I'm Tonally Challenged: Here's My Dilemma

Anyone who knows me will tell you that I do not have a soft, sweet tone to my voice. I know people with voices like this - people who still sound chipper and happy even when they’re seething mad - and I used to make fun of them, or goad them into saying curse words, because it always sounds funny to hear a high-pitched, upbeat voice let loose with a string of expletives. But then I had children, and now I’m just jealous. Oh, how I wish that I could tell my kids to stop it! without it sounding like STOP IT. Or that I could sweetly singsong the words nobody is listening to me! I’ve tried, I’ve tried so hard, but no matter what I do, my voice gives away my emotion, and usually, when I’m saying stop it! or nobody is listening to me, that emotion tends to be one of annoyance.


It wouldn’t really be an issue, either, except that my six year-old son happens to be extremely sensitive to tones of voice. Well, actually, my son is extremely sensitive to everything - you can’t even look at the kid sideways without him bursting into tears - but tone is by far the biggest problem between the two of us.


Normally, it our arguments start with me asking him to do something in a perfectly nice, neutral voice.


For example: You need to clean up your room.


Then, he would either a) stare into the television and ignore me, b) say something like, now now, or c) pretend to shoot imaginary bad guys and ignore me. At which point I would say, again, this time in a slightly less neutral tone: Hello? I said that you need to clean up your room.


Repeat steps one and two, at least two more times.


Finally, I will say: YOU NEED TO CLEAN UP YOUR ROOM. Mind you, this is not a yell. I do yell, on occasion, but that’s not what I’m talking about here. What I’m talking about is a calm, yet firm announcement that does not lend itself to being ignored.


This, he hears. He’ll look at me, and his little chin will start to quiver. And he’ll say, I’ll only do it if you ask me in a nice voice.


At this point, I have three choices. I can either tell him that he will do it no matter how I say it, I can walk out of the room and try to calm down, or I can repeat myself in a fake, sweet voice that makes it very clear that I am about to blow any second. Usually, I’ll go with the last option. To which he’ll be all, that’s not a nice voice. Talk to me the way you do when you wake me up in the morning.


Now, you see, this is where it gets challenging. When I wake him up in the morning, I give him baby kisses and whisper sweet good mornings in his little ear, and I talk to him in the nicest, most adoring tone that is available to me. But what he doesn’t understand is that that tone is only available to me because he’s been asleep for the last ten hours, and thus hasn’t done anything yet that would cause me to be irritated. Unlike now, when he’s just smacked his sister in the face with a sword, and then strewn every weapon he owns all over his bedroom floor, so that it looks like one of Saddam Hussein’s safe houses after a military raid. Except in Styrofoam and plastic.



I tend to ask once...unless I know I was speaking softly. After that, the TV gets (or whatever they are being distracted by) gets turned off and will stay off until the task is completed....regardless of the amount of time it takes....and completed properly. I let them know if that type of behavior happens again, privileges will be taken away for a certain period of time. :) (I know....Mean Mom, but do I care?....again, we're raising adults, not children)


This is what I have said before, too. I also initiated a calmer discussion later after everyone was calmed down, explaining that they can't demand that I talk to them a certain way before they do something I've asked. Especially when I've already had to ask more than once and they haven't done it. I do make sure when I first tell them to do something that it's in a normal, nice tone. But, if I end up having to use a sterner tone that doesn't give them the right to be disrespectful. I would worry that allowing them to continue to demand that you ask them in a nice tone before they do what you've ask could be setting a really bad precedent. I'd hate to get a call from the school one day because they've used that line on their teacher.


Risa, thank you for always helping me to realize that we are only human as parents. I stopped getting Mommy Tracked emails for some reason and have not been reading your column. I finally started getting them again and I realized I have missed your column desperately. Thanks so much for the perspective.


My response to the request for the nice voice is usually "but I asked you first in the nice voice two or three times and you didn't listen!"


I have the same problem!