Radiolab Changed My Parenting

Thing 1 had a short playdate on the far side of the city that disallowed driving all the way home & back. I LOVE it when this happens. I’m a high-strung mom from Puritan stock… being idle wreaks havoc on my nerves.  But when gently forced to pause, I adore it.  Waiting rooms, city buses, friends who never show up.  Love!  So I sat in a parking lot listening to public radio and crocheting. Bliss.


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I listened to Radiolab’s “Sound as Touch.”  I learned of Anne Fernald’s findings that there are a set of common tunes within the words that parents all over the world speak to their babies. Across cultures, parents sound the same.  “Sound is touch at a distance.”  I learned about the 1913 riots during the first performance of Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring when brains could not make sense of the unfamiliar dissonance. And about the mechanics of how the brain understands sound.

Waves of vibrating air start compressed in your voice box, then upon iteration they travel through time and space into my ear, through a little tunnel — they vibrate a few very small bones, which in turn transmit the vibration into this salty sea where fluid literally bends little hairs to make sound, and then charged molecules rush into the brain.  “Sound is touch at a distance.” Dissonance (unpleasant sound) has chemical consequences – neurons revolt and dopamine is released into the brain.  Extreme dopamine release is one symptom of schizophrenia, and at lesser levels would have instigated the Stravinsky riots.


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You see where I’m going as I circle back to parenting… But for me it was huge. I yell. It’s not my primary parenting tool, but I do.  And I had a theory that to withstand big emotions would be a good skill that I wish I’d had. But whoa. A stranger’s dissonance can drive a group of people to riot, we know.  When that dissonance is ratcheted up, what happens?  When it is one-on-one?  Coming from the person you love most, your life source? And then, what if you have sensory processing disorder, which one or both of my kids do?  Yes, there is a science behind why shouting at someone feels like an assault. It is. Sound is touch at a distance.

So I have joined an online group of moms who are all trying to stop yelling, and I have slowed down our nightly read-aloud time to bathe them in my gentle voice.  I try to look my children in the eye, look at the color of their eyes (he has dad’s, she has mine), at their souls.  I look for my triggers — and they are often sound!  I am overwhelmed by repetitive, jarring, or loud sounds.  As are my kids. Sigh. I am also humbled by the Radiolab story enough to share it with you, to hope that we can speak with kindness more often. To keep up with my progress, sign up for my weekly-ish Ezine over at

Listen to Sound As Touch and see what you think.  Then drop me a line on Facebook.


8 thoughts on “Radiolab Changed My Parenting

  1. The value of kindness and love! How it is reallly the most important thing there is and so fundamental to everything in life yet often overlooked and taken for granted!


  2. What a powerful concept! I really like this and how you’ve explained it plays out in your life. I was emotionally abused until I was in my mid-twenties and am a highly sensory person. Now I understand why I seem so much more bothered by my experience than my sibling.
    I promised myself I would be much different as a parent, and although far from perfect, I’ve done that. I have certainly yelled, and many times I have also apologized for doing so and better explained myself. This is something I’m going to incorporate in my coaching, thank you!


  3. Wow, Aly, thank you for reading and for your amazing open-ness. It certainly was an eye-opener for me to be brought to the radio broadcast in such an unusual and “can’t-get-out-of-it” kind of way. I too had emotional abuse to deal with as a kid and am hypersensitive to tone of voice and loudness. But somehow still didn’t understand I was building sensitivity, not immunity. It was quite an afternoon! Thanks again for your comment, xx Angela


  4. Never in a million years would that have ever occurred to me … that sound is touch at a distance. When you start to look at the tone of voice you use, the inflections in your voice, and the level of volume, that really opens your eyes to what an impact it can have on another. Thanks so much for sharing this!


    • HI Jennifer, and YES! That afternoon in the car has had a big impact on all of my interactions with folks. And it’s mind-opening on both ends, as a listener I’m very sensitive, too, and there is a science behind it. Thank you for reading and for your comment. xx Angela


  5. An amazing and thought provoking blog! “Dissonance (unpleasant sound) has chemical consequences – neurons revolt and dopamine is released into the brain. Extreme dopamine release is one symptom of schizophrenia”

    That explains why I call some “music” (with emphasis on the quotations as I do not consider this noise to be music) “Nightmare Music”. Also, coming from an Irish family of 10 children you can only imagine how I was “touched by sound” from my life source. I commend FunnerMother for making the effort to change the patterns in future generations.


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