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It Ain't What You Say, It's The Way That You Say It!

Well of course it is partly what you say, but it’s easy to underestimate the impact of the tone you use.

In almost all of the #H2SC interviews with children, great importance is placed on how adults speak to them. Words like nice, polite and kind come up over and over, with a dislike of shouting or harsh sounds and a preference for soft and lyrical tones.



It’s no surprise really, and it’s not rocket science, no-one likes to be on the receiving end of constant ranting and raving or moaning and whinging. I’m sure most of us would like to think that our children are spoken to in a way that’s nice / kind / polite the majority of the time, and I do realise you have to take into account the limited vocabulary and experience of expressing feelings, but it’s worth taking this seriously. 

When we’re tired or frustrated or irate, it’s bound to come through in our voices, and that can add fuel to any fire whether smouldering or in full flame. Our little ones are extremely sensitive to tone, to cadence, to timbre and we can use that to our advantage - using a consistently calm, soft and slow voice around bedtime for example - and it’s not always the most aggressive or loud speech that is the most powerful. In fact, studies have shown that when you shout at children, they do not hear what is being said, they just hear the noise.

Rachel Calum, professor of child and family psychology at the University of Manchester, agrees. “Shouting can frighten children and put them in such a state of heightened arousal that they can’t concentrate on the message given. It also increases the chance of the child having a hostile reaction and shouting back.”
A Head Teacher I work with holds the strong belief that children should not be shouted at, his staff have to find other ways to maintain discipline, which they do very successfully.

The voice is a wonderful instrument and all of us have a wide variety of inflection, pitch and quality of vocalisation at our disposal, so make sure you are using all the tools of expression you have in order to communicate effectively with your children.

More broadly, I wonder if that desire to be spoken to in a way that is nice/kind/polite betrays the frustration of powerlessness that children feel - being at the bottom of the hierarchy, or at least feeling that way. It seems to me that what they are asking for really is respect, an acknowledgement that they may be perfectly able and willing to comply with requests, without having to be shouted at. I find that giving children responsibility, treating them as much like a grown-up as possible, is pretty much the number one route to getting the result you want. It’s just back to the old wisdom of do-as-you-would-be-done-by!