5 Ways To Teach Kids To Identify Tone Of Voice At An Early Age

Tone of voice builds independence and confidence.

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What does it mean to teach your kids how to identify tone of voice?

This time of year, as parents wade back into the school routine, you may be noticing your tweens and teenagers have already missed assignments.

Similar to wading through a 1-800 customer service line, you can spend hours online trying to resolve issues.

You encourage your kids to write to their teacher and work through the systems themselves.


You even suggest they speak to a teacher to clarify an assignment or discuss missing work, but this can be fraught with complexities and even met with a wall of negativity and resistance.

"Are you ever going to post the Latin assignment?"

Yikes! Their tone is abrasive, the messaging is incoherent, it’s missing important pieces, and, sometimes, you may even end up writing most of it yourself!

What you actually want is for your kids to learn this skill in order to build independence. 

RELATED: How To Discover Your Communication Style So You Can Be A More Effective Speaker

Here are 5 ways to teach your kids how to identify tone of voice when communicating. 

1. Read the e-mail aloud together.

Wonder out loud by asking, "Do you think there's a 'tone'? How do you interpret it?"


If they don't see it, tactfully point out the possible lack of clarity or the sharp tone. This allows your child to understand that their words and the way they say things, may be unintentionally unclear, harsh, or even inappropriate.

Don’t preach and be a historian, just allow him to step into the person’s shoes.

2. Spy and watch for tone of voice in the real world.

When you two are out and about, tune into instances when someone has a negative, jarring or hurtful tone.

What could the other people be feeling? What was the reaction on their face? Be conspiratorial. Don’t reference his own foibles, just evaluate their reaction.

3. Create an email template with your child.

Who wants a weekly inquiry? Instead, help your child write a few email templates for missing work, work that they did but did not register, or assignments that need an extension or additional help.


RELATED: The Creepy Speech Patterns That Can Help You Identify A Psychopath

4. Rehearse in-person discussions.

Speaking directly to a teacher can be hard or embarrassing. Your kid may genuinely feel overwhelmed by the prospect and have a myriad of reasons why they can’t — they don’t have enough time, it doesn’t matter, there's no partial credit, etc.

Find out what makes it hard. Be patient. Calmly note the resistance, "I notice you are telling me how it can’t be done. Is there another plan? What else can you do?"

It's essential to rehearse approaching a teacher, what they can say, and create a plan as to when and where they can fit this discussion.


5. Link self-advocating to what they care about. 

Self-advocating is a life skill. Yet, many kids, especially those with executive function challenges, may not have the bird’s eye view to recognize this.

Rather than lecturing and allowing him to tune you out, link speaking self-advocacy to "What's in it for me?" 

Consider together what's in it for your child. Does it get you off her back or allows her to attend a specific social event? Does he want to be an engineer and wants his teacher to recommend him for a robotics club?


Self-advocacy is empowering. Speaking for yourself and making decisions about your life has big benefits, especially for kids who learn and think differently.

Recognizing tone helps them appreciate nuance. Both these skills build confidence and independence — and the results may surprise them!

RELATED: Your Tone Of Voice Can Predict How Long Your Relationship Will Last

Caroline Maguire, ACCG, PCC, M.Ed. is a personal coach who works with children with ADHD and the families who support them. For more information, visit her website.