Tag Archives: Child

Speaking with the Voice of Authority

In class last week, a mom told me how overwhelmed she was by her kids. She felt like they didn’t listen to her. Not only did they not follow her rules, they would sometimes hit or bite when she tried to enforce those rules. She was feeling out of control and powerless. She asked: “How do you get that voice that puts ‘the fear of God’ in your kids?” In other words, that tone of command that says “That’s it. I mean business! You will now do what I am telling you to do.” It’s the “Stop – do NOT run out in traffic” tone or the “It’s not OK to hit” tone.

I said “It’s all in the voice” and demonstrated my sternest tone.

But really, it’s more than the voice. It’s the body language and the facial expressions too. Gone is the soft and gentle mama (or papa) who will let them get away with anything just because they’re so darn cute. Gone is the tired looking mama they know will let them get away with it because she’s too tired to do anything about it. (Believe me, I know you may FEEL this way, just try not to let it show.) This is the serious mama who Needs Them to Listen to Her Now. (Note: you don’t need to be a mean mama, or an angry mama… you can still be loving and respectful and in calm control of your own emotions when you are being authoritative.)

But really, it’s about much more than how you talk, stand, or look in the moment. It’s about your whole relationship with your kids. Are you generally respectful, loving, playful, and encouraging them to adventure and explore? Have you built a relationship of mutual trust? If so, then when you put on your serious tone, they trust that there’s a reason for it.

It’s also about your discipline style in general. The Voice only has power if they know there will be Actions that follow it up.

Do your children know that you set limits and stick to them? Do you tell them what’s expected of them and what the consequences will be if you disobey? Do you follow through on those consequences? Do you follow through every time? Even when you’re in public? Even when you’re tired? Even when you’re busy? Don’t set consequences unless you can follow through on them in that moment! Find a consequence you’re willing to enforce and enforce it.

This is where the discipline flow chart comes in: step 3 – tell child what to do; step 4 – alert child to the problem by putting on your command voice; step 5 – calmly enforce consequences, and step 6 – move on.

You might say: “When we are in the parking lot, you need to hold my hand. If you let go, I will pick you up.” Then, if she lets go, calmly pick her up and carry her. Even if she’s kicking and screaming. When she’s buckled into her car seat and calmed down, explain that your job is to keep her safe, and one thing you need her to do is hold your hand in a parking lot so the cars know she is there.

You might say: “I want you to use a gentle voice and nice touch with your sister. If you hit her, I will pick you up and carry you out of the room.” Then if he hits, calmly pick him up and carry him out of the room. Then help him take a few deep breaths and calm back down. Even if you have other things you need to do in that moment (like work on dinner), the consequences need to be there and need to be immediate.

You might say: “I want you to share the toys nicely. If you two fight over something, I will need to take it away and put it on the time-out shelf.” When they fight over something, calmly take it away. Then help them re-settle into playing with new toys. You do this even if you’re tired, and really just want them to play by themselves for a moment while you rest. You don’t give up and just toss the toy back down to them when they fuss about you taking it away. And if they bite or hit you, you should clearly say “It is not OK to hurt me. It’s never OK to hurt other people. I’m going to leave you here in your room by yourself for a while, and I’m going to go somewhere else.”

How do your kids know you mean business when you say something? They know because you consistently follow through with actions and consequences if they don’t listen to you when you say it. You “say it like you mean it” because you do mean it.

I promise I didn’t put the photo of Professor McGonagall from Harry Potter at the top of this post because I think you’re being a witch when you enforce limits. I put it there because I think this character (in both the books and the movies) exemplifies the gentle authority. There is no doubt that she loves the children. There’s also no doubt that she means business when she tells them what they need to do. You can find your own loving voice of authority with your kids. Your life will feel more in your control when you do this, and your child will also be reassured – although they may act like they want to be in charge, it’s actually a little scary for them to feel like they are. Kids prefer it when they have a strong loving authority in the house.


When I Play I am Learning (What your Child is Learning when s/he is “just playing”)

When I play with blocks, I am learning…

  • Sizes and shapes, and how to create and repeat patterns: essential math skills
  • Spatial awareness, stacking and balancing: the basics of physics
  • Problem solving and logical consequences

When I play with water (and other items in the sensory table), I am learning…

  • Eye-hand coordination as I learn to pour, fill, scoop
  • To use tools to accomplish a task – funnels, cups, scoops
  • Concepts of empty and full, volume and weight, relevant to mathematics
  • Properties of solids and liquids in motion, that some things sink and some things float (science!)

