There are many ways parents first come to suspect their child is suffering from misophonia. Perhaps you noticed your infant was hyper-sensitive to noises most would not notice. Maybe your toddler refused to eat at the dinner table, and shrieked when you pulled out a snack to eat in the car. Maybe your elementary schooler became nervous to the point of panic when a classmate chewed gum beside them. Or possibly, your teenager approached you with the name of a disorder he or she read about online. Whether the discussion of misophonia in your household begins from an early age, or is a research project you undertake with your adolescent, you now must navigate how to discuss misophonia with your child way that will be comprehensible and productive. Below are some tips for starting that conversation.
Understanding the Nervous System
For Parents: In order to understand how misophonia works within the body, you and your child first need to understand a bit about the nervous system. This is the system within the body that, in part, serves to help us deal with danger in our environment. In order to do this, when we sense a
potentially dangerous sight, sound or smell, a part of the nervous system called the sympathetic nervous system sets off the fight/flight reaction. This prepares our bodies to fight or run from danger by increasing heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate, and releasing certain hormones. For people with misophonia, the brain perceives certain innocuous sounds as being dangerous, and sets off the fight/flight reaction unnecessarily. This physiological reaction often leads to unpleasant emotions and behaviors.
For Kids: Clearly, the depth of your explanation of scientific topics like this will depend on your child’s age and development. For a younger child you might use an analogy. For example, “when you hear [trigger sound] your body feels like it is turning into the Incredible Hulk, but you are still the same person inside.” You might also ask your child to try to identify what she feels in her body when she hears a trigger sound, in order to emphasize that the sound first affects the body, before any emotional involvement. For an older child, you can begin to discuss fight/flight and what it does to the body. You might say something like, “when we are in danger, our bodies get us ready to fight or run away, and that can make our hearts beat faster, and make us feel nervous inside. When you hear [trigger sound] misophonia makes your brain think you is in danger, and so it gets you ready to fight or run away.”
Cognition, Emotion, and Behavior
For Parents: Cognition, emotion, and behavior all play a role in what we think of as the monophonic response, however, this is all preceded by the physiological (bodily) response to trigger sounds. Once the fight/flight response is triggered, this can lead to cognitions (thoughts), such as “I wish that person would stop making that noise,” or “why are they doing this to me?” A misophonic child may feel emotions, like anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, or frustration. He or she may engage in behaviors such as trying to escape the sound, yelling, name-calling, crying, or “shutting-down” (among others). These thoughts, feelings, and actions can feed into one another, however it is important to remember, this all begins with the body’s response to trigger sounds.
For Kids: The key concept here for a child to grasp is the separation between the physiological response, emotions, cognitions, and behaviors. There are many ways to explain this to a child, but you may try asking your child to map out what happens to him after he hears a trigger sound: what happens inside his body? What are his feelings? What does he think about the sound and the person making it? What does he do or say?
Separating the Sound from the Person
For Parents: In order to preserve peace within your household, and help your child to maintain relationships in general, it is important to teach him to separate bothersome sounds from the people those sounds emirate from. Because, for many misophonia sufferers, trigger sounds are “people sounds,” such as chewing, breathing, swallowing, coughing, sneezing etc., misophonia kids often have difficulty understanding that sounds, not people, are triggering the unpleasant reaction. Unfortunately, when there is a lack of understanding, misophonia sufferers often consider the people they spend the most time around to be their “worst triggers.” For kids, of course, these people are typically parents and other family members, and so this can lead to issues at home that affect the whole family. However, this need not be the case.
For Kids: In order to help your child stop blaming people for making bothersome sounds, you may want to work with him to identify which sounds people need to make. Because many common trigger sounds are highly necessary for people to make (one cannot stop breathing!), children can come to understand that these sounds do not exist to bother them. Once a child can stop blaming others for making bothersome sounds, and understand that it is the child’s own brain that is causing the reaction, family tensions often ease.