We have four little children, all girls, spending a week with us over the Fourth of July holiday. Since their arrival I have been reminded of how much little children love noise, any noise. They like to yell to scream, to cry to talk a blue streak. Vocal chords are only a part of the din, however, one of our little guests found a pint sized kazoo (how in the world did I miss that in the preparation for their arrival?) which she happily toots—ad infinitum it seems. But little children also create their own noise-makers, anything that can be banged, will be banged, anything that rattles, will be rattled. And there are endless toys that all seem to have the Eveready Bunny to keep them running and endlessly playing their tunes, singing their songs and simply adding to the cacophony of sound which now reverberates through our, if memory serves me right, once quiet home.
As a psychologist, I cannot allow a behavioral observation to be recorded without making some attempts to explain the phenomena.
I believe that Freud was correct when he argued that most of human behavior is over-determined, i.e. due to multiple causes. Young children’s love of noise and noise making falls within this category.
There is, first of all, the neurological cause. Young children’s sensory systems are quite new and in the process of development. Perhaps they need noise, in part at least, to stimulate and nourish the auditory centers of the brain.
There are a number of psychological explanations as well. When little children make noise, they make adults take notice. Noise making, has, at least one of its functions to draw attention to the noise maker.
Another reason may be the whistling in the dark syndrome in which making noise is a way of dealing with fear and anxiety. If you make enough noise, loud enough and long enough, perhaps the dreaded monster will go away. And we must never forget the nuisance factor. Once children discover adults don’t like all the noise, they do it to get back at us. After all, we are big and all powerful and they are small and have few weapons to fight back with. Noise happens to be one of them. And noise is a passive aggressive maneuver, making noise is what young children do, they can’t be blamed for it.
There are probably sociological reasons as well. Noise making may be a unifying activity for young children. In making noise together they join forces, find common cause, against the grown, up-silence loving adult world. Indeed, noise making may be the universal language of young children which children all over the world use and understand without translation. “Infants and young children of the world unite, let us all make noise together.”
Now that I have a better understanding of the many reasons why young children love noise and love making it, I should be more accepting and understanding of this behavior. And of course I am, but as much as I have enjoyed their stay, I will look forward to the quiet when the week is over.
By Professor David Elkind