Healthy Interactions with Children- Tone of Voice

Mar 19, 2007

One of the earliest forms of communication for children is the ability to pick up on cues given by adults. Some of these are nonverbal cues, such as a smile, touch, furrowed brow, etc. Others are verbal, and come from reading subtle changes during an interaction, such as inflection and tone of voice. Tone of voice is very important in human interaction, as it tells us more about the topic of conversation than just the words. A person might use words that communicate one message and a tone that conveys something very different (i.e. sarcasm). This potential for confusion is one of the reasons businessmen and women encourage discussing things in person, rather than through email, as the TONE cannot be determined in written form.

The same principle is true with children. Children as young as a few months respond to a change in voice. It has been documented that infants prefer to hear a story read by their own mother rather than another woman whom they do not know. Voice is an integral part of human interaction and communication.

One of the techniques that is utilized in the playroom is tonal matching to the child. Whatever emotion is being expressed by the child through words or play is matched and reflected in the therapists’ response. This meets the child where he or she is and conveys understanding.

Have you ever talked to someone who had little or no changes in their language regardless of what you were discussing? (Hint: Think of the teacher or professor you had in the past that spoke in a monotone manner the entire lecture). It is very boring and difficult to become interested in the topic.

In an effort to be actively engaged with your child, use varying tones to mirror their feelings. If your child figrures out how to open a box he or she has been struggling with and says, “YES!” with pride in his or her voice, your response should be happy and excited. (Something encouraging, like “You did it!”). If you plainly said the same thing, you would not be matching the tone of your child.

This applies to feelings that the child may express in everyday situations as well. If a child gets picked on at school or argues with a friend, your response should not be said in a high voice or with a smile. Seriously and sincerely you would say “You look sad” or “That must have been hard for you”.

The tone of your voice expresses understanding, acknowledgement, connection and several other healthy things to your child. Although your words are very important, equally important is the tone with which you speak those words.

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