Do you have a tape recording device handy? If so, try turning it on at 8a.m., 5p.m. and 8p.m. for a few days. Leave it on long enough to get a good sample of your voice at those times. What do you sound like? Musical, harmonious and melodious? Or is that tone kind of harried, harsh or shrill? Maybe it's a little of everything, depending on when you last had sleep.

Your children are tape recorders too. Your voice gets programmed into their little brains. About twenty years from now, it will pop out as they deal with their kids in the morning, after school and at bed time. They'll sound like you. Will that be a good thing?

Voice Sends a Message

Tone and volume of voice communicates all kinds of things. A soft murmur can communicate contentedness or affection. It is, at least, peaceful. A loud, sharply punctuated voice can communicate anger, panic, hysteria, excitement or glee – depending on pitch, rhythm and, of course, content.

When the content of a message is critical ("I don't like it when you pour your cereal on the table") and it is delivered in a stern, cold voice ("I don't like it when you POUR your cereal on the table!") then a subtext is also delivered. It may sound – to the child's ears – something like "…and I don't like YOU when you do that." Harsh tone of voice carries rejection and insult along with it. Ideally, it should be used only a rare occasions during the parenting journey, times that involve extremely serious misdemeanors such as life-threatening, illegal, immoral or otherwise outrageous behavior. For regular, everyday misbehavior such as not listening, fighting with siblings, disobeying and so on, a regular, business-like tone of voice can be used. Limits can be set, expectations established and discipline enforced using this cool but serious tone of voice. As King Solomon teaches, "The words of the wise are gently heard." (Ecclesiastes 9:17). Whining, crying, screaming and other "fits" conveyed vocally should be allocated to the toddlers in the family until they learn to communicate with words.

Using a Child's Name

A child's self-concept is tied up with his or her name. Therefore, it is most important to use a pleasant tone of voice when using the child's name. However, it is tempting for parents to snarl, shout or scream a child's name when the youngster isn't listening or cooperating. "LEAH! How many times do I have to tell you not to stand on that chair!" Indeed, the more times a parent calls a child, the more likely it is that the parent will soon be shouting the child's name in a most unpleasant tone of voice. Multiply the experience by many times a day or week and you may end up with a child who hates hearing the sound of his or her name. That sound comes to mean displeasure, punishment and/or rejection. It's enough, sometimes, to make a person want to change his name. A preventative measure that parents can take to avoid shouting a child's name, is to employ the 2-Times Rule: Never allow yourself to call a child more than two times. This alone prevents the type of frustration that leads to an unpleasant voice. Another trick is to go right up to the child who is uncooperative and speak close to his or her face. You won't need to use a name at all. A third idea is just to follow the rule that you must NEVER use an unpleasant voice when speaking your child's name.

So, practice your nice voice (as you tell your whining toddler). It will make you and everyone else in the house feel so much better.