Why Your Child Might be Making Strange Repetitive Noises – And How to Handle Them
If your child is makes strange repetitive noises, you might be wondering what’s behind this behavior. In this blog post, we bring in a Certified Behavior Analyst to take a look at some of the reasons why children make these noises and give suggestions to help you and your child manage them.
Learning more about your child’s sensory needs can be a game-changer for both of you, and a lot of difficult behaviors might suddenly start making more sense! We share resources and ideas, including when to worry about things like tics or developmental disorders and ways you can help transform potentially very annoying noises into something more tolerable.
Question: 6 Year Old Constantly Making Annoying Mouth Noises
Hi Alissa, I seem to recall reading here that one of your sons had issues with “mouth noises”? My 6 year old started with this over the summer and it’s nearly non-stop now. It’s repetitive, really annoying as you can imagine, and (I think) disruptive and disrespectful (though I know he doesn’t mean it to be!) I wonder what to do about it – if anything. Should I just ignore it and hope it goes away?
One of the thoughts I had was not just the ‘annoyance’ around this but obviously what point does it serve. Is it, as they say in the therapy world, “stimming”? Is it a nervous habit, is it helpful/harmful, should a professional be consulted, etc…? Wondering if you or your readers have any thoughts or similar experiences with a child constantly making noises?
To answer this question we brought in Behavior Analyst, Amelia Bowler:
Hi, I’m Amelia Bowler, and I’d be glad to answer this question. I’m a mother of neurodivergent children, a writer, and a behavior analyst. I’ve written two books on the subject of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (one for parents and one for teachers) and I’m fascinated by unexpected and uncomfortable things people (especially children!) do. I hope I can share some information that helps you both to get what you need.
Common Causes of Repetitive Noises
The way you’ve written this question is so relatable, because you’ve highlighted both how the repetitive mouth noises make you feel (disrespected, annoyed) and also the fact that your child might have his own reasons for doing this so excessively.
Let’s talk about your situation first. Parents have sensory needs too, and a repetitive noise can be distracting and stressful. In some cases, parents may also struggle with misophonia, which is a strong stress response to certain sounds (often these are everyday sounds like chewing or breathing.) In most social settings, repetitive mouth noises would not be welcomed, so you might also be worried about awkward encounters while out in the community.
Meanwhile, you’re trying to understand the situation from your child’s point of view. Does this satisfy an important need or help with self-regulation? Could this be a sign of something else going on that you need to be worried about?
Why does my child make repetitive noises?
So, why do children make repetitive noises? There are a few different reasons, and in most cases, you can manage the situation for a while, and it resolves itself over time. On their own, repetitive mouth noises (such as humming, grunting, whistling, repeating sounds) are very rarely a cause for concern. Let’s look at the following possible reasons for repetitive mouth noises, then we will talk about what you can do in each case:
- Boredom and sensory play
- Social connection and communication
- Tics and compulsive behaviors
One of the most common reasons for repetitive mouth noises is the one you suggested: “stimming.” For readers who aren’t familiar with the term, “stimming” is a term commonly used in the Autistic community to describe behaviors (such as movements or sounds) that help with sensory or emotional regulation, to express excitement and joy, or to help with focus.
While clinicians might describe a “stim” as “stereotypical” or a symptom of a psychological disorder, most of us have movements and habits that help us to stay calm or alert. (For instance, I’m wiggling my ankles and toes as I type this!) If you’ve ever fidgeted, squirmed, played with your hair, rubbed your temples, or wrung your hands, then you’ve experienced some form of stimming too.
Repetitive noise-making (or “vocal stimming”) isn’t an exclusively Autistic habit either; how often have you had a song “stuck” in your head, and found yourself humming it, or repeating a funny catchphrase from a movie? As an adult, you’re probably quite good at catching yourself before you belt out ‘Remember Me’ from Coco, or resisting the urge to imitate the interesting noise the kettle just made. However, kids aren’t as self-conscious, so they express these impulses at full volume.
Boredom and sensory play
Another very common reason for repetitive mouth noises is a straightforward one: it feels interesting and it’s fun. Children naturally look for variety and stimulation, especially when there’s not much to do, and our mouths are full of muscles and nerve endings that can create really surprising effects.
