Teaching Kids to Use Their Inside Voices

Small boy talking to his mother

Thanasis Zovoilis / Moment / Getty Images

Kids often yell, shriek, stomp, and use screechy or whiny tones when upset, in play, or just when talking. Some children seem to use these loud voices from the moment they rise until they fall asleep. But you can help little ones learn the difference between their "inside voice" (quieter) and their "outside voice" (louder).

Start by understanding why kids speak loudly. Sometimes, they feel that they have to speak loudly to get attention. Or they just don't understand or remember that certain spaces require a lower volume. They might not notice (or care) that being noisy can bother others. They also might not even realize how loud they are being. However, kids can learn to become more aware of the volume of their voices—and how their noise level may impact others.

They also can be taught how to know when inside and outside voices are warranted. According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association, kids between ages 4 and 5 begin to talk differently in various settings and with different people. This key speech development milestone paves the way for them to know to talk quieter inside than out.

Talk About Voice Volume

Having frequent conversations with your children about what level of noise is expected (or allowed) in various settings and with different people is a good first step. Equally important is to discuss why voices need to be quiet in certain spaces. You can explain that keeping quiet can be a sign of respect, self-control, and awareness. Also, inappropriately loud voices can be distracting, upsetting, or irritating to others.

Model a Soft Voice

Be a role model by using your own inside voice, including when you are calling a family member from a different room, talking to them, or reacting to something on TV or on your phone. Yes, this might mean toning yourself down as needed and walking to that other room when you need to get someone's attention.

When administering discipline to your child, speak calmly, gently, and quietly. This provides your child with a model of how to speak, but also means they need to quiet their own voice in order to hear you.

If your child's noisiness is escalating or seems to be spiraling out of control, your calm demeanor can help settle them down. Ask your child's other caregivers to be consistent when teaching indoor voices. Consistency among caregivers is key when teaching and reinforcing desired behaviors.

Manage a Meltdown

Sometimes, toddlers and preschoolers become emotionally overloaded and unable to calm themselves down. If you are dealing with a complete meltdown, remove your child from the situation and let them work through the outburst. Discussing the importance of indoor voices (or anything else!) during a meltdown will not be productive. You can have this talk later once they've settled down.

Use Reminders

Frequently repeat that you are using your inside voice (assuming you are indoors) and that this is the appropriate speech volume and tone to use when you are in a house or other building, such as a school, office, or store. You can also remind kids that they are free to use their "outside voices" when they're outdoors.

Praise Indoor Voices

Whenever your child does talk softly indoors, praise that good behavior. Positive reinforcement is very powerful. 

To help reinforce differences, you might want to offer an incentive, such as a trip to the library, for a child who's working hard on that indoor voice: "I noticed how well you used your indoor voice at grandma's house. Would you like to practice more at the library?" Alternatively, before going someplace where indoor voices are important (such as a religious service), you might tell your children that after the service, they can go to a playground and use their outdoor voices.

Ignore Loud Voices

Ignore your child when they talk to you in a loud or rowdy voice. As the role model, you might say something like, “I’m sorry! I can't hear you when you’re not using your soft, indoor voice. Will you try again in an indoor voice so I can hear you?”

Avoid giving positive reinforcement when your child yells or screams indoors. If your child throws a tantrum and gets loud, do not give them attention or the item they are requesting. Let your child know that you will only give them what they want if they lower their voice. Then, follow through if they ask in a quiet way.

Allow Loud Voices in Appropriate Areas

Encourage your child to yell and shout in places where an "outdoor voice" is appropriate, such as the playground or in the backyard. This helps your child learn that a loud voice is allowed for some situations, even if it is not appropriate indoors. If your child knows they can safely get loud occasionally, they may not mind keeping quiet at other times quite as much.

Make It a Game

Many kids change behaviors when they view the task as a game. Ask your child: "How many eyes and ears do you have?" When they answer "two!" ask if they know that we all have two voices as well. We have one great big voice for outside and another smaller, softer voice for inside. Try out different voices and have your child answer whether the voice is an "outside voice" or an "inside voice." 

Or try a whispering game where you and your child take turns talking as low as you can. Reward your child with a sticker or other prize for success at talking quietly.

A Word From Verywell

Some kids tend to be louder than others. These kids may have a harder time grasping the concept of an inside voice. However, with some gentle, consistent instruction and reminders, your child can learn to use their inside and outside voices appropriately.

7 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Speech-Language Hearing Association. Speech and language milestones.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. What's the best way to discipline my child?.

  3. Dosman CF, Andrews D, Gallagher S, Goulden KJ. Anticipatory guidance for behaviour concerns: school age childrenPaediatr Child Health. 2019;24(2):e78–e87. doi:10.1093/pch/pxy080

  4. Sigler EA, Aamidor S. From positive reinforcement to positive behaviors: An everyday guide for the practitionerEarly Childhood Educ J. 2005;32:249–253. doi:10.1007/s10643-004-0753-9

  5. Kavan MG, Saxena SK, Rafiq N. General parenting strategies: practical suggestions for common child behavior issuesAm Fam Physician. 2018;97(10):642–648.

  6. American Academy of Pediatrics. How to shape and manage your young child's behavior.

  7. Yogman M, Garner A, Hutchinson J, et al. The power of play: A pediatric role in enhancing development in young childrenPediatrics. 2018;142(3):e20182058. doi:10.1542/peds.2018-2058

By Robin McClure
 Robin McClure is a public school administrator and author of 6 parenting books.