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Teaching the Difference Between Inside and Outside Voice


Both my children are blessed with loud voices. My efforts to stop them screaming inside our house and car have failed. Do you have any ideas on how to stop it or a good consequence every time they scream?


Hello and thank you for your question. Teaching kids the difference between an “inside voice” and an “outside voice” can be very challenging as kids are not the best at picking up on the concepts that are considered to be somewhat abstract. Learning this important lesson can be chalked up to good old-fashioned manners and learning how to control their voices will serve you, them and their future teachers very well. We have to help them learn the difference by pointing out when they are using them in the moment. When your kids are screaming or being loud inside at a level that you find inappropriate tell them, using alpha speech, to use their inside voices, please. Do not use phrases like “can you use your inside voice, or mommy needs you to use your inside voice”. Say calmly but firmly “use your inside voice”. If they comply then offer a little praise and positive reinforcement by saying “I like how you are using your inside voice.” The concept of “catching them being good” can go a long way here as when you acknowledge them displaying the behavior and tone you desire then the also helps them to develop an understanding of what an “inside voice” is. Now, if they do not comply, then send them to their room and tell them they have to stay in their room until they can use their inside voice. Keep your emotions out of it, do not engage in arguing, and ignore them if they are loud in their room. Ignoring them will be the hardest part but you need to eliminate the audience so that they are not getting any attention when screaming or being too loud. When they are quiet and tell you they are ready to use their inside voice then you can allow them to return to whatever they were doing but the second they resume screaming send them back to their room.

If you are past the point of addressing these behaviors in the moment, then I recommend using the strike system. It is a variation of the ticket system and you can read more about it in John’s book The Well Behaved Child. With strikes, your child is issued a strike each time they display the targeted behavior, screaming or yelling. Strikes work well because you can issue them anywhere. At home, in the car, store, etc. You decide how many strikes your child can have each day before they are issued a bigger consequence. Some parents will require their child to incur a time out each time they are issued a strike and then once they have been issued their final or last strike of the day they are sent to their room for the remainder of the day. Just like with a Garden Kick, once your child has used all of their strikes for the day, the play value of their room should be significantly reduced. If their room is a paradise of entertainment, they will not be bothered at all and unmotivated to change their behavior. Start off with 5 strikes and see how that works. Be consistent with implementing your consequences and do not stop with the strike system too soon. John refers to this as the Penicillin Principle which occurs when we confuse symptom relief with cure. John says “if you abandon a successful discipline treatment at the point of symptom relief, the possibility of relapse is greatly increased. and a relapse is always more difficult to treat than the original condition.”

Most times when trying a new discipline system, things tend to get worse before they get better. Stay strong, keep your emotions out of it, and don’t give in to their whining. Your kids are trying to discover what it takes to get you to give in and give them what they want so don’t underestimate their ability to up their game too. Ignore, Ignore, Ignore the tantrums and screaming but remember to catch them being good too. Let us know how it goes and please reach back out if you need further guidance.

Lisa Woodman
Certified Leadership Parenting Coach

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