Your child’s noises might even be a side effect of some other mouth habit. I remember what it felt like to be a child riding home from school, clicking my teeth together as the school bus passed each street light. It was the feeling of the click, not the sound, that helped to pass the time. Your child might be practicing an interesting tongue click or noticing the feeling of air on the inside of his lower lip, just for the sake of play.
Social connection and communication
All of us have verbal and non-verbal ways to signal for help from one another. We don’t always say “I’d like to go home now” but we might sigh or yawn instead. Very often, these unspoken signals pass back and forth between us before we’ve realized what we are doing. In some cases, your child’s repetitive mouth noises might be one way of signaling for your attention, or sending you a cue that help is needed.
If you’re wondering whether your child’s repetitive mouth noises are part of a bid for attention or help, notice what tends to happen next. Do people respond? Do they move away from your child, or toward? Do the mouth noises increase when people respond? Do they happen when no one else is around? These are all clues that can help you to see if there is a link between your child’s mouth noises and communication with those around him.
Tics and compulsive behaviors
In a few cases, repetitive mouth noises are caused by a “‘tic.” A tic is a motor movement or sound that a person feels they must do. Tics can be repetitive or sudden. Common tics include blinking, shrugging and throat-clearing. People with tic disorders can sometimes stop or delay the urge for a while, but they feel more and more tense until they allow themselves to perform the movement or make the sound.
Twitches are not the same as tics. While twitches are tiny, involuntary partial muscle movements like a little jerking movement under the eye, tics tend to involve the whole muscle or several groups of muscles. Tics and stims are different too. While both tics and stims involve unusual movements and provide a sense of relief afterwards, you will notice that they have different triggers: stims are often noticeable in predictable situations, while tics can appear very suddenly and then stop. Sometimes tics get even more noticeable when you draw attention to them.
When should I be worried about childhood tics?
If you are concerned that your child’s repetitive noises might be a vocal tic, rather than a stim or another voluntary type of movement, you can consult with your family doctor. Not every tic is a cause for concern, and many children do go through periods where they tic for a while (especially in periods of stress or excitement.) Your doctor can assess your child to see if the tics are persistent and frequent enough to be considered a “tic disorder.”
Tics can be startling and sometimes embarrassing, but in most cases they won’t do any harm. Tic disorders tend to run in families, and are more common in people with a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD.)
Coping Strategies Question: How do I stop my child from making noises?
Now that you have considered a few different possible explanations for your child’s repetitive mouth noises, what can you do? Your strategy will be different depending on why you think the noises might be happening.
For example, if you’re quite sure that the noises are a “stim”, then you can look for the situations that tend to trigger the stim. Does your child seem stressed? Anxious? Overwhelmed? If you see that the stims are associated with stressful events for your child, then helping them cope with the situation might naturally lead to a reduction in the particular noise that bothers you.
Similarly, if you see that the repetitive mouth noises tend to happen when your child is a little bored or uncomfortable, you can provide some opportunities that meet their needs while making the mouth noise less likely. For example, you can provide sensory stimulation that keeps your child’s mouth busy with:
- Sugar-free chewing gum
- Crunchy or frozen snacks
- Bubble-blowing detergent
- A thick smoothie and a straw
- Chewable jewelry or mouth fidgets
If you notice that your child’s noises might be signaling a need for social connection, then you can casually start up a conversation, invite your child to sing with you, or initiate a preferred activity, instead of going through your usual “please stop doing that” interaction.
Similarly, if you notice that your child often makes noises when they need time on their own (e.g., you’ve seen that people tend to leave the room when the noise starts up, and the noise winds down soon afterwards), you can offer your child some other suggestions for requesting what they need. One possible script could be: “Sometimes when I hear that sound, I wonder if you need some time on your own. Don’t worry, it’s not rude to ask for space. It’s okay to say: can I have some quiet time? You can also say: I need a break. Want to try it?”
What do I do when my child’s repetitive mouth noises are intensely annoying to me?
