From fireworks to hand dryers - How can you help kids who are scared of loud noises?

It's that time of year when we all search for the best firework demonstration and gather in a field to marvel at the splendid array of colours and explosions. It’s also a time that reminds us just how scared young children are of loud noises!

When you look around the bonfire on a crisp November evening, you’ll see a host of children.  Some waving their sparklers around, some staring in the air amazed at the bright lights shooting across the sky.

Then comes the WHOOSH and the BANG!

Some of the children will smile, may even clap and get excited for the next one. Some of the children though may run a mile, or cover their ears whilst crying and looking to move inside. 

Most parents of young children or indeed of autistic children will know that sudden loud noises can cause considerable upset. This sensitivity to noise can vary from child to child, nonetheless it’s not a great sight to see your child cowering and crying at anything.

You’ll find in this blog post considerations that can be made to help reduce the stress of loud noise for a child. It also briefly highlights how we can help children become more resilient to loud noises in general, so that they potentially could grow out of their anxieties more quickly.

We see this noise problem in the washroom and as a manufacturer/supplier of hand dryers we have championed for years the need to have an appropriate dryer sited at an appropriate height for both children and disabled users. We specifically make the point that dryers need to be lowered for use by young children and also that a quieter option should be selected.

Above is my son Jacob when he was 6 years old. He doesn’t like loud noises. For example, when I forget he’s in the room and loudly cheer when my football team score (on TV) he runs away shouting and you can see the distress in his face. There’s no way of getting him to a fully attended live match any time soon.

He was the same with loud hand dryers. The picture shows him using one of our Quiet Mark approved Dryflow Elites in Eureka children’s museum.  Straight away he had no problem with this dryer and you could see the relief on his face.

Quiet Mark are making great strides in being a third party assurance certification scheme that highlights which products, including hand dryers, are deemed the quietest in their class yet still perform to a high standard and do what they are supposed to do, i.e dry hands.

The standard measurement for hand dryer noise levels is in decibels dB(A) at a 1 metre distance, readings are taken in a sound proof chamber. This is not really reflective of noise levels in a public toilet area where noise bounces off the tiles and the high-speed airflow increases the intensity when it comes into contact with hands. We therefore thought it would be helpful to enlist Dr Drever, a leading acoustics specialist and senior lecturer to do comparative sound testing of the major hand dryer brands with hands placed in the airflow. The follow results were observed:

Dr Drever’s Results

  • Xlerator 500 - 87 dB/88 dB (A)
  • Air Fury/TurboForce 84 dB/84dB (A)
  • Dyson Airblade AB14 dB – 82 db/80 dB (A)
  • Airforce 79 dB/79 dB (A)
  • Mitsubishi Jet Towel – 78 dB/75 dB (A)
  • Dryflow Classic Plus – 73db/ 72 dB (A)
  • Dryflow Elite – 70 dB/ 67 dB (A)

Source: Dr J.Drever MIOA (j.drever@gold.ac.uk) 28th Feb 2014

Although there is some thought that hand dryers can damage your hearing, the time spent near a hand dryer with these readings is not long enough, according to the NIOSH Daily Permissible Noise Level Exposure guidelines, to cause any damage.

All of these noise levels are perfectly safe for human ears, however sound measurement and how sound effects individuals is far more complex than a simple decibel reading, so we fully intend to support Dr Drever's further research. Dr Drever intends to look into how different areas of sound (rough, smooth, high frequency, low frequency) may be more important when measuring a hand dryers noise irritation.

A question we constantly ask is why would architects, contractors etc choose to put a loud noise hand dryer into areas known to cater for children?  It’s inevitable that some children WILL be scared of loud noises due to noise sensitivity issues. So, to not cater for all in these facilities is only going to make children get out of the washroom quickly or avoid altogether, which is not hygienic for them to leave with unwashed or dripping wet hands.

Unfortunately, the decibel reading is not enough to gauge the noise level when it is actually situated in a washroom.  That’s why we encourage those that are looking to put hand dryers in a location used by children to contact us for appropriate advice.  We can even provide samples so that they can be tested in your unique location before being installed fully.

But, can you help your child overcome a fear of loud noises?

Reading a little into noise sensitivity in children, it does seem however that sometimes this can be due to fear of the unknown, rather than the actually noise being at fault. For example, some of the fear can come from not knowing where the sound has come from and perceive it as dangerous with our natural fight or flight response.

