When it comes to effective communication, tone is everything. In fact, the tone we use when conveying a message can sometimes say more than the message itself. Tone is simply defined as ‘the way in which we speak.’ Not what we say, but how we say it. It’s important to be mindful of our tone when talking to others, but especially when we’re talking to children.
Now, is it easy to control your tone when you discover your 2-year-old drawing on the walls with a permanent marker? Probably not. The point is to be more aware. Understanding the impact of tone on development can help us find the right tone of voice when it matters most.
When the Importance of Tone Begins
If you think about it, our tone is basically the foundation of baby talk. When we talk to babies, we use a high-pitched tone with exaggerated emotions. Babies have no idea what we’re saying, but research shows that babies as young as 5-months old can detect if a message is positive or negative. Babies are very sensitive to their caregivers’ tone of voice. You can use a calming, soothing tone to talk or sing your baby to sleep or use a sharp, stern “Stop!” to protect them from touching something hot. This shows us that before babies understand words, they understand tone.
Why Tone Matters When Parenting
Before we discuss the benefits of using calm tones when parenting, let’s quickly point out that every parent yells. At one point or another, emotions take over staying calm feels out-of-reach. It’s all part of being a parent and a human being. However, as most parents and caregivers already know, yelling represents a loss of control. Young children, especially toddlers, are less likely to hear your message when it’s delivered in a loud, negative, and possibly aggressive tone. Toddlers will focus on the emotion instead of the message itself. In addition, when parents or caregivers yell often, it can have a negative effect on a child’s self-esteem, behavior, and their own ability to communicate.
Even when it’s time to discipline, it is possible to be firm without using a harsh tone. It takes time and patience (a lot of patience) to adapt to calmer tones when addressing a toddler’s behavior, but there are important benefits that come along with changing our tone.
First, it’s more effective. Using a gentle tone can help parents and caregivers focus on their intended message, while toddlers can focus on the lesson at hand.
Second, using a calm tone can help our children become better listeners. Think of loud and negative tones as a set of earplugs. Children have an emotional reaction to these tones that prevents them from being able to actually listen. The more you use calming tones, the more opportunities your child has to practice active listening.
Third, when we use positive and calming tones, especially in stressful moments, we’re modeling the type of behavior we wish to see in our children. Using the right tone can help our little ones understand how self-regulation works.
Lastly, being aware of your tone brings you and your child closer together. Positive, reassuring, and gentle tones build trust and strengthen the bond between the two of you. Using the right tone is a sign of respect and love.
It’s impossible to always use the right tone at the right time. But when we aim for calmer tones with children, we’re helping them form a sense of self, communication skills, and better relationships.