When kids have trouble noticing pitch and tone of voice, they may misinterpret a speaker’s meaning or mood. Here are strategies for helping your child learn to better notice and interpret these important social cues.
Break it into small steps.
Encourage your child to listen to the pitch and tone of people’s voices. Help your child identify pitch and tone as positive, neutral, or negative. Then talk together about the emotions in the speaker’s voice.
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 meaning 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.
When there isn’t meaning to consider, your child can focus on just vocal sounds. Practice inflection, 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 TV and work together to identify difficult things like sarcasm, teasing, joking, and sincerity. Watch with the sound on sometimes and off at other times to reinforce the idea of tone of voice + body language + words = attitude.
Encourage your child to ask if unsure.
Let your child know it’s OK to ask questions like, “Sometimes I can’t read your tone of voice. Are you mad?”
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About the author
About the author
Amanda Morin is the director of thought leadership at Understood and author of “The Everything Parent’s Guide to Special Education.” She worked as a classroom teacher and early intervention specialist for more than a decade.
Mark J. Griffin, PhD was the founding headmaster of Eagle Hill School, a school for children with specific learning disabilities.