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Shhh! Use your Inside Voice : teaching children volume control

Excited to be on her first overseas holiday, 9-year-old Maddy was waiting eagerly in the center of the five-star hotel lobby in London. While waiting to go shopping with her aunt, she was attempting to converse with her younger brother, perched precariously on the railing of the hotel’s fourth floor.

“Go on, chuck it. Chuck it! Just drop it NOW,” she yelled, seemingly to someone on Mars.

“But what if you don’t catch it?” screamed back Tom, holding Maddy’s much-wanted purse in his hands, surprising himself as he drew the attention of 98% of the hotel guests.

“I will. I WILL. Just CHUCK IT noooow!” demanded Maddy, at the top of her voice. Dozens of disparaging eyes darted towards the two of them while the doorman grew increasingly uncomfortable. Couples picked up their bags and moved away from the Loud Young Australian shouting her lungs out. What was this – a football field? Eyes rolled as people tut-tutted. The receptionist picked up her phone to call for assistance, and the doorman moved into action.

Maddy’s aunt entered the foyer, her curiosity at the commotion turning to acute embarrassment as she recognised the voices. Gathering the children quickly and quietly she ushered them aside for a bit of a chat about public behaviour…

Of course, no one was harmed in the incident above, no bones were broken; but it illustrates how overlooking such basic skills as vocal control in public and social settings can escalate to embarrassing incidents – both for the child, and for those around her. In this case, Maddy and Tom were, in fact, very well behaved and pleasant kids. But they were (clearly) never taught the essential art of volume control.

Learning the nuances of volume control is an imperative for children. General loudness, yelling for attention and calling out to others are all behaviours that we can grow tired of quickly. Loud voices and inappropriate yelling can be abrasive, agitating, and are considered very rude, so it’s essential that we educate children on the subject!

Learning volume control

A great starting point when explicitly teaching children voice control is to communicate the differences between an “inside voice” versus an “outdoor voice”. There’s no need to shout when indoors, so we can easily lower our voices. This is something children can quickly identify with.

You can progress this into a voice game where you discover the different vocal levels of different characters. For example, think of a list of different voices to practice, such as baby voice, tiny mouse voice, monster voice. Have fun becoming aware of the different volumes and pitches. You can make a game out of playing out different animal voices and asking the child to guess which voice you are using. Or, you can speak at different volume levels and ask the child which area it would be appropriate for, such as your ‘library voice’ or your ‘at the park’ voice.

The habitual yeller

Sometimes children yell purely out of habit. It’s worked for them; they’ve never been told otherwise – and they get attention. Seems pretty simple. But yelling out to someone is not the ideal way of getting someone’s attention – and children need to learn this. Whether indoors or outdoors, teach the child to walk over to the person and then start talking, rather than yelling from the other side of the room, or the opposite end of the playground. For many of us living in an urban setting, even shouting in our backyard may not be appreciated by close-living neighbours.

Rule of thumb: if you have to yell to get your message across, you’re too far away; walk closer to the recipient to communicate with them.

Do as I say – and as I do

How to make children quiet - Sage Institute of Child CareIf you want children to speak without raising their voices, make sure you lead by example. Avoid raising voices, screaming or yelling out to others. Speak calmly and clearly, using eye contact where appropriate. Then, make sure you listen to what the other person is saying in reply, giving them the full attention and respect that they deserves. Following this example, it’s likely that when a child is responding they will do so in a quieter voice, confident that he or she is being listened to.

Don’t respond to yelling

Children will learn that yelling is not appropriate if you do not respond. Teach them that if they want your attention, they can come over and speak to you and speak in a normal voice. You can reiterate, quietly, that yelling will not warrant a response.

Interruptions are not accepted

Some children have learned that by loudly interrupting an adult conversation they can make themselves heard. Again, set the boundaries first and let a child know that this is not appropriate behaviour, and then politely but firmly remind them that all interruptions begin with an ‘Excuse me”.

Sage Institute of Child Care – it’s more than a job, it’s a rewarding career.

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan

Vicki Tuchtan is the Academic Director at Sage Institute of Education. She oversees learning processes, teaching outcomes, resources and course development. A passionate advocate for bettering standards of training in Australia, she is currently writing her PhD thesis on defining quality training in the Australian vocational education sector.
Vicki Tuchtan

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