Once you’ve taken some time to get curious about your child’s mouth noises, you might feel less personally offended by them. If your child is simply playing or joyfully stimming, you don’t want to suppress that, but still, some noises are just naturally hard to listen to! If the sounds really getting on your nerves and you’re distracted or grossed out, you need a way to cope somehow. It’s okay to ask for a break too, and if you are wondering how to say it kindly, you could try: “I think I need some quiet, and I keep noticing those mouth noises. How about we hang out in different rooms for a while? Want me to help you set up your toys in your room?”
I’m quite sensitive to noise, so I have road-tested quite a few of these suggestions for when you’re starting to feel triggered:
- Put on some noise-cancelling headphones
- Pop in some noise-reducing earplugs (e.g., Loop)
- Turn on the white noise (e.g., using a fan, an app or even Youtube)
- Take some time outdoors, either together or alone
- Play some music (if you have an instrument to play, even better!)
- Excuse yourself to the bathroom (you can take a quick break, or block out all sound with a shower for a while)
Resources for further reading:
If you’d like to read more about how Autistic people describe their experiences with stimming, you might want to check out this article in the academic journal Autism: ‘People should be allowed to do what they like’: Autistic adults’ views and experiences of stimming.
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention can provide more detailed information on how to identify and manage tics.
Books on Sensory Processing:
- Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues
- Everyday Games for Sensory Processing Disorder
- The Superkids Activity Guide to Conquering Every Day
Helpful Links for Dealing with Mouth Noises:
- Sensory Processing Explained | Oral Sensory System [from Lemon Lime Adventures]
- Calm Down Kids – Blow Bubbles – One of our favorite oral-motor and calming activities
- Printable Sensory Activities Sheet – includes a variety of activities, some oral.
Learning more about sensory needs can be a game-changer for both you and your child, and a lot of difficult behaviors like repetitive mouth noises might suddenly start making more sense! I’m so glad you wrote in, and I hope this gave you some practical suggestions for figuring out what’s behind these repetitive sounds.
If you’ve noticed that your child makes mouth noises as a way to cope in different situations, you can try to manage those moments with your child, or offer alternative strategies to help with emotional or sensory self-regulation . If you need extra help, reach out to an occupational therapist; they are great for finding creative ways to meet sensory needs.
If you are worried that a repetitive noise might be a tic or a compulsion, go ahead and check in with your doctor. Together, you can assess whether it is in fact a tic, and if there are any indications that your child may have an associated disorder such as ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome or OCD. The most important factor to consider is whether this noise-making is bothering your child, or affecting his life in a negative way. Many tics are temporary, but if you keep track of how long this has been going on, and what the triggers are, your doctor will be better able to help you.
In the meantime, your sensory needs are important too, and it’s okay to use tools that manage your noise sensitivity. You might find that noise-cancelling headphones or noise-filtering earplugs help you in all kinds of situations.
Finally, remember that you are not alone! Many other parents are struggling with this too, and I’m sure that your question will help them find the answers they need.
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Hi! I have a teenager who plays online games for several hours a day. I’m trying to find ways to get him to reduce it. But he stops playing only when he has some other interesting to do. For the past few months he has started making noises while playing , either imitating music or songs or clicking or drum noises. He seems unaware of it but stops if I keep looking at him. I’m so worried that its a sign of some imbalance caused by the online games. Is it a sign to show he is getting addicted? Do other kids do this as well. Please help and thanks in advance.
Hi Rosemary! Amelia here. I hope I can set your mind at ease. It sounds like these noises are worrying you because they’re out of the ordinary, and because he’s making the noises while playing video games (and I’m guessing that most of us parents are not wild about our kids engaging in heavy video gaming sessions.) However, from what I’ve observed in my work at schools and in homes, people (adults and kids) have all kinds of quirky behaviours that pop up when we are intensely focused. We fidget, hum, tap, sigh, or even move our bodies in larger ways. I’ve seen kids who spin in their chairs when they are learning, and others who climb doorframes to watch tv! My guess is that it’s just hard for your son to keep still and quiet when the game on the screen is so exciting, so these habits are probably expressions of excitement. Movements and noises can be a way for us to keep regulated (or “balanced”), and very few noises are diagnosed as “disordered” unless they are happening at unwanted times and causing distress. This is just my perspective as a behaviour analyst, and I cannot offer clinical advice for individuals, so if you are concerned, I encourage you to chat with your family doctor about it as well. All the best!
