Voice volume and tone of voice are both subtle but critical aspects of social interaction. We all know a child who talks too loudly during interactions, their voice overpowering the conversation and negatively affecting their peer interactions. There are the children who don’t speak loud enough for their opinions and thoughts to be heard by others, affecting their ability to maintain these peer interactions. Then there are the children who speak too harshly or aggressively, when the situation calls for maybe a more straightforward tone. There is even the child whose voice doesn’t match their facial expression, which leaves others confused by their intentions. These children are all struggling with voice modulation, or their ability to adjust their voice volume, tone or inflection according to the situation at hand.
Voice Modulation is Complicated
This issue is one that parents ask me about constantly, as its effect on communication is often significant. How can I help my child understand how they sound? It isn’t as easy as “inside voice” vs. “outside voice” for these children. Telling them they sound “mean” also isn’t helping them understand what tone really means. As with all social skills, it’s a complicated issue and calls for integration of a number of skills. Here are a few examples:
- Different Contexts. A child must understand that different contexts call for a different tone of voice. For example, your tone with a sibling is often very different from your tone with a teacher. Your volume in a doctor’s waiting room is quite different from your volume at recess.
- Emotions. Additionally, children must understand that we express our emotions through not only our facial expressions and body language, but with our voice too. This nonverbal language and our tone of voice, also must match.
- Nonverbal Language. Children need to be able to interpret this nonverbal language, in order to adjust their own communication and tone…and understand the message. If this skill is a challenge, we often see a misinterpretation of a social situation. Humor is an aspect of social skills where tone of voice plays a major role.