How to Tune Out the Noise When Raising Toddlers as a Sensitive, Introverted Parent

A highly sensitive, introverted parent feels overwhelmed with parenting her toddlers

When you have toddlers, noise is a given. It’s a lot for any parent, but it can be especially hard for sensitive, introverted ones.

When you become a parent, people clue you in on a lot of things, like how little sleep you’ll get or how busy life will be now. But no one ever warned me that my life would get 100 times louder (with each kid, I might add). 

Just this morning, my four-year-old ran into my room to shout at me that her “okay to wake” nightlight turned green, which means it’s time to get out of bed. About the same time, her two-year-old brother woke up with an ear-piercing squeal and proceeded to jump up and down in his crib with such gusto that I was afraid it might break. 

Goooooood morning!

As we went downstairs to start our day, the TV was turned on, my two-year-old started making ROAR! sounds as he smashed two toy dinosaurs together on the coffee table, my four-year-old did not stopped talking since shouting about her okay-to-wake nightlight, and of course, I forgot to run the dishwasher the night before… so on it goes, adding the swish-swish sounds to join all the other noise. 

And that… is just the beginning of our day. 

Dr. Lynn Bielski, an assistant professor of audiology at Ball State University was quoted in The New York Times saying that “kids’ sounds aren’t like other background noises. One determinant of how irritating a sound is how much you need to pay attention to it. So the routine hum of the air conditioning unit can easily fade into the background, but the crashes coming from a dining room don’t.”

In other words, not only is it a great deal of noise, but it’s noise our brains feel obligated to pay attention to. It’s a lot for any parent, but it can be especially challenging for highly sensitive, introverted ones like me who are easily overwhelmed and overstimulated. 

The question becomes, how do we manage that much noise? And how can we find ways to get relief? Here are 10 things to try the next time you feel like the noise level is getting out of control. 

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10 Ways to Tune Out the Noise as a Highly Sensitive, Introverted Parent

1. Ask for help so you can take a break (or several).

Sometimes you need to take a break. Not only do introverts need alone time, but so do highly sensitive people. When you are both, you may need even more time on your own to decompress.

I get it. You’ve tried all the things and you’re at the end of your rope. It’s not easy, but asking for help can get you the break you need. Sometimes you have to get a little creative. Offer to swap babysitting with another parent friend, enlist the help of a family member, or — if available — hire a sitter for an hour or two (it will be worth the relief, trust me!).

2. Declare “family quiet time” hours.

Instituting a “family quiet time,” especially for those little angels who have stopped napping, is a great way for everyone to get a little downtime. It might take some work on your part to build this time into your routine, but it’s worth the effort. Everyone can be in their own rooms or hang out in the living room together, as long as they’re quiet. Read a book, take a rest, draw, etc. For added incentive, you can come up with “prizes” for your kids for those who stay quietest the longest (ha!).

3. Make screen/TV time a big deal.

Remember what I said about prizes? Well, screen and TV time are perfect ones! 

I’m not the best at reigning in TV time with my kids, especially when I need to get things done and they are being, well, kids. But I know that when I designate certain times for screens or TV, they get really into it (as opposed to just letting it be on all the time, and they come and go as they please). This makes it a much more useful tool when I really need them to settle down and be still for a minute. 

4. Have your kids focus on independent playtime.

There is nothing I like better than my kids playing on their own and not paying attention to me (or asking for something 173 times in a row). When my kids wander off to play, I try to be intentional about using that time, at least a few minutes of it, to be still and take a breath. If possible, I go to another room altogether to put some distance between me and the noise.

5. Buy a great pair of noise-canceling headphones.

If you can handle earbuds, get yourself some noise-canceling headphones. Pop them in when you feel your skin begin to crawl at the sound of yet another block tower crashing to the ground. Lowering that sensory input can instantly help your nervous system relax and bring you a little further away from pulling your hair out. 

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6. Get your kids headphones, too.

If your kids have a tablet or Kindle (or any other screen that makes noise), get them some headphones to use with their device. I used to have my daughter use headphones with her Kindle because she wanted to be with me all the time, even while I had “quiet book time” back when her brother used to nap (ah, the good old days). It was a win-win. She got to snuggle up with me and I got to quietly read my book. 

7. Use the “Mommy-time-out” card.

This one might be a bit of a long game, but teach your kids how to take a break. When things get overwhelming for me, I explain to my kids that “Mommy needs a break” and I’ll set a two-minute timer. It doesn’t sound like much, but those few moments of quiet can save a whole disaster of a day in a pinch. And who knows? Maybe your kids will start asking for their own breaks, too (one can hope!).

8. Bath time to the rescue.

Assuming your kids enjoy playing in the bathtub, this can turn a roundy bunch into a happy crew, including Mama! My kids get such a kick out of taking baths in the middle of the day, and it’s a great way for me to get some hands-off time (especially on those days I’m just completely touched out). Fill the tub with bubbles and toys, and let them have fun while you sit down for a while. 

9. Play the whisper game.

I’m not sure why kids think whispering is so funny, but this tactic is a good one to keep in your back pocket. Gather the kids around the table and explain that you’re going to play the whisper game and that everyone has to whisper as they complete the activity on the table (which can be anything — coloring, crafts, Play-Doh, you name it). You can make silly consequences for anyone who forgets to whisper or create rewards when they’re done. 

10. Get your kids outside.

When the noise is too much for your highly sensitive soul and the walls are closing in, it’s “Everybody outside!” time. I don’t care if we have to suit up in rain boots or snow jackets or strip down to get in the kiddie pool. Sometimes simply getting outside helps everyone calm down (and quiet down) — or, at the very least, gives the noise somewhere to go. Even the rowdy kids seem easier to be less loud when we’re outside. Research has found that nature has many calming effects, and I can attest to that, too.

We know that every child and family is different. What works for one might not work for the other, and that’s okay. It might take some time to figure out what works best for you, but it’s important for those of us who are highly sensitive introverts to find ways to quiet the noise and get some relief from the constant onslaught of noise our precious kids give us. Everyone will benefit from it. The next time you’re about to lose it over how loud everything is, give one of these ideas a try.

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