Kelli Marie T
My son is 8 and makes noises constantly when at home. I think it is a coping mechanism for him because he has sensory integration issues. We ask him to stop but he will for only a short time and then he is back at it 2 min. later with a new set of sounds. It becomes louder and harder for him to control when he is tired or bored. At school he is very quiet, does not respond or have much interaction at all. So when he comes home, I want him to feel that he can be himself BUT parental sanity is also important. We have asked him why he makes the noise but I think he has a hard time understanding himself. I try telling him when he is making the noises so at least he becomes aware of it. He gets so mad when we ask him to stop and I explain that it is hard to hear the repeating noises again and again. He has started using the noises as a way to communicate and deal with other children and this I do not know how to approach. I am worried that making these noises is going to create more of a social gap then there already is.
My son made repetitive noises age 5 for a year at movies he couldn’t stop and everyone would tell him to stop he controlled it as best he could it went away after a year 7 he started chewing on neckline shirt especially when stressed at school every day stretched wet chewed uniform top then went away 8 started spitting after adenoids surgery post nasal drip etc however he couldn’t stop spitting into his top at school and at home everywhere running to sinks I showed him his spit was normal no germs or phlegm but he said gross had to get it out 81/2 anxiety excessive worrying spitting and then repetitive noises from age 5 came back 10 he’s now homeschooled as he can’t stop tried therapy several diff meds at first medication stopped sounds and almost stopped spitting however he had bad reaction meds and had suicidal thoughts took him off meds and it’s been two weeks and noises are every few minutes and spitting into neckline shirt constant . Family history OCD so it’s not as easy as just telling him to stop ?
I’m struggling with my child who has Tourette syndrome and i am finding that there are other disorders that are common with Tourettes.
OCD is very common and it’s nothing to shame your child about.
ADHD is also very common.
If your child makes involuntary noises and has repetitive behaviour issues there is a good chance your are dealing with Tourettes.
There are 2 routes you can take or a combination of both.
cognitive behavioral thearpy where your child learns to identify when a tic in coming on and replace it.
The second is pharmacological and has helped my daughter too especially with ADHD.
I really suggest that you talk to a professional such as a CBT psychologist and psychiatrist to find that happy medium.
Pills don’t teach skills but sometimes pills give you the mental space to develop skills.
Hi Dave, thank you so much for your reply. This may be just the piece of information someone needs in order to ask the right questions and figure out what’s best for their child.
I am 29 years old and I make a weird noise with my mouth that some say sound like a frog or pig in my head it sounds like neither. My parents said I’ve been making this noise since I was an infant, all I know I’ve always made the noise. Growing up it was my family that teased me about it or my parents would yell for me to stop making that annoying noise. As a child it’s very difficult to be different so my best suggestion to you parents that do want to help is first make them aware that they are making the sound. Record it so they can hear what you hear and of course what others will hear. But most importantly accept your child/ren for who they are. Support their uniqueness as not even twins are exactly alike. Today I still make the noise consciously and unconsciously. I’m usually not conscious unless I’ve made the noise repeatedly back to back and it’s loud in my head lol. For me it’s definitely an impulse control problem and maybe if I had more supportive parents I would have out grown it but I haven’t. Take your kids to the doctor they sooner you get help the better. Though that gum suggestion maybe a good idea. However, I haven’t let that stop me I am married with 3 beautiful children and work for a Fortune 500 company I say that to say your kids will be as normal as you allow them to be. The way my parents and family handled it just made me a shy kid. I was very introverted and still am but not shy make fun of my noise and you’ll get put in your place today.
Thank you so much for sharing your experience! This: “But most importantly accept your child/ren for who they are.” YES! No matter what, it’s critical as caregivers to be compassionate and non-shaming.
