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Inside Voice Please—Good Parenting

Dear Dr. Debbie,

We have a five-year-old who has no idea how loud she is.

This is particularly annoying when someone is asleep in the house. Her hearing checks out fine and I usually find time every day to give her undivided attention (although sometimes after I’ve asked her to quiet down). She’s otherwise fun to be around. Any suggestions?

Hands On My Ears

Dear H.O.M.E.,

A child of five is still within the developmental stage of egocentrism, meaning it is difficult if not impossible for her to change her behavior because of someone else’s needs. She makes decisions based on her own point of view, which in this case might be that she’s excited about something or that screaming feels good.

Approach this behavior with consistent, concrete directions as to where and when it’s okay to be loud and where and when she needs to use her “inside voice.”

Quiet Hours are When?
Sunlight – or the lack thereof – is a good cue as to when it is time to be loud or to speak softly. For the most part, people sleep when it’s dark out. That’s the time to be quiet. When we switch to Daylight Savings Time each spring, parents of young children get a little more sleep in the morning because the children still wake up when the sun does, not according to the clock. The time change doesn’t help with bedtime, though, since there is more daylight in the evening.

To help her become aware of others’ needs for quiet when they’re asleep, take extra efforts to reduce the noise level around her when it is time for her to sleep. Maintain predictable daily rhythms at home for active and chatty periods of time and for low volume periods of time. In addition to cues from natural sunlight, add blackout shades and use low output bulbs (fewer lumens) to soften the artificial lighting in and around her sleeping quarters at bedtime. Gradually dim the lighting as you quiet your own voice, and, in whispers, remind her to quiet hers as the house settles into peaceful darkness.
A bedtime routine could begin with an audible cue in addition to the lighting cues. The house might “hum” with the sound of the dishwasher or laundry machine when it’s time to get ready for bed. Recorded quiet music or a bedroom fan could provide the audible cue that’s it time for the house to be quiet. All other activities in the house must also be so subdued that they can’t be heard above this audible cue. This means adult television watching can only be done at a low volume or with headphones.

If there is a daytime napper in the house, or an adult who sleeps at odd hours because of shift work, you need extra signals to cue your vociferous one to suppress her sound-making. While it may not make sense to draw down the shades where the five-year-old is playing, it will be easier for her to learn to be quiet if these times are on a set schedule. In this case, it’s her electronics that need to be kept to a low volume or limited to headphone use. Hang a cartoon drawing of a snoozing baby or a snoring granny in a prominent place as a reminder that a nap is underway.

Quiet Places are Where?
After the age of seven your loud child might be expected to respect a napper on the couch but this is a confusing concept at her age. Ideally, sleeping and napping take place in bedrooms. If your daughter shares a bedroom with a younger sibling who takes naps, there needs to be another area of the house in which the older child can play. In this designated play-during-naps space, help her choose activities less likely to elicit shrieks of excitement and cries of frustration. This is a good time for you to share books with her. Consistent reminders about “This is naptime, so you can . . .” will help her to remember to play more quietly. Be sure to announce when naptime is over and to warmly acknowledge her cooperation.

There may be other places in her world for which you should consistently give your daughter a reminder about “soft voices” on your way in. Such environments would include: a hospital, a religious service, a business office, a concert hall, or a live theater. Be aware that such environments strain the abilities of a young child to conform for the sake of the other people there. To give her a better chance at being successful, practice your whispers together before entering.

If your five-year-old is one to bust into your bedroom very early in the morning, get in the habit of hanging a “Do Not Disturb” sign on the doorknob until you are ready for her boisterous company. Again, review options of activities with which she can entertain herself until then.

Loud isn’t inherently wrong, it just needs to be at the right time in the right place.

Dr. Debbie

Deborah Wood, Ph.D. is a child development specialist with degrees in Early Childhood Education, Counseling, and Human Development. Workshops for parents, teachers, and childcare professionals can be found at: drdebbiewood.com.

Click here for more parenting advice by Debbie Wood.

What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com


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