Teaching Kids How and When to Use Inside Voices

Small boy talking to his mother
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Children tend to have loud voices. Sometimes they feel that they have to speak loudly to get attention or to get what they want. Kids often shriek, stomp, and talk in screechy or whiny tones that border on shouting. Some children 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).

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 or reacting to something on TV or on your phone. Yes, this might mean 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 he needs to quiet himself 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 him down. Ask your child's other caregivers to be consistent when teaching indoor voices. Consistency among caregivers is key when teaching 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 him work through the outburst. Discussing the importance of indoor voices (or anything else!) during a meltdown will not be productive for you or your child.

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 at any time when you are in a house or other building, such as a school or store. You can also tell 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 he talks 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 him what he wants if he lowers his voice. Then 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 helps your child learn that a loud voice is appropriate for some situations, even if it is not appropriate indoors. If your child knows he can safely get loud occasionally, he 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 she answers "two!" ask if she knows 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 let 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.

Updated by Jill Ceder

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