Dear Miss Faith,
My son is almost three and he’s very verbal, be he talks SO LOUDLY, all the time. I am very sensitive to noise and sometimes I feel like I can hardly stand to be around him. Telling him to talk more quietly doesn’t seem to have any effect.
I get migraines and am sensitive to noise then, too. You have my sympathy! I have some ideas for you. It will take some work up front, but you’ll be able to reap the benefits.
Use Play to Help Him Learn
Many of us know that “children learn through play,” but we certainly don’t feel playful when we have a headache and our child’s voice is grating on our nerves. The trick, then, is to use play when you’re NOT annoyed, to help your child develop the capacity for volume control. If he can learn to do it when the two of you are feeling relaxed and connected, he’ll be a lot more likely to be able to do it on command when you’re feeling disconnected.
So, start playing games that incorporate volume control. Weave in the elements of SMILE (Singing, Movement, Imagination, Love, Exaggeration) that help kids feel connected. Start where it will feel easy for him, being loud and exhuberant. You might say, “Let’s be Lions together! ROAR!!!! ROAR!!!!” He’ll likely roar happily alongside of you as the two of you prowl the jungle. Next, tone it down a little. “Now we’re horses, galloping on the plains! Neighhhh!!!!!!” Gallop around together and neigh. Then dial it down another notch: get down on your hands and knees and be sweet kitty cats looking for some petting. Then even further, as quiet little mice looking for some cheese, squeaking quietly. Finally, you can be silent bunnies, sniffing around and nibbling the clover.
Another game you might play could involve talking to each other in different tones of voice. “Let’s play Shouting Talk. HEY JAMIE! WILL YOU GET ME A TOY, PLEASE?!?” Encourage him to play along. Then later, you can have Normal Talk, Quiet Talk, and Whisper Talk. Try having a whole (short) meal in whisper talk, making it fun with lots of eye contact and smiles.
What If He Only Wants to Be Loud?
When you start these fun games, he will likely want to shout when you ask him to whisper. Be sure that you’re giving ample time for him to engage in the loud versions of the game so that he can feel satiated with it, before moving on to quiet. One days when you can’t stand the loudness, you might take the loud parts of the game outdoors, or if you can’t be outdoors for some reason, send him into the bathroom to yell. It’s very loud and echo-y for him. When he comes out, laugh and send him back in for more, until he feels very satisfied with it. Then work to make the quiet parts of the game EXTRA connecting, with soft touch, engaging the imagination, giving affection, being exaggeratedly amazed at how sweet his soft voice is.
Finally, He Can Talk Quietly!
Once he’s good at modulating his volume through play, you’ll be able to start asking him to do it without quite so much support (i.e., when you ask him to speak more quietly). However, just like any request that you make of a toddler or preschooler, if you want him to be able to do it consistently whenever you ask for it, you’ll need to be willing to give him as much or as little support as he needs each time. Yes, this will mean turning it into a game even when you’re feeling annoyed or have a headache. Luckily, your dozens of times of playing it when you WEREN’T annoyed will likely help carry the game. With consistency and practice, you absolutely will be able to say, “Can you please talk more quietly?” and he’ll simply lower his voice.
Warmly, ~Miss Faith
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