DEAR CAROLYN: My stepchild hums all.the.time. At every meal, when we pray before bed, when other people are talking, during a walk, while making lunches, on the car ride to school, even when reading. It. Is. Constant.
I've tried to specifically address this during times I feel it is inappropriate. "When you make noise when I'm talking to you, it makes me feel like you aren't listening to me," or "When we pray, let's be respectful," or "When we see a movie, we want others to hear it too." It stops in the immediate when I address it, but continues soon after. I'm about to lose my mind. My stepkid is wonderful and kind but also has terrible perfectionism issues and I do not want to make them feel bad about an innocent quirk! It's just so constant and I feel like I'm suffering from noise pollution. Any advice? Is this normal? Stepkid is 10.
STEPPARENT: To my uncredentialed eye, the humming looks like a neuro-sensory-feedback thing, so please run this by the child's pediatrician. Foot-tapping, fidgeting and nail-biting are more familiar versions of this, but humming and whistling also fit. It could also be of a piece with the perfectionism.
In fact, run it by the school counselor, too, if there is one, and if there is a school … ugh. Anyway, multiple opinions are better than one, from different angles, especially with somewhat-less-than-common concerns.
If it this does turn out to be neurological, then it's still OK to ask them (kindly) to stop when the behavior is disruptive — but you'll want to swap out the long explanations for signals — explain once, then cut it to a whispered "Humming." Incorporating substitute fidgets can help.
And you'll want to adjust your expectations. Instead of believing you can get the humming to stop permanently, you'll need to accept the reality of picking your moments — and turn your focus to long-term management and support.
A sampling of reader comments:
— This might be Tourette's. Pediatrician first, maybe pediatric neurologist. Yes, I'm a doc.
— My husband is a leg-shaker. I can sometimes feel the house shake. In public when I can tell other people are feeling it, I put a light hand on his leg and that's his signal to stop. It looks like a typical loving gesture — which it is, just loving myself and my sanity — and no one really notices. Again, that won't stop it forever, but he'll notice it enough to stop for a while. In the house, I yell, "You shake-a the house" in my best Mario Bros. voice. We've figured out among ourselves when it's appropriate for me to ask him to stop, and I try to ignore it when we're alone.
— I'm also a stepmom and I wonder if you have my constant thought of, "Am I horrible, would this bother me if I gave birth to this kid?" or "Would a 'real mom' let this get to her?" In case you have that voice, too, kindly tell it to [blank] off for both of us.
— We had that with a young cousin — it was a hearing loss and he was self-stimulating. Pediatrician for sure.
Citing personal experience, others suggested the child is musical, or has dyslexia or ADHD. Thanks for all the leads.