Tone of voice is important

Published 8:44 pm Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

By Nathan Rice

I was in a smaller office building where I could not help but overhear an interaction between a mother and her son, who I would guess was around 8 years old. I was conducting business in one area while the mother completed her transaction with her son by her side. The son appeared to wait patiently while his mother conducted her business with the service representative.

A few moments later, the mother walked her son to the bathroom. I heard the mother say harshly, “Wash your hands!” A moment passed before she said sternly, “Use soap!” She ended with a biting, “Get some paper towels and dry your hands!

Email newsletter signup

The harsh tone toward her son saddened me. I don’t know what transpired earlier in the day for this mother and her son, but he was well behaved in the office, and I did not hear that he was doing anything wrong in the bathroom.

Unfortunately, this type of interaction with children is not uncommon. It is something I see and hear frequently. There are times when something must be delivered sternly, but a continual stern, authoritative and corrective tone of voice towards children is harmful.

First, it does not convey the loving attitude that parents should have towards a child. It makes it seem that the child is a burden instead of a blessing, and children will notice. An unneeded and continual stern or corrective tone can cause the child to feel that he or she is a prisoner rather than a loved member of a family.

Sometimes parents will say, “It’s just the way I talk. It’s who I am.” This is not an acceptable reason to continue in a behavior that is hurting a child.  People can change, and I encourage those who use the “It’s just the way I talk” excuse to begin the process of changing. It may not be easy, but you owe it to your children. Be the adult and work on yourself.

Next, using a continual harsh tone of voice diminishes greatly the effectiveness of the times you need to use a stern or corrective tone. Children will have a hard time distinguishing if they are being warned, corrected or simply instructed on how to perform a task. Using a stern tone continually, in an attempt to get their attention or make them listen, has the opposite effect. Instead of learning that a stern or corrective tone is used for something serious, they begin to tune out that tone of voice because it’s the only tone that is used. Therefore, using a stern or harsh tone continually is hurting the child and lessening your effectiveness as a parent.

Some may say, “But it’s the only way they will listen.” This should not be the case. Children can learn to listen without having to hear a stern or harsh tone of voice. It will take a lot of work on the part of the parents as well as fair and consistent discipline, but it can be done.

There are times when a stern or corrective tone of voice is needed. I’ve used it myself. Children need to know when a statement is firm or if they need to correct a behavior. However, a tone of voice that is continually stern, corrective or harsh is harmful to the child, and it diminishes your ability to parent effectively.

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at