“They’re actually not playing dangerously.”
I tell this to my own body. My own nervous system. My own fight-or-flight response.
Because of the way the noise feels. It pounds against my ears. It sends jolts down my skin. What I want to do is hide. What I want to do is cry. What I want to do is demand my children stop playing that way.
And because of my job, my extensive history working with kids, and because I have been a parent for five years, and because I have a million scripts for such situations, the words form in my mind for me: exactly how to say to my kids, “That’s not a safe way to play,” or maybe, “I’m going to help you stay safe,” and swoop in, and take away the toy they’re playing with. And they will be mad, and I will empathize with them about it, and I will be confident about it, and they will be fine.
Except that I would be lying, if I did that.
I would be lying to tell them that’s not a safe way to play, or that my concern is that they’re being dangerous.
They’re not being dangerous.
They’re just being loud.
They’re playing with two heavy plastic toys, banging them together in delight. No one is out of control. No one is trying to hurt anyone else. No one is being reckless. Only loud.
My sensory system believes loud is danger. My sensory system is put on edge by loudness.
And…it would be okay if I needed to say, “I can’t be in here while you play that way”—that would be true. Or if I suggested a new play schema for them to slip into, perhaps by suggesting, “Can I buy an ice cream at the ice cream shop?”—the magic words that would turn their heavy toy into a pretend cash register (till) and change the scope of the game. If we were somewhere I couldn’t leave, it would be perfectly fair for me to say, “Hey guys, that game is too loud while I’m cooking dinner! You can take it in the playroom if you want,” and help them do that if needed.
But as it was, I had no reason I needed to stop them. They were playing in the playroom. They were not playing dangerously. And I had earplugs in my pocket.
I took them out, put them in, took some deep breaths, checked in with myself about whether I needed to leave the room. I decided I was okay.
I stayed in the room and watched my kids play together. Collaboratively, joyfully, loudly.
[Image description: A selfie taken from inside my living room/playroom, a picture of me — a person with fluffy, unkempt, short blue hair and a pale pastel tie-dyed hoodie — pointing at a foam earplug that is visible in one of my ears. Behind me on the wall are various space and galaxy themed paintings that hang in my living room. I have a slight smile on my face as I was attempting to smile for the picture but also it was loud. I ultimately decided to use the picture anyway rather than retake it later when I felt better…as it was more realistic. 😉 End description.]