Teaching Kids How and When to Use Inside Voices

Small boy talking to his mother
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Most adults would agree that children have loud voices. Children may feel that the louder they speak, the more they will get heard or get what they want. A quick listen in any setting that involves children will send your poor, sensitive ears in overdrive. Kids often shriek, stomp, and "talk" in screechy tones that border on shouting. Some children use these loud voices so from the moment they rise until they fall fast asleep.

Model by Using Your Soft Voice

Avoid using a loud voice indoors, including when you are calling a family member from a different room in the home or reacting loudly to something on the television. When administering discipline to your child, speak calmly, quietly, and with a soft demeanor. If your child is not quiet and attentive, he will be unable to hear what you say. If your child is escalating with noise or seems to be spiraling out of control, calm him down by being calm and quiet yourself. Ask all your caregivers to be consistent when teaching indoor voices. Consistency between caregivers is key when teaching behaviors.

Use Repetition

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 at any time when you are in a house, building of any kind, or any facility. You can also tell kids that they can use their "outside voices" (within reason) when they're outdoors, on the playground, or other "hoot and holler" appropriate times.

Praise Indoor Voices

Whenever your child talks softly in an indoor voice, praise kids for good behavior. Positive reinforcement will get you more of the same behavior when your kid sees how happy you are with him. To help reinforce differences, some parents may offer incentives like taking them to the local library when they have achieved voice control and then surprise them with a visit to a park or outdoor walk where they are allowed to use outdoor voices.

Ignore Loud Voices

Ignore your child when he talks to you in a loud or rowdy voice. As the role model, you might say something like, “I’m so sorry! I can not 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 him what he wants if he lowers his voice and follow through if he asks 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 can help your child learn that a loud voice is appropriate for some situations, even if it is not appropriate indoors. If your child thinks he can safely get loud occasionally, he will not mind keeping quiet at other times quite as much.

Make It a Game

Many kids change behaviors when they are approached in a silly manner or view the task as a game. One game is to ask your child how many eyes and ears they have. When they answer "two," explain that we all have two voices as well. Explain to your child that we have one great big voice that is used for outside and another smaller, softer voice that is used for inside. Try out different voice with your child and let them answer whether the voice is an "outside voice" or an "inside voice." Another game is a whispering game where you and your child try taking turns talking as low as you can. Reward your child with a sticker or other prize for his success at talking quietly.

Parent Tip

Keep in mind that your toddler or preschooler may become emotionally overloaded and unable to calm himself down quickly. If you are dealing with a complete meltdown, the best thing is to remove your child from the situation, bring them somewhere quiet and let him work through his tantrum or outburst. After your child has calmed down, you can discuss indoor voices, but discussing this lesson during an emotional meltdown will not be productive for you or your child.

Updated by Jill Ceder

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