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I know this makes me sound like a jerk, but it feels nuanced and I really am trying to learn and grow.

Some added context:

  • He is using the handflute, or 'hand ocarina' method
  • He does it very frequently, and publicly (within our home)
  • It's atonal, loud and distracting...but his skill has improved considerably over the past several months
  • He can't or won't yet whistle using other methods
  • It seems to be a nervous tick, he used to pop his knuckles
  • We are a very musical family (he plays the trumpet with a school band, and practices at home, which I love)
  • I'm not getting support from my partner on this, if anything, it's the opposite

So, what's my problem? Everyone else in the house whistles on occasion, including me.

  • The frequency is excessive
  • I feel as if he's doing it (sometimes) intentionally to annoy me
  • When he's whistling in this way it's conspicuously clear that he's using his hands for nothing else
    • in the shower?? that's just wasting water
    • instead of: homework, chores, anything that might otherwise be a productive endeavor
  • He complains when I put music on in the home

OK, this last point really gets to the heart of the issue for me. I try to be considerate with regards to subjecting others to "my sounds". I feel like there's a situational awareness that keeps most of us from just adding random aural pollution wherever we go. Is my playing music in my own home no different?

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  • What is the child’s age? Is he neurotypical? Did you/your partner ask him to stop popping his knuckles? Do you have any reason to think this might be an outlet for stress/anxiety? What happens when you ask him to stop for a while? (Sorry, so many questions!)
    – anongoodnurse
    May 20 at 0:10
  • @anongoodnurse, he's 12 years old. Nothing diagnosed in terms of his being neurotypical, but likely ADHD, he has bouts of oppositional defiance, anxiety. We did ask him to stop, we provided fidget spinners and poppers as well. Sometimes it could be stress related, but probably more about boredom. He can stop for a while, but I can't get him engaged in something else...it returns. He doesn't tend to be super autonomous about getting stuck into things he's procrastinating on. Maybe that's it, maybe it is brought on by stress relating to knowingly procrastinating on other tasks. May 20 at 14:56

2 Answers 2

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First, you don’t sound at all like a jerk, so don’t worry about that. You sound like any normal parent.

You asked him to stop popping his knuckles, which was a somewhat satisfying action for him. He had to replace it with something. That something is also annoying. Maybe he does do it on occasion to annoy you (he’s 12), but more likely by far is that he’s anxious about something, and this is a nervous habit thing which has blossomed. (He’s getting better at it, which must be nice.) Whether you have the right to ask him to change another nervous habit you don’t like is for you to decide. But be prepared to be annoyed again by his choice, so maybe try different approaches.

You have the right to limit the amount of unnecessary noise in the house. You can ask him to put a limit on the amount of “music” he makes, explaining very empathetically that it’s difficult for you to tune out. You also have the option to learn to look at it differently (it helps your son), learn to like it (enjoy finding improvement), or learn to tune it out (earplugs might help.)

Is my playing music in my own home no different?

It’s not much different if he doesn’t like your choice of music. But here’s a valuable lesson to teach: your music is like his whistling. If you can put up with his whistling, he can put up with your music. (I’m assuming you don’t want music on all the time, but just occasionally.) That’s called reciprocity.

If he’s a procrastinator, he’s also probably anxious. As a parent, you absolutely have the ability to help him with this. Do some in-depth reading about procrastination ( from reliable sources), pick some strategies to cope with it, and share them with your son, encouraging (not forcing) cooperation. Bribery, um, I mean praise and rewards for small successes are always nice!

My kids popped their knuckles constantly, which I hated. It’s a sound that grates on me, and I would always tell them to stop, because it was bad for them. They did some research on it and provided enough to show me that I was wrong. I stopped asking them to stop. I had only been halfway honest about why it bothered me, a mistake on my part. It could have been a lesson on reciprocity.

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I think you're picking up on something subtle that is deeper than whistling, because, from your description your son seems like he may be lost in his own world, and doing things that annoy others, which, long term, if he isnt made aware, have implications for his ability to get along with family, classmates, roommates and co-workers.

My guess is that it's his lack of sensitivity that is being demonstrated by his wistling that makes the wistling hard to tollerate.

I would suggest an exploritory conversation with your son about what draws him to wistle, and in that conversation you can introduce the idea that his choice about when to practice affects others. He may not be aware that his practicing is experienced by others as random loud noises which disturb their peace.

When practicing a musical instrument, we don't practice all day, we set aside some time each day to practice. This might be one way to modify his wistling, by treating it as practicing a musical instrument, and giving him a time frame for practicing each day, and limiting his wistling to that practice time.

His objections to your music are also something to explore with him, to understand what about the music that you choose is bothering him. Whatever his objections are, they need to be heard and acknowledged, so that he feels that you have invested time in understanding his likes and dislikes and wishes for the music he hears while he's at home.

By the same token, the conversation needs to include your likes and dislikes and wishes for the music that you hear while you at home, because your son needs to learn this about you.

While on the surface this is about wistling and music, under that are the core issues of how we live together as humans and and how we work together to make our living situation good for everyone.

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