Maintaining Control:  Using Your Voice

Men don’t appreciate that their voice – tone and inflection – can have a real use in helping maintain control of the kids.

I somehow realized when the eldest was a toddler that how I used my voice made a real difference in how she responded to my authority.  Understand that as kids grow, they’ll seek ways to assert their independence and challenge authority.  It’s expected and actually healthy and that’s one of those things that you learn to handle.  But there are moments when you have to immediately reassert yourself before further problems arise.  Like when?

  • When the child is going to place themselves in immediate danger, as running pell-mell towards a busy road.
  • When there are a group of children and misbehavior threatens to ruin the setting for everyone.
  • When a child is starting to ignore warnings or corrections. 

Because it’s best described as hard and/or brusque, it’s a tone that only sees use when I have to make a point.  If children don’t think that they’re going to like what’s said, they’ll learn to ignore it and later claim that they didn’t hear you.  I try to take care to insure that it’s tucked away from daily usage so that they can’t claim that and the effect isn’t lessened.  Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn’t, but I try.

The tone isn’t yelling, but a frank and controlled one that even the youngest can’t mistake.  There is no rise in inflection at the end, as though a question is being asked, and it goes hand-in-glove with the child’s belief that what’s said will be enforced if not followed.  So a history of follow-through is helpful to the process.

What are some situations in which I’ve used it, either with my own or another child?

  • When Eldest was playing with a group of preschoolers and started to run after a ball towards a crowded street.  Stop now! was in a deep, harsh tone that cut through the ambient noise and all three of the kids froze several feet before the roadway while the ball went into traffic.
  • Helping a nanny at a playground control a child – her ward – who was tossing rocks at kids sliding down a slide.  The child ignored the nanny until one of the rocks almost clocked Middle and then I had a brief conversation with him.  No yelling, but a kneel to the kid’s level and a look directly into his face while stating that the behavior would stop immediately.  Surprisingly, the nanny thanked me.
  • Stopping a young ballplayer from breaking the coach’s rule about swinging a bat behind the backstop.  The boy started swinging the bat and another father asked what did the coach say about swinging the bat?  The kid then simply moved further away and continued to swing the bat.  My response was to walk over and tell him – in a hard tone – to leave the bat and reassume his place in line. 

And there are plenty of other situations out there.

The point is to assure that they understand you offer no options, as the other father did.  The would-be batter was left with an option that satisfied the father’s comment while continuing to violate the coach’s rule and continuing the behavior that could injure someone else.

It’s not a tone that I enjoy using but with some practice and follow-through, it can offer a better alternative to having to yell or let a child ruin a situation by poor behavior.


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