When Our Quiet Children Get Lost in the Noise of Their Classrooms

How much noise can you work in?

As a general rule I write in silence. I find it impossible to pour my thoughts out onto paper surrounded by noise, not even soft music playing in the background. Life would certainly be easier if my pen and I could function harmoniously whilst the noise of the world carried on around me but the reality is that noise distracts me, takes my mind off my work. I need quiet for my thoughts to flow and peace to write them down.

“There’s a well-known study in psychology by a guy named Russell Geen. He gave learning tasks to kids to solve, with varying levels of background noise. He found that the extroverts did best when the noise was louder, and the introverts did best when the noise was softer.” Susan Cain: How to Teach a Young Introvert

My son harbours the same need as me, but, unlike me, he doesn’t have any control over his working environment. He sits in a classroom with near to thirty other children. He has to focus on his sums, read instructions and complete tasks whilst all around him classmates chatter with, or whisper to, each other, shuffle around, drop things, consult with the teacher or demonstratively vie for his attention.

When Our Quiet Children Get Lost in the Noise of Their Classrooms

He is distracted by this classroom noise and he loses his train of thought; his concentration ebbs.

His frustration builds because he’s a conscientious student who cannot meet his own high expectations. The level of the work is within his reach; the quiet he needs to concentrate is not. He falls behind on his tasks. He shuts down. And he says nothing to his teacher. He feels helpless. He feels inadequate. He feels like a failure. His self-esteem is quashed. But he stays quiet.

Quiet doesn’t mean he’s okay.

Other children draw attention to themselves like a magnet with their noise and disruptive behaviour. Teachers have no choice but to react. So quiet children fade away in classrooms all over the world. Children feel lost in the learning spaces that are filled with chatter, fidgeting and distractions – the very environments that are set up to nurture them and help them blossom. Their learning is impeded. Bright students doubt themselves. Enthusiastic pupils lose their hunger to learn.

There are no tell-tale signs on my child’s face that he is struggling. His head is down and from the outside he seems focused, like he is working devotedly on his schoolwork; it’s a brilliant façade that hides his racing mind that is frantically trying to process the overload of sensory input that engulfs him.

His introvert nature means he won’t purposefully draw attention to himself; he won’t scream for help. Even when he needs it most.

Instead he’ll muddle on as best he can, bottling up his emotions, frustrations and struggles until he gets home. As he crosses that threshold of safety, comes in through the front door of our home, he releases what he has kept corked up during his school day: there’s an explosion of big emotions. It may take the form of tears, fat uncontrollable tears, or anger, or aggression or a wordless retreat to a safe haven to be alone.

I can hold my son, take him in my arms and let him know I understand how he feels, let him know I have his back and that he’s in safe hands and he can let go of his emotions.

I can listen to his frustrations.

I can help him understand his boundaries. I can help him understand what fills his bucket, and what empties it.

I can help him find tools to use in the classroom that can perhaps help a little.

I can keep the dialogue open with those who’s role it is to educate him. But they can only do so much with the resources they have.

But I can’t magic up quiet. I simply don’t have the power to magic up the quiet he needs in the place he needs it most.

For more on this topic read 5 Ways for a HSC to Get Quiet Time in School


About Amanda van Mulligen

Mother, writer, author, blogger. Born British, Living Dutch. I have three Dutch sons and a Dutch husband and I blog about Turning Dutch and raising highly sensitive children.
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5 Responses to When Our Quiet Children Get Lost in the Noise of Their Classrooms

  1. Pingback: Please Don’t Seat My Highly Sensitive Child Next to a Noisy Child | Happy Sensitive Kids

  2. Pingback: 25 Things to Share With Your Highly Sensitive Child’s Teacher | Happy Sensitive Kids

  3. Pingback: How to Help a Highly Sensitive Child After School | Happy Sensitive Kids

  4. Ipuna Black says:

    Hello Amanda,
    Thank you for sharing such personal information that can help many. My 8-year-old son suffered from encephalitis and Guillain-Barre Syndrome at the end of 2015. He is still recovering, but one of his biggest problems is that he is super sensitive now. He also struggles with a lot of noise. As parents, we do our best to figure out our children’s triggers and help them to learn the best way they can. Thank you for being an advocate for your kids! You give some great tips. This is new to me (even after my 15 years of nursing and working in the pediatric intensive care unit as well as teaching pediatric nursing!).


    • Oh wow, you and your family certainly have more than your share on your plate – sorry to hear that.

      Exactly – and every day we keep learning. And if we don’t advocate for our kids then who will? Thanks for stopping by and leavi g your encouragement!


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