Question: My son sings. Or hums. There's usually a song in his head, often from a video game or movie, and he graces us all with his current earworm. While he's playing with Legos or doing his homework or eating his dinner, he's usually humming. It's sweet, because he does it when he's happy, but ohmygod it's superannoying. We sometimes tell him to "regulate the volume," but we can't quite bring ourselves to yell, "For the love of all that is holy please stop stop stop stop staaaaahppp!" Because then we'll be parents who just scolded their son for singing. And we don't want to be those parents.
But is it our job to make sure we're not raising the Office Whistler? You know, That Guy? Can we gently suggest that not everyone finds his musicality charming? He does it absentmindedly, and if we tell him to turn down the volume, he's always very apologetic about it. And, honestly, we're inconsistent about it. Often, we don't notice. When we find it annoying, it's usually because we're tired or frustrated or some other not-really-about-the-humming reason. It's also impossible to rationally explain anything when you're annoyed. But wow. Humming.
I'm with you on the nuisance of it, but also the charm of it, and I'm also backing the three-part answer you wrote for yourself without fully realizing it:
(1) Often, you don't notice. That's great, because that gives him, presumably, plenty of time to be his happy musical self. Granting kids time and space not to be self-conscious is such a gift.
(2) But, of course, even beloved people can be incredibly annoying sometimes, and that's something every kid should be taught, kindly and from a young age and with regard for any wiring differences: that not everything they do will be charming to everyone at any given time. Sometimes, they have to be aware of X and not do Y.
(3) Because you can't explain anything rationally when you're annoyed, wait till you're not annoyed. Then say, "It's sweet when you hum or sing to yourself, because you do it when you're happy. Most of the time, at home, I either appreciate it or don't even notice it.
"Sometimes, though, especially when I'm crabby about something else, I'd prefer quiet. I'm just telling you this now because, in the moment, I feel like a monster for shutting down your happy sounds, but it's really just that sometimes I need to hit the off switch on everything. Make sense?"
It's a onetime conversation that can preserve his him-ness and your sanity, especially as you can use shorthand the next time you ask him to stop, like, "This is one of those quiet times, thanks."
Comment: You might want to consider some kind of music lessons. A kid who has always got a song in his head might have some talent worth developing.
Reply: Treating it as a potential strength - I love this.
Comment: And don't make it about him when you're annoyed. "Hey, kiddo, Mommy is feeling grumpy and needs some quiet time," and not, "Please stop your humming, it's annoying me, and I need some quiet now!"
Chat with Carolyn Hax
online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.