My now 20 years old makes “raspberry” noises unconsciously. The day he was born I noticed it. To this day when he is doing his everyday activities household chores, making a sandwich etc, he makes the noise. I’ve never tried to stop it, I figured it’s just a part of him that won’t go away. Sometimes I’ll even join in and he’ll say “I was doing that?” Because he doesn’t know when he’s doing it.
My 9 year old has been doing this thing with his mouth since he was a toddler. We called it clicking. It seemed he did it to self soothe. But now he walks around with his mouth open all the time and it drives me crazy. I asked him if he can breathe and he says yes but he says he needs to click so that’s why his mouth is open. I’m not even sure how to describe it. He’s at that age where kids can be mean and I don’t want him to be made fun of. I told him we are going to see a doctor about this because nothing I say or do helps. I have horrible anxiety and seeing him and hearing him do this drives me insane. I feel bad about it. I really do but im more worried about him being picked on.
I’m feeling so worried about my 6 year old. For months now she has made a mmmm sound more so when concentrating. Now she has started with sniffing and closing her eyes. She is very aware and kids at school have started to make fun. She says she can’t help it and gets very upset. We have tried ignoring we have tried going to the doctors (not very helpful) and even tried a sugar free diet just because I’d seen that on a forum (also no help) I’m trying to let it pass but I’m finding it so difficult! I pray she out grows this! Any tips would be great!
My 11 year old step son constantly makes a sound like he’s getting punched in the stomach and it drives me CRAZY! Has anyone else heard their child do this?
My 12 year old son is autistic. I’m trying to. Hold down a part time job and care for my aunt with major medical issues too. My son makes clicking noises, sniffing sounds and barks. He and I take Aikido together for confidence and discipline. It has helped with breathing exercises but once he gets off the mat. He’s back to the noises.
My son, he is 6 years old.He makes like screaming sounds when he is emotional.Like when watching tv or in playground with friends.So i told him every time when he wants to make any sound just breath in and blow out air like baloon. lets see how its gonna be
I’m 71 and I’m told by my son ( when I’m staying with them) that I make humming noises which he interprets as me being displeased or disapproving about something.
I’m totally unaware that I do this… but after having been told and talking about it with my husband I realise that yes, I do hum. It doesn’t actually mean anything…
Jessica Campbell Allen
I don’t know if this is helpful but I would maybe give him an outlet. Make it a game where for 5 minutes a day let him do all the funny noises he can think of. At the end of the five minutes the game is over and time to be polite. Lol This seems to be working with my 3 1/2 year old with wanting to talk about potty wordsU0001f61cU0001f648 it drives me crazy so I totally understand but this really seems to be helping and then it doesn’t seem so taboo from me so it loses its fun! Ha
I used to make noises when I was very young but became aware of it and tried to control myself. It eventually stopped. It’s not a mouth noise but I had a bad habit with one of my eyes, a sort of long twitch. I was made aware of it and it made me more conscious and eventually stopped doing it. So possibly they may stop by themselves or give them a nudge in the right direction? In all honesty I was mortified when I was confronted about it but looking back now it was the best thing they did!!!! 🙂
My daughter (6 1/2) has ASD and makes Yum mmm mmmm type noises while eating, if she is really enjoying something. It does not and never has bothered me (seeing food and lip smacking bugs me), but it does other people including the girl we share with. It is totally unconscious on her part, but it is hard when other people get cross with her about it.
My 4 1/2 year old goes through stages of this. She’s currently making gulping/swallowing noises almost constantly. She’s unaware that she’s doing it but it is really annoying. Sometimes it’s when she is drawing or concentrating, other times it’s just while she goes about her business. She also used to hum a lot when she was younger. She’s starting school next month and I’d love some pointers to help her break the habit.
My daughter (age 7) has been doing a sniffing followed by a sucking and gulping sound for about a year now. It started when she had a cold and was obviously full of phlegm. She doesn’t seem to be aware that she is doing it, she does it at home and in school every five minutes when she is doing anything quiet such as colouring, school work, watching TV etc. If she is chatting or playing with her friends then she makes the sound much less. It has become so annoying to hear. I’m going to try filming her and showing her the footage so that she can see for herself how frequently she does it. I will then try insisting that she blows her nose more often to counteract the sniffing and gulping. Interestingly, she bites and sucks her lips too, which makes her lips sore so I am also trying to discourage that habit. I’m having more success with that one as she hates the cream that I then put on her lips as a consequence/remedy.
