I thought I was) and for which I remain woefully ill-equipped, and that is the aural aspect. I'm not talking the crying (I was ready for that) or the baby talk. I'm talking about the screaming, whining, and the sound effects.

Screaming Girl
I hear that there are some children who don't whine or scream or generally make noise, and often the parents are credited with making that happen. (Likewise, the parents are often blamed when a kid is a whiner or a screamer.) Kudos to all you parents who have managed this so well. As I have never met one of you in real life, I am fully prepared to bow down in reverence to your awesome parenting skills to you when I do meet one of you. Then I will invite you over to work your magic on my children. I won't take no for an answer, because when you have that kind of gift, it must be shared.

Of course, I planned to be one of these awesome parents. I read the books, listened to the experts, and absorbed and applied the techniques, and yet my kids make some ungodly noises.

Personality by personality

I suspect that whether a kid is a whiner or a screamer or a sound effect maker or not depends as much on the child's individual personality as the parenting. Some kids are just more, um, dramatic in that way. Some kids have louder and or stronger voices, probably somewhat genetically inherited. My kids fall into that more dramatic, loud, and strong category, and show a range even within it. They have their whining (and, yes, screaming) moments of course, but specifically they all love to make general sound effects to fill any quiet void with noise of some kind, or any kind.

And it's constant. Truly. There is always one of them, if not all three of them, making noise of one kind or another.

Some of it is developmental, of course. Four, for example, has a different intensity of noise than eight or twelve. I know that some sound effect making is practice for learning to make certain speech sounds and contributes to overall language acquisition. But shrieking for the sake of shrieking? No wonder I get headaches some days. And the low-level but still intense noises the boys make just to remind me that they are there and they can, in fact, make those noises? Well, yes, they are getting attention, but not necessarily the good kind.

Getting attention

That's the crux of it all, of course: attention. They all want my attention and for me to be focused solely on them. The noise making, the sound effects can get to me. It can be hard to remember when they get particularly intense that I need to figure out the right kind of attention to give them without reinforcing that the noises will get them attention. It's hard to do that when a sound deprivation chamber seems like the best vacation ever. Or maybe just ear plugs.

Some bits of this they will outgrow. Then they will grow into new phases of it. Meanwhile, we're the slightly loud family muddling through. For better or for worse, my children will always be heard.

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