Why Your Tone of Voice Is So Important to Your Children

The tone of voice you use with your children when you speak to them expresses much more than your words. In fact, it's how you convey your emotions to them.
Why Your Tone of Voice Is So Important to Your Children
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 27 December, 2021

The way you speak to your children, the warmth you convey, and the emotional balance you impart to them can alter their brains. For example, aggressive communication and yelling create self-defeating stress. Therefore, variables such as pitch and modulation are dimensions of great relevance. In fact, your tone of voice is extremely important to your children.

For a long time, scientists were interested to discover whether the parents’ voices or faces have the most emotional impact on a baby. They now know that the voice is far more important than a simple facial expression.

Imagine for a moment, a little one who’s just arrived in the world. As soon as they’re born, their mother puts them directly in front of herself with little distance from her face. We know that babies’ vision is extremely blurry, but they quickly learn to differentiate some faces from others. However, it’s the voices that capture their interest the most and act as a great emotional channel. What’s more, the newborn child already knows their mother because they’ve been used to hearing her voice for months from inside her womb.

When a parent interacts with their baby, emotional prosody (timbre, intonation, and volume) acts as an extremely meaningful and important form of communication.

Father talking to his baby symbolizing the importance of taking care of your tone of voice

Why’s your tone of voice so important for children?

There are times when, almost without realizing it, you end up yelling at your children. Or, if it isn’t a shout, it might be a gruff and threatening tone of voice. You do it to get them to listen to you, to pay attention, to stop being disruptive, or to simply vent your feelings when they’ve been naughty.

However, you soon feel sorry. Because you know that yelling isn’t educational. Furthermore, it has a severe impact on child development. In fact, the University of Montreal (Canada) conducted a study that showed that harsh parenting practices based on yelling and physical punishment reduce children’s brain development.

It’s important to remember that your tone of voice is the most important thing for children. Furthermore, parents and educators alike must understand that any type of communication can be harmful.

Indeed, your voice is a powerful channel when it comes to validating and reinforcing children’s self-esteem. For this reason, you must speak with respect and affection so that they feel safe, loved, and comfortable with you.

Clarity, slowness, and good emotional prosody

Above everything else, your emotion is transmitted in your intonation. A calm tone of voice, a well-regulated timbre, and a calm modulation accompanied by a non-rushed articulation are gratifying for the infantile brain. In fact, it means speaking clearly, slowly, and lovingly.

However, this doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t look at them with an angry expression when the occasion justifies it. Indeed, this emotion is part of the complex palette of human feelings. Furthermore, there’s nothing wrong with children seeing anger reflected in your expression. It’s perfectly permissible. However, this kind of expression shouldn’t be accompanied by shouting and threats.

The expression on your face informs them of what you feel, but your voice and the way in which you communicate educates them. As a matter of fact, for children, your tone of voice is the most important because it’s the channel that serves to educate, guide, validate, and connect with them.

The tone of voice you use with your children expresses much more than your words.

Father with his son on his shoulders symbolizing the importance of taking care of your tone of voice

Your tone of voice communicates more than your words

Much of your communication is non-verbal. Furthermore, your tone of voice communicates more than your words. In order to understand this, try saying something like “I love the way you are, I’m so proud of you” in a threatening way or by shouting.

You quickly realize that the message is useless if your tone isn’t right. This is especially important for children. Their world follows different rules. Their still immature brain is extremely sensitive to your tone of voice. Even more so when they’re still small and don’t fully understand words. Therefore, the modulation of your voice is everything, because that’s how you bring the universal language of your emotions to them.

There’s one more important factor. In recent months, our faces have been covered in masks. For this reason, educators have another challenge ahead. That’s to educate children without showing their expressions and the movements of their mouths. In effect, their tone of voice becomes the star of the show.

Therefore, in the light of all we’ve said in this article, you should strive to take care of your tone of voice. Try and express yourself calmly. Speak in a manner that’s based on positive emotionality. One that educates, validates, and builds security and self-esteem in your children.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Liu, P., Cole, P. M., Gilmore, R. O., Pérez-Edgar, K. E., Vigeant, M. C., Moriarty, P., & Scherf, K. S. (2019). Young children’s neural processing of their mother’s voice: An fMRI study. Neuropsychologia122, 11–19. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2018.12.003
  • Sabrina Suffren, Valérie La Buissonnière-Ariza, Alan Tucholka, Marouane Nassim, Jean R. Séguin, Michel Boivin, Manpreet Kaur Singh, Lara C. Foland-Ross, Franco Lepore, Ian H. Gotlib, Richard E. Tremblay, Françoise S. Maheu. Prefrontal cortex and amygdala anatomy in youth with persistent levels of harsh parenting practices and subclinical anxiety symptoms over time during childhood. Development and Psychopathology, 2021; 1 DOI: 10.1017/S0954579420001716
  • Stoop TB, Moriarty PM, Wolf R, Gilmore RO, Perez-Edgar K, Scherf KS, Vigeant MC, Cole PM. I know that voice! Mothers’ voices influence children’s perceptions of emotional intensity. J Exp Child Psychol. 2020 Nov;199:104907. doi: 10.1016/j.jecp.2020.104907. Epub 2020 Jul 15. PMID: 32682101.
  • Wang MT, Kenny S. Longitudinal links between fathers’ and mothers’ harsh verbal discipline and adolescents’ conduct problems and depressive symptoms. Child Dev. 2014;85(3):908–923. doi:10.1111/cdev.12143

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.