My five-year-old daughter Maggie seems to have two volume levels outside of our home: “off” and Fran Drescher at a loud bar. It took a while for her to become comfortable talking to people at all, so I’ve been letting it go when she suddenly has something important to say and starts speaking in ALL CAPS. But at a recent parent meeting at her preschool, the director began introducing everyone to each other. When she got to me, she announced, “This is Michelle, mum to Maggie. I know you have all heard Maggie.” Oy. Maybe we do need to work on volume control.
The topic of what to do when your kid sounds like they’re shouting came up in the Offspring Facebook group. I found some tips on how to help the child — and everyone within earshot.
Get Their Hearing Checked
If your child always seems to be yelling, it’s possible that he has a hearing problem. An ear infection may also be the case — it’s the most common ailment in young children. If you have concerns, talk to your doctor.
Look for Other Reasons They Might Be Speaking Loudly
Little kids often use loud voices to talk over others and demand attention. Maggie does this at times, and I have to keep reminding her it’s not ok. Teach them to let others finish what they want to say before jumping in. (I realise this can be tough, even for adults.) Or if they’re just looking for your attention, you can try a trick to stop them from interrupting your conversations, one that some parents swear by. Tell them that if they want to talk to you, they need to put their hand on your wrist and wait. And then you put your hand over their hand to acknowledge their request. Whenever you’re don’t talking, you turn to your kid and give them your full attention.
Kids may also yell because that is how you have gotten their attention in the past. Try to stop that cycle — it’s not a great one. And then model a speaking voice that’s calm, respectful, and at an appropriate volume.
Or maybe your kid speaks loudly because they’re little and just don’t yet understand society’s standard decibel range for conversation. That makes sense, too. Luckily, there are ways to teach them.
Play the Indoor Voice vs. Outdoor Voice Game
In her new book Voice Lessons for Parents: What to Say, How to Say It, and When to Listen, Wendy Mogel shares an exercise that can teach kids what adults consider to be an inside voice compared to an outside voice:
Starting with the softest possible whisper, say ‘I love big red balloons.’ OK, now a little louder …” Continue until you hit the “outside voice” level, and call that Level 7. Then go past it until you’re both screaming and laughing. Label that Level 10. Then say, “Inside you always want to aim for four or five. That goes for when you’re inside a car, too, because any extra big noise can distract the person who’s driving. Outside, if you talk louder than a level seven, even if you’re in our backyard or on the playground, if there are adults nearby, someone’s going to tell you to be quiet or a stranger might worry you’re having a problem.”
If your kid is yelling like a World Cup announcer at 6 am, and you believe they know it’s out of line, snapping back with “you’re too loud!” or “shhhhhhhhh!” will only give them a thrill. Even negative attention is attention, which is what kids are often looking for. If the loudness is persistent, ignoring it might be your best option. Walk away. Don’t respond. Put on headphones if you need to. When they’re ready to speak to you at an acceptable volume, then you can re-engage.
Oh, and if anyone tries to give your kid one of those toy microphones for their birthday, break it “on accident” immediately.