Have you ever heard someone say “I love you” in a way that sounds more like “I can barely tolerate you”? If so, then you understand the impact tone has on what we say. As a parent, you may have even said to your kids, “It’s not what you said, but how you said it.” You are probably working with your kids on the tones they use with others, but have you given much thought to the tones you use when parenting them?
Children can be particularly sensitive to tone. They may not have enough life experience to know that when daddy is grumpy after work, it is more about his job than them. Since kids tend to be naturally a bit egocentric, they will take what they infer from a negative tone used consistently and begin to apply it to how they define themselves.
Now, I’m not about to say that you can never be firm with your children when they are rebellious and disobey you. What I will say is that when a parent who generally uses a warm, loving tone with their children does use a firm tone, the children pay close attention. On the other hand, parents who are consistently harsh with their children are ignored after a time.
James 1:19 doesn’t specifically address tone, but the advice can be applied to tone. Be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to anger when communicating with your kids. Use warm, loving tones as much as possible. Avoid sarcasm, which is easily missed by children. Remember, your tone for correction can be firm, but still loving.
Don’t forget, the tone you intend may not be the tone that is heard. Some children are more sensitive than others. Kids who are never yelled at by their parents will call a slightly raised voice yelling. The personalities and current moods of your kids can impact how your kids interpret your tone. If they are hungry or tired, their interpretation will be more negative than when they are well fed and rested.
Not sure how they perceive your tones? Have them do an imitation of you in different situations. (If you can’t laugh at yourself, don’t try this!) or ask your spouse or a friend who is around when you interact with your kids what they think. You can try asking your kids to describe your tones, but they may not have the vocabulary or life experience to do so accurately. Instead try asking them if what you said was music, what kind of music would it be.
Tone is only one piece of your communications with your kids, but it’s an important one. Working on a tone that will be heard and heeded as loving and helpful, will make your parenting journey a lot easier.