How To Talk So Your Child Listens: Mastering the Magic of Tone

parenting Sep 28, 2023
How To Talk So Your Child Listens

When it comes to parenting, communication is one of the most important things that many of us don’t master immediately. Parents — even those with relative experience — may have difficulty communicating what they want to say to their children. Some may be too brash, too soft, too passive, and too nonchalant.

At Dad University, we want to share the secret of communication to help you perfect communication with your child — mastering your tone. Learning about tone will help you recognize how you currently communicate with your kid, so you can make any necessary improvements. Let’s dive in! 

What Is Tone in Parenting?

In the simplest terms, tone is how we say the things we want to say. The tone is the emotional essence behind our words. We can say something that should otherwise sound happy, but our tone could change the entire meaning. A “Happy Birthday” can sound cheerful, depressing, or uncaring based on how we say it.

Our tone makes up around 38% of how we communicate. Only 7% can be attributed to the words we say, while the other 55% is our nonverbal cues. In short, our tone wields a lot of power.

Children are extra susceptible to tone since they are still learning how to communicate. Since tone sets the stage for how they will perceive your message, the right tone can make them feel heard and understood. The wrong one can create a rift between you and your child, igniting the sparks of rebellion. 

Balancing Your Tone for Your Child

Let’s discuss some sample scenarios where different tones can affect communication with your child. In this case, they are asking for a cookie.

Scenario 1

You’ve had a bad day, so when your child asked for a cookie, you had an emotional outburst and overreacted. You said “No, you can’t,” but your tone was loud and brash. In short, you were angry. Your child may not understand that you’re tired or in a bad mood. All they think is that asking you for a cookie is going to result in an angry reaction. They may start fearing you. 

Scenario 2

When your child asked for a cookie, you gave a wishy-washy response. You had an unsure tone, and your words seemed to indicate that another person should get to decide whether your child should have a cookie or not. This passivity and lack of decisiveness can make your child think that they could just walk all over you.

Scenario 3

In this scenario, you talked in a calm and level tone. You acknowledged their desire for the cookie, but you also mentioned that it’s important to eat good food first. They can have the cookie once dinner is over. In this response, you showed empathy for their wants, but you were firm yet gentle with your decision. This is often the best tone as it shows your authority and boundaries without being dismissive of your child’s requests. 

Of course, a calm and relaxed response is not always appropriate in other scenarios. If you’re happy, then you can make your tone cheerful. If you want to communicate a loss, you don’t have to hide your sorrow with a level-headed tone. What matters is being mindful of your tone in every scenario. Extending a bit of patience is sometimes needed, too. Children are still learning, and they may not get the nuances of tone just yet.

Get Your Child To Listen: Tips for Mastering Tone

Not everyone will become masters of tone immediately. However, we can help you become better at communication with the following tips.

Practice Active Listening

As we mentioned, our words are only 7% of communication. If you’re just hearing what your child is saying instead of actually reading between the words, then you might respond with the wrong tone. Make sure to pay attention to what your children are saying, their body language, and of course, their tone. Respond with interest and show that you’re fully engaged with what they have to say. That way, you can communicate back effectively.

A Little Bit of Empathy Goes a Long Way

When we say that someone is acting like a child, they are usually being unreasonable or bratty. It’s not surprising that children will act like children — because that’s their nature. In our example above, the kid may be asking for a cookie even though they’ve had several that day because they simply want another. As an adult, you will need to put your feet in their shoes and acknowledge their wants. Even if you don’t agree with them, you can consider their perspective when you reply. This mindset helps you communicate with a more compassionate tone.

Be Mindful of Your Volume

One of the biggest indicators of your tone is how loudly or softly you speak. In our cookie example, a calm and level-headed response is ideal. However, a commanding and loud tone is more appropriate in emergencies or fast-paced scenarios. Having this kind of tone helps children understand distressing situations and act swiftly. In summary, it’s important to match the volume and pitch of your voice based on the context.

Use Positive Reinforcement

More than just your words, positive reinforcement includes cheerfulness and encouragement in your tone. Use this approach whenever your child does something worthy of praise. Having an encouraging tone boosts their self-esteem. In addition, your tone can incentivize them to make more positive choices.

Tone in Parenting: Final Thoughts

Using the right tone is important when communicating with your child. Tone can affect how they receive your message, but it can also strengthen or weaken your relationship with them. Make sure to be mindful of your tone. Have some empathy for your child and always practice active listening.

Watch the "How To Talk So Your Child Listens: Mastering the Magic of Tone" video here:

Enjoy this article?
Get unlimited access to Dad University

The #1 educational platform for dads. Join our growing community of fathers from around the world!

Become a Member