“Oh, the noise! Oh, the noise! Noise! Noise! Noise! There’s one thing I hate! All the NOISE! NOISE! NOISE! NOISE!” – The Grinch
Oh, the Grinch, so unrelatable and mean in so many ways, but on this point, I have to admit, by the end of our two-week winter break, I was relating. The Grinch and I, it turns out, are both stressed out by noise. After a couple of weeks of everyone talking at once, doors slamming, friends running amok, fighting, laughing, and wrestling, I was frazzled.
Now don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for the noise—I love having three kids (10, 8, and 5) and adore the crazy, fun, loving, messy, noisy family we have, but I also can’t deny that longterm exposure to noise sets an undeniable level of stress humming through my veins.
Luckily for me, the Grinch isn’t my only advocate on this topic. Florence Nightingale said, “Unnecessary noise is the most cruel absence of care that can be inflicted on sick or well.” That is infinitely more eloquent than the Grinch, but the sentiment is the same—noise causes stress. It turns out, there is science that confirms this fact as well.
Many studies(1) have been done that show noise triggers the brain’s fight or flight response. When there is a stressful noise, the brain sends out a distress signal and adrenaline is pumped into the bloodstream. It makes sense. I imagine humans evolved in part because we feel stress when we hear loud noises (roar = run = good).
But, this stress-triggering response to noise is also why I feel my inner tension mount when my kids start arguing, whining, or even play-wrestling in the living room. When I hear the shrieking, my brain sends out a distress signal and pumps adrenaline into my bloodstream. I feel it like a river of hot tension flowing through my extremities until my whole body is on edge. Long term exposure to the noise keeps this stress response activated. Eventually, it can wear down the body and cause mental and physical problems (oh, hello end-of-winter-break Grinchyness).
And the inverse is true: silence gives your brain a break. In one study(2), they were testing how relaxing music affects the brain and they found that the silent pauses between music selections were actually more relaxing for the brain than the music itself. When I walked into my house after dropping the kids off at school on their first day back, I felt myself melt into this relaxing silence.
So, what can I do? I love my kids and I love spending time as a loud and crazy family, but I also have a need for some peace and quiet to stay sane. The winter, spring, and summer breaks from school are especially challenging times to find space for silence. I have been thinking about this for a while and have gradually added in some routines that build quiet-time into our days together, but I would still like to add a few more. Here are some of the things that have worked and some new ideas I’d like to try.
Quiet Family Time We Love:
- Daily Lessons – Each morning at breakfast, we read and discuss a lesson from The Big Life Journal. This isn’t a silent time, but it is a focused, calm, centering part of our day. We get to talk (taking turns), share ideas, and connect over important life lessons. It is a quiet, thoughtful, and uplifting way to start our vacation days together.
- Legos – I got a Lego set for each of my kids for Christmas. My kids are not Lego-fanatics and none of them even asked for Legos for Christmas. But I knew that it would give them a quiet, focused activity to work on. The older two can work independently but need a little guidance as they go along. I just committed myself to stay present while they worked so I was able to help them as needed.
- Reading – I love to snuggle on the bed and read to my kids. This has been a staple of sanity for my parenting over the last ten years. When they were little, we made regular trips to the library to restock picture books so I didn’t have to read the same ones over and over. I still get picture books for my 5-year-old and some chapter books to read together with the older kids. I love reading together.
Quiet Family Time I Want to Try:
- Family Reading – This will be a natural progression of our current reading time and will work best when my youngest learns to read. I envision it as a time where everyone sits in the same room with his/her own book and we can share summaries or highlights at the end of reading time. My older kids read a lot on their own now, but I like that this idea combines reading with family time.
- Puzzles – I think puzzles are another nice activity to do together. Puzzling lends itself well to feelings of flow and accomplishment. My older kids have not had much interest in puzzles, so we’ll see if that will be something we can add in the future. I think choosing one at the right skill level and with an engaging picture would help. Maybe a Harry Potter puzzle or a family photo turned into a puzzle would be motivational enough.
- Sitters – In an ideal world, my partner would have vacation time at the same time as the kids’ school breaks and we would swap to get out each day to be alone. That is not my reality, so I would also like to plan in a few more moments with babysitters. My kids love the time they spend with sitters, and it would be a real treat for me to get a sitter and slip out for a couple hours of alone time in the middle of long stretches of child-focused time.
QUESTION: Does noise bother you? What more quiet activities does your family already enjoy? How can you use these and add to them so everyone gets some moments of quiet to recharge during summer break?
CHALLENGE: If you are the type who needs it, plan a few moments of quiet family time into your regular family routine.
Edited by Kimberly Price.
Image from Unsplash via PicMonkey.
1. https://www.brainfacts.org/thinking-sensing-and-behaving/diet-and-lifestyle/2018/noise-pollution-isnt-just-annoying-its-bad-for-your-health-062718 2. http://nautil.us/issue/16/nothingness/this-is-your-brain-on-silence