Melissa Lili Dykes
Jennifer, that’s what we do too! Outside is also am acceptable place for noise.
I didn’t read the article but this is what we have done with ‘wacky noises’. Our son (7) can make them as much as he wants in his bedroom. They are not appropriate for the family living areas. When he makes them anywhere else, I remind him that he can go in his room and make them all he wants. Sometimes he goes and does it longer, sometimes he stops.
Claire Hafer Spampinato
My son has mildTourette’s and sometimes it’s noises and sometimes it’s blinking or fixing his hair. But there’s no cure and usually kids grow out of it (worst in teen years). I’m not saying your child has Tourette’s, but rather focusing on your tolerance/dealing with it along with changing his behavior. It bothers YOU. How can YOU deal with it?
You might want to look into misophonia.
Kerry Penman Gaines
I can’t abide by audible mouth noises. Gum chewing, lip smacking, I have to leave the room when a kid eats a banana! Hubbie teases me about having have an overactive parietal lobe, but he is kind of right – it’s my issue more than the kids’. I remind them once to chew with their mouth closed and then I repress my intense agitation.
Omg ME TOO?
I discovered this year that I am an HSP – Highly Sensitively person. Not like your garden variety sensitive person but someone who is literally deeply affected by a lot of stimuli. This is one of the manifestations. But I want to murder people when I can hear them chewing.
(tourettes)? My son had an almost OCD thing with his hands…an exercise a movement specialist had taught him, but he never stopped…so I paid a lot of money to go to a shrink for an analysis. He met my son and said “can you stop doing that?” and my son stopped and put his hands in his lap. Seriously! ( I felt like an idiot) )( Ask your child why they do it and if they can lessen the amount. (Maybe it is self soothing?)
I have pointed it out to my daughter so that she is aware of what she is doing and I have asked her to stop but she doesn’t. Sometimes I don’t think she knows she is doing it. It’s as natural as breathing. It’s almost like a low subtle hum or light she is taking a light breathe out. It’s something I can live with but I’m worried that if I let it continue it will get worse or she will start adding more tics. Which she has. This gross spit swishing one that I really don’t like. And she is a nail biter. She just has the impulse to bite her nails non stop. When I asked her to stop today, her response was, I can’t. My poor baby.
My son says “I can’t” often when I ask him about his repetitive behaviors (noises, picking fingers, biting nails.) Yes, it is heartbreaking but I try to talk him through it since he is very smart and help him understand how to develop impulse control and to control his actions.
I think it’s important not to give up and to help them learn how to overcome the unique things they have to deal with.
Keep at it.
Thank you Stan, I really like this: “I think it’s important not to give up and to help them learn how to overcome the unique things they have to deal with.” It’s a good reminder that the solutions may be as unique as the child as well. Developing impulse control definitely isn’t an instant fix, it can be improved over time. One book I really like that talks about this is here: https://bouncebackparenting.com/recommended-resource-smart-but-scattered/
Thank you. I found this comment helpful. I will try to steer her in the impulse control direction rather than just telling her to stop.
Hello, I know how you feel, my son is Aspergers, he does noises with his mouth. He is a 6th grader, one of his teachers is not too tolerant. She ask him everyday to stop, he says he can’t. She does not let him have a snack or gum.
Yesterday when she ask him to stop He told her “shut up”, he was angry, of course he got in trouble …
Of course after that he apologize. And I had to send a message to the teacher, principal, asking for help.
What else we can do?
We give our daughter a chew and a whistle or kazoo type to blow.for our child its a sensory need she cant stop. Blowing bubbles, drinking thick shakes through straws relieves the need and reduces the instances.
Gracie Ann Wilkins
Whay of they make annoying noise with a straw. If the have a cup with ice they will stop sipping like air to make noises.