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Does Noise Impact Children's Development?

We recently had a look at the research on ‘Influences of background noise on infants and children. Lucy C. Erickson and Rochelle S. Newmani’ and found some really interesting findings. We always want the best for our children and their development, and staying informed is super important on the list.

Noise, defined in the study as 'any unwanted sound', can have consequences on various aspects of children's health, perception, cognition, and learning during their early stages of development. In this article, we'll explore the effects of noise on children and provide practical tips to help you mitigate its impact.

Child covering their ears

Understanding the Impact of Noise

When we listen, both speech, and background noise enter our eardrums together into essentially the same place. This makes it harder for our brains to distinguish and separate the noise from the desired sound, resulting in challenges with perception and comprehension. For children, who are still developing their language and cognitive skills, noise can be disruptive to their learning process.

When speaking about the impact of noise on learning, there are 2 main points we'll discuss - informational masking and energetic masking. Energetic masking is when a loud noise makes it hard to hear a quiet one, like a TV making it tough to hear someone calling your name. Informational masking is when background noise makes it tricky to focus on what you want to hear, such as chatting in class making it hard to understand the teacher.

The Different Types of Noise

Not all noise is equal, and different types of noise have varying impacts on children's learning development. Let's take a closer look at some common types of noise and their effects:

  • White Noise: White noise, characterised by a consistent blend of frequencies, primarily causes energetic masking. It also masks other sounds and can help to create a more soothing and calming environment (we'll explain later).

  • Human Speech: Human speech can cause both energetic and informational masking.

  • Air Con/Ventilation: The steady hum of air conditioning or ventilation systems mainly contributes to energetic masking. While it may not be as disruptive as sudden loud noises, it can still impact a child's concentration and focus.

  • Background TV/Media: Background noise from TVs or other media sources can have high levels of informational masking, especially when speech is included. The presence of background noise hinders a child's ability to focus on and comprehend spoken words.

  • Music: The impact of music depends on whether it is vocal or instrumental. Vocal music can lead to informational masking, as the lyrics can distract from other sounds. Instrumental music, on the other hand, primarily contributes to energetic masking.

  • Electronic Toys and Activity Chairs: Toys that generate sound, such as electronic toys and activity chairs, can vary in their noise levels. These toys can produce both energetic and informational masking, with the intensity of masking depending on how close the object is to the child's ear.

Baby and adult in front of crib mobile

The Effects on Children's Learning and Development

Research has shown that prolonged exposure to loud sounds, such as loud music and machinery, can result in serious and potentially permanent hearing issues, especially in younger children. Noise can even create feelings of stress, frustration, and even contribute to mental health issues. For children with additional or special needs, loud and sudden noises can also be very sensory triggering, sometimes causing further stress and upset. By understanding the effects and impacts of noise, we can make informed decisions to provide the best possible environment for our children's growth and well-being.

Mitigating the Impact of Noise

While complete elimination of noise from a child's environment is impossible, there are steps parents can take to reduce its impact. Here are some practical tips:

  • Create Quiet Spaces: Designate specific areas in your home as "quiet spaces" where your child can find respite from excessive noise. These 'cozy corners' can help create a calm and peaceful environment for focused activities or relaxation.

  • Avoid Multi-Person Talking: When engaging in conversations with your child, try to avoid talking all at once. Multiple voices competing for attention can create a noisy and distracting environment. Instead, take turns speaking and ensure your child has the opportunity to listen and process each voice.

  • Utilise Visual Support: In noisy environments, visual cues can be invaluable. Use gestures, visual aids, or simple sign language to supplement spoken communication. This visual support helps children understand and comprehend speech amidst noise.

  • Limit Background TV Noise: Restrict the amount of background noise from television or other media sources. This can minimize the impact of informational masking and create a more conducive environment for learning and interaction.

  • Be Mindful of Electronic Toys: When choosing electronic toys or activity chairs for your child, consider the noise levels they produce. Opt for toys that have adjustable volume settings or choose quieter alternatives that still provide engaging and educational experiences.

By implementing these strategies and being mindful of the impact of noise on your child's development, you can create a supportive and nurturing environment.


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