It has been seen in many children that they naturally grow out of this fear of loud noises such as fireworks. Possibly due to the fact they rationalise what the noise is through learned behaviours as they grow up. They naturally know that they’re not in danger and the noise is more of an annoyance than something to worry about.

It does seem that with a lot of fears, one way to overcome them is to not avoid them, but to be exposed to them, therefore becoming more accustomed to the noise.

So how can you help your child in the long term?

There are a couple of guides I have come across available from Guy’s and St Thomas NHS Foundation Trust and Torbay & South Devon NHS Foundation Trust which give information on sound sensitivity in children.

I’ve taken parts of the guidelines and highlighted them below but the documents linked to above are well worth a read.

Provide reassurance and help them take control

By talking to your child about what the noise is and that it isn’t dangerous will help them to become accustomed to it and automatically see it as not being a sign of danger.

If you can tell the child in advance that the loud noise is coming then they can be prepared and it isn’t so much of a shock.

To help them take control of the situation, if we take the example of using a hand dryer, if this is a source of concern, their reaction to the sound may be reduced if they’re encouraged to control it with support and reassurance. i.e., encourage him/her to use it and make it come on and off under their control whilst you are there to assist them.

Make fun of the thing making the noise

It’s hard to be scared of something you find funny. Can you make a joke about something like a firework?  A bit crude but could you say it’s the firework letting off wind?

The example given in the Guy’s and St Thomas document is if your child is scared of the hairdryer or the washing machine, you could dress it up with big glasses and stick some funny ears on it and give it a silly voice.

Make breathing techniques an everyday exercise

Breathing techniques give children something else to focus on rather than the sound that is upsetting them. There are many breathing techniques for children available online.

Mindfulness for children is a great way of helping children cope with anxiety, stress and in some cases symptoms of autism.  So, by practicing this on a regular basis, when a loud noise does occur, the breathing exercises can be brought into action and help the child adapt to the noise.

Practiced regularly it can help a child respond calmly and rationally to a source of anxiety instead of reacting blindly and being crippled into flight or fight straight away.

Desensitise to the noise

It’s advised that to completely avoid the noise and live in silence can actually do more harm than good. By doing this, or using ear defenders, it’s reported it can actually increase the child’s sensitivity to the noise because when they do hear a loud noise, they have still not got used to hearing them. This may even make them worse in the long term.

This can obviously be stressful to a parent, exposing their child to something they don’t like, but I guess we need to look at it like a vaccination.  We’re given a little bit of the bug so that the immune system can get used to it, build a resistance to it and therefore can cope if a larger amount of the bug returns.

In the same way, the more the child is gradually exposed to the noise the quicker they will become accustomed to it.  It will hopefully become more of a hinderance than a source of anxiety, as adults can testify. The loud bang of a firework may not cause stress to an adult but it can still make them jump or be a source of irritation.

A way of desensitising could be showing a video of a loud firework to a child with the volume turned down. Then as the child gets more use to it, keep gradually turning up the volume.  The child could even be in control of pressing play and the volume.  As stated above, being in control will help the child to get less anxious.

In summary

Whenever something is going to provide a loud noise, one of the first thoughts should be “how will this effect a child with heightened sensitivity to noise?”  There are products available and considerations to be made that will make it more comfortable for some.

As described in this post, it can be the perception and sensitivity to the noise that causes distress. There are ways to help children with increased sensitivity to noise overcome this issue in the long term.

Total avoidance of noise seems to be detrimental to future habits of children, but until children have time to desensitise to loud noise it would be wise to accommodate for them in product choices.

Firstly, cater for all children and take into account noise levels of anything. So, on bonfire night do you really need those air bombs when you’re just in your back garden and the neighbour’s kids are cowering being the curtains.  Or if you’re placing a hand dryer in a washroom, can you place a quieter option in there when you know people vulnerable to noise sensitivity will use the premises?

Secondly, can the child have a gradual exposure to the noise they are scared of at different levels so that they can get used to what it is and change their perceptions about it being something to worry about? This might help them desensitise to the issue and progress to high volume sounds including some of the louder hand dryers in buildings that haven’t thought on and provided more suitable options.


For more information or for help in finding your ideal hand dryer or washroom product, please call us UK offices: North: 0114 3540047 South: 0203 3270448; Eire office: +353 19036387, use our contact us page by clicking here or click to visit the website.  You can also use our Intelligent Search Tool that helps you identify the perfect dryer for your location by clicking here.

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Written by: James Marvin

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