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Social Skills - Voice and body

We say a lot without really speaking. Our volume, our tone of voice and our body language speak volumes. Children don't always understand this. They think that if they grunt "sorry" then they have said the right thing. Or whine OKAYYYYYYY when they are asked to do something, that we should just be happy that they are doing it. While we may have some tolerance for this at home, our children need to understand that there are rules around this form of language. The issue with this is more when it happens in the playground, classroom or other social environment. It will impact their friendships or ability to make friends, how they are viewed by adults and generally by the people around them. Just like learning to speak we need to learn the language of volume, tone and body language.


How many times do you have to say "too loud" or "inside voice"? It can be hard to understand why there are different volumes for different places. We need to speak quietly in a library but we can yell in a park. We try not to speak too loud in a restaurant but we can sing happy birthday loudly in the same restaurant. As children develop empathy and the ability to understand what they do impacts others, this will improve. But this doesn't develop quickly and like everything it needs to be taught.

Children tend to respond best to visual explanations. Too many words can just be overwhelming and confusing. When it comes to helping kids to understand volume I find using a "volume meter" works the best.

Draw a simple meter with a scale of 1-10. Draw and arrow and attach it with a split pin. That way you can move it across the scale.

Have fun with your child practicing what each volume sounds like. 1 is very quiet, you can hardly hear it. 10 is so loud that the neighbors across the street could hear you. 5 is usually normal speaking voice. Brainstorm with your child where it would be okay to use these different volumes. A 2 might be when you are at the movies and they need to tell you that they need to go to the toilet. Have them think what might happen if they asked using volume 10. You might use an 8 to call out "coming ready or not" in a game of hide and seek so that everyone knows that you are coming. If you only used a 2 people wouldn't know that they had to hide and they may get angry. In working out these scenarios children can understand why we have rules and how their volume impacts others.

Once you have the numbers and volumes well established it can make discussions around volumes so much easier. Instead of "inside voice" you can say "volume 5". When you are going somewhere where the expectation is to be quiet, you can explain this easily. For example "when we are in the church for the wedding your volume needs to be at 2, once the service is over it can be a 5." Often kids may not realise that their volume has escalated especially if they are excited. If this happens you simply say, "you are at an 8, you need to be a 5".

Tone of Voice

The meaning of a sentence can change dramatically based on what tone we use. We can effectively convey a feeling simply by the tone even if the words don't match. The meaning can also change depending on which words you emphasize in the sentence.

Sometimes, kids don’t even realise when they are changing the meaning of the sentence by saying things in a certain way. Here is an example using one simple sentence.

“I love doing homework today.”

Try reading this out loud like you are excited. Now try worried. And angry. It is amazing how the same sentence can take on different meanings just based on the emotions you are using when talking.

Another example of how the meaning can change is by emphasizing different words. Have a go with your child. Try emphasizing the word “I”. Next try emphasizing “love”, "homework" and “today”. The sentence will mean different things when you emphasize different words.

Tips and tricks

When Reading: When you are reading with your children, pick out a sentence or two, and see how the meaning of the sentence changes when you emphasize different words or use different emotions

When watching a show: Point out when a character’s tone of voice or emphasis on a particular word changes the meaning of a sentence.

Fun with sentences: Try practicing the sentences with your children, using different feelings, or emphasizing different words, or both.

Some examples:

"I love ice cream"

"I'm going to the library"

"do you want to play?"

"I have sport today"

"I have to catch the bus today"

Or make up your own.

A great game that I have used in therapy many times is "socially speaking" (By Didax) is a great game to practice social skills. I particularly like the way they target tone of voice. The players have to say the same sentence "I have peas for tea" using all different emotions. It's a fun way to show the incredible difference tone can make.

Body Language

Children need to understand that body language is important. Just like words can hurt someone’s feelings, body language can do the same thing. When you roll your eyes or turn your back and walk away, it says, just as if you had shouted it, that you don’t care and don’t respect me.

You can use body language to let others know that you like them and care for them, without ever having to say a word. Just like when you hug me or hold my hand, I can tell you love me without having to say it.

Tips and Tricks

Guessing games

Show your child how different body movements can convey clear and specific emotion. Tap your fingers, shrug your shoulders, fidget, and stand with your hands on your hips. Explain the unspoken message behind each movement. “When someone is standing like this, it can mean that they’re losing patience. Or they’re upset by what you’re saying

Silent TV

You can bring the concept of body language to life by noticing how people—both in real life and on TV—are interacting. (If you’re watching TV together, you can even turn the sound off.) Help your child spot clues that indicate how each person is feeling. Ask what clues made you think that the person felt that way. Saying things like “The man’s face was looking down” or “The girl’s fists were clenched” gives your child a way to remember the visual cue.

Play Body-Language Charades

Acting out emotions through body language helps kids see the connection between the two. Make a game of it. On cards, write different emotions (one per card). These could include happy, sad, angry, tired, and so on. Take turns picking up a card and acting out the emotion while the rest of the group tries to guess what it is.

In teaching our kids the importance of volume, tone and body language we are teaching them that communication is more than words. How we use these non-verbal languages will convey all sorts of meaning. It is important that they understand the impact of this so that they can have every success in building friendships and relationships in life.

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