Why the Way You Talk to Your Child Matters

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As parents, we think a lot about how our children speak to us and how they behave. We correct them when they need discipline, and we make sure they use good manners and steer them away from rude behavior. But we may not always pay attention to what we say and how we say it.

Assessing How You Talk to Your Child

It's often difficult for us to view our own actions objectively. As you consider the question of how you would describe the way that you interact with your child daily, imagine yourself recording your interactions and playing back the digital images and sound. Would your voice sound patient and loving?

Would you seem engaged and interested in what your child was saying? Or would you see yourself phubbing (phone snubbing) your child—texting friends, checking messages on your cell—instead of fully paying attention to your child? In other words, if you recorded yourself and played it back, would you think you were at your best?

If the answer is no, then think about what you can do to change the way you communicate with your child. Is your voice harsh, impatient, or angry when you're speaking to your child about something she did wrong? Do you sound cross with your child even if she didn't do anything wrong because you're tired?

Think about the tone of voice you use, and pay close attention to how you can soften it when you speak to your child, even if you're correcting a behavior problem.

Why You Should Use a Positive Tone

Here are some important reasons why your tone of voice and the words you use can make your parent-child communication and interactions much more positive and rewarding.

Your Child Is More Likely to Listen

This is basic logic. What would you prefer—someone who is speaking to you in a harsh or critical tone or someone who's talking to you in a calm, reasonable, and nice voice? Even if there's a disagreement or you need to correct something your child is doing, a gentle voice, even if it's firm, is likely to get more of your child's attention and she'll be more likely to listen to what you are saying.

Being Harsh Isn't Effective

When you yell or speak aggressively to your child, you're less likely to get good results and may even harm your relationship. In fact, research shows that yelling may be as harmful as aggressive discipline. Sure, your child may listen in the short term, but if you want your child to develop the skills he needs to regulate his own behavior, speaking nicely is clearly the better way to go.

Kids Learn From Our Behavior

The surest way to get your child to speak nicely to you is to speak nicely to her. And if you constantly criticize and speak harshly to her? Well, you can guess what you'll get from that.

You'll Have a Stronger Relationship

When you treat your child with respect and kindness, you'll strengthen your bond. Say "Thank you" and "Please" when you speak to your child, and firmly explain that you expect him to do the same. Treating each other with good manners and respect will bring you closer; mean words and a harsh voice will have the opposite effect.

Your Child Will Be More Respectful

When you use a nice tone of voice with your child at home, she'll naturally do this at school and in other settings. It won't be long before those around your child comment on her beautiful manners and a nice way of speaking, and she'll be proud of these skills, which will carry her into adolescence and beyond.

Imagine it: a polite teen who knows how to express herself in a respectful manner! It's possible when you instill these skills now.

1 Source
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  1. Wang MT, Kenny S. Longitudinal links between fathers' and mothers' harsh verbal discipline and adolescents' conduct problems and depressive symptomsChild Dev. 2014;85(3):908–923. doi:10.1111/cdev.12143

By Katherine Lee
Katherine Lee is a parenting writer and a former editor at Parenting and Working Mother magazines.