When I play with dolls or stuffed animals, I am learning…

  • To use my imagination
  • To treat others with tender, loving care
  • To imitate the parenting behaviors I see in my life

When I play with puzzles, shape sorters, and stacking cups, I am learning…

  • About the relationships of parts to the whole… a basic math concept
  • Concepts of shape, relative sizes (big, bigger, smaller), and color
  • Eye-hand coordination, small motor skills, problem solving
  • Vocabulary related to the subject of the puzzle

When I look at books, and when you read them to me, I am learning…

  • That learning to read is important and enjoyable
  • That letters on a page represent words – talk written down
  • To interpret pictures to represent ideas
  • To follow the development of thoughts and ideas in the plot of a story

When I play outdoors and in the big motor play area, I am learning…

  • Physical strength, coordination and balance
  • To jump, slide, run, swing, roll, and climb
  • To take some risks and to learn when to be cautious
  • To watch out for other people before moving, to move around others carefully

When I play in the kitchen area with the food and the dolls, I am learning…

  • To use my imagination, to try on different adult roles
  • To cooperate with others when involved in some dramatic play
  • To express myself in sentences
  • To solve problems, especially socially, through negotiation with friends
  • To improvise and use things in a symbolic way to represent something else…abstract thinking.

When I play with cars and trains, I am learning…

  • To see myself from a different perspective, that of a giant
  • How wheeled vehicles move through the world and what happens when they crash
  • How things need to be pushed up hills, but going downhill, they go fast on their own (physics!)

When I play with Playdough, I am learning…

  • To express feelings, squeezing and pounding
  • When I cut out a shape with a cookie cutter, I am learning about negative & positive space, seeing something against its background (helps with reading)
  • That the amount of a substance remains the same, even when the shape changes.

When I sort things, I am learning…

  • To notice details and similarities and differences in objects; concepts of color, size and shape
  • To form categories, essential concepts for reading and mathematics
  • Logical reasoning

When I paint, scribble, or draw, I am learning…

  • To develop my imagination and creativity
  • To hold a paintbrush or pencil
  • The names of colors and how to make new colors
  • To distinguish shapes, and purposely create shapes
  • To express my feelings and ideas, and that my ideas have value
  • Concepts of symmetry, balance and design

When I choose to have a snack, I am learning…

  • To choose and try new foods
  • How to sit at a table with others for snack
  • How to drink from a cup (and logical consequence – when you make a mistake, you get wet!)

When I play independently when my parent has left the room for parent education, I learn…

  • That my parent can leave for a while to tend to his/her own needs, but s/he is still available if needed, and s/he always comes back
  • That I can ask other adults for help, and that I need to listen to other adults’ guidance
  • Independence and Self-Confidence

When I participate in circle time activities, I am learning…

  • The names of others in the group: an essential skill for building relationships
  • To listen, sit still and understand spoken language: important for school readiness
  • To wait when others are talking, To cooperate and be considerate of the needs of others
  • New vocabulary connected with the topic of discussion
  • To remember the words of songs and poems: helps to build memory skills

Toddler’s brains are developing at an incredibly fast rate. They are born with a lifetime supply of neurons (brain cells), but they only develop synaptic connections (the essential wiring that connects those neurons and helps our brains function quickly and effectively) through hands-on experience with the world. Through play! Learn more about brain development here.

Original concept (and some of the text) for this article is from http://88thservices.com/pdf/learning.pdf, by Karen Miller. Additional concepts by Janelle Durham

Also check out this resource which talks specifically about what math skills your toddler is learning while they play: for example “dumping a bucket of blocks and putting all the blue ones into a pile” ties to “Infants and toddlers look for exact matches when classifying objects… Classification will one day be used for the mathematical content areas of measurement, patterning/algebra, and geometry/spatial sense.”


During our first week of toddler class, we are pretty informal, mostly letting the children just explore the new environment in unguided free play. Sometimes parents feel the pressure to be actively “teaching” their children all the time, and may not see the value in free play, thinking of it as “wasted time”.

Here’s a link to one great article which addresses some of the ways that children learn through play: www.parentingcounts.org/professionals/parenting-handouts/information-for-parents-play.pdf