Picking up on social cues

At a Glance: Helping Your Child Notice Voice Pitch and Tone

By Amanda Morin

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When your child has trouble noticing pitch and tone of voice, she may misunderstand people’s meaning or mood. Here are some ways to help her learn to better notice and interpret these important social cues.

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At a Glance: Helping Your Child Notice Voice Pitch and Tone

Does your child have trouble understanding that it’s not always what you say that gets your message across, but how you say it? She may need help learning to recognize changes in tone of voice. Here are some strategies to try.

Break it into small steps.
Encourage your child to listen to the tone and pitch of people’s voices. Help her identify them as positive, neutral or negative. Then you can help her try to gure out the emotion behind it.

Talk about attitude.
Explain that tone of voice + body language + words = attitude. (“Do you see how John is crossing his arms and scowling as he says that?”) Noticing those other social cues helps frame the overall “tone” of the conversation.

Point out inflection.
Teach your child that the meaning of words changes with emphasis, volume and speed of speech. For example, a calm “Where are you going?” is a curious question. A loud, quick “Where are you going?” sounds sarcastic or angry.

Practice with nonsense words.
Without having meaningful words to consider, your child can focus on just vocal sounds. Practice inection, volume and speed by saying things like “bibbidi bobbidi boo.” Ask your child to say it as a question, as a statement and as a demand. Then add emotion to it. (For example, an “angry question.”)

Watch videos and TV.
Watch and work together to identify dicult tones like sarcasm, teasing, joking and sincerity. Watch with the sound on sometimes and o at other times to reinforce the idea of tone of voice + body language + words = attitude.

Use apps.
Apps like Conversation Coach and Teach Emotions let your child practice recognizing tone independently and record his own voice to analyze.

Encourage him to ask if he’s not sure.
Let him know it’s OK to ask questions like, “Sometimes I can’t read your tone of voice. Are you mad?”
Graphic of At a Glance: Helping Your Child Notice Voice Pitch and Tone
Graphic of At a Glance: Helping Your Child Notice Voice Pitch and Tone

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About the Author

Portrait of Amanda Morin

Amanda Morin

A parent advocate and former teacher, Amanda Morin is the proud mom of kids with learning and attention issues and the author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.

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Reviewed by Mark Griffin, Ph.D. Jan 18, 2015 Jan 18, 2015

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