How do I learn to sound less angry?
February 5, 2021 6:40 PM   Subscribe

My 3 year old constantly tells me to "stop yelling," to not "talk to [her] dad like that" and to "calm down" when I feel I am having normal conversations (albeit usually about something I am passionate/excited about) with my husband.

I have always been accused of having a loud speaking voice, but the constant admonitions from my three year old are drawing my attention to maybe this not being a great thing to model. To be clear: I am rarely actually angry or meaning to yell when she says these things, but I recognize that my voice is often raised and I do have a tendency to unintentionally speak with a tone that is kind of...not nice.

I'm raising my daughter in a gentle and supportive household. Even if it is not my intention to yell, I recognize that the stress is the same for her regardless, so I need to change.

What are some resources where I can learn to speak more calmly?
posted by shesdeadimalive to Human Relations (25 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: This isn't a resource as much as a suggestion ... I don't have an "angry" voice but often when I'm nervous I tend to put in a ton of energy and end up coming across as (what I feel is) too excitable and intense in professional situations. Something that has helped me is to practice slowing my speech. When I focus on a slower speed that tends to translate into a calmer tone. I'm not sure if that's what you're looking for, but I hope it helps! :)
posted by stella1 at 7:03 PM on February 5, 2021 [8 favorites]

Best answer: My 3yo sometimes complains his parents are being too loud/calm down etc.

We handle this in two ways, depending on what's going on.

1) ok we will calm down we were excited about this topic; didn't mean to bother you.
2) we are calm and not angry or doing anything wrong, we are just animated sometimes and that's ok. You also don't get to tell us how we can express ourselves.

All I can say is this has somewhat, slowly, worked over time. A little bit. But goddamit my toddler doesn't get to tell me and my spouse what tone we are permitted to use when happily discussing something together, ymmv.

I case it's not obvious: I don't think you are necessarily in the wrong or need to change. Certainly not all the time, if I'm understanding correctly.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:30 PM on February 5, 2021 [52 favorites]

My general philosophy is that we should all express ourselves fully and freely as long as as we are doing so without malintent and also not adjust ourselves unless we are in fact communicating malintent. I know many Black people, for instance, who have been told that they are being "too loud" or speaking "aggressively" when they are amongst "fragile white people", if you would.

I find that society has become too prone to conflating assertiveness with aggressiveness and am wondering if that might be in play with the situation you described.

Otherwise, however, if you do find that there might a need of adjusting with your tone of voice then I suspect that it is because you may be in need of more grounding in your life. I find that when we are not well grounded it is easy for us to become less aware of ourselves and our relationship to others.
posted by defmute at 7:40 PM on February 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This is something I've struggled with at work. My normal speaking tone is fine, but people misread me as angry when I'm in a hurry or feel strongly about a topic. What's worked for me is to intensionally (slightly) slow my rate of speech, especially when I am in a hurry or having strong feelings. I haven't had this issue around small children, so I don't know if it'll help there, but in my experience it helps around adults.
posted by dorey_oh at 7:52 PM on February 5, 2021 [5 favorites]

Is your child sensitive to noise? This may be a wonderful opportunity to explain to them how we can sometimes get loud when we're excited and this is different than yelling. I would try to explain to her that you're not angry and you love her and your husband/her dad, the give her a warm hug and continue the conversation, albeit probably in a slightly quieter voice.

If she's sensitive to noise in general, you may also look into options to help her, like warm, fuzzy headphones, though I suspect this may not be the case.

I was this kid and it did get better with time and age.
posted by Amy93 at 8:07 PM on February 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

What are some resources where I can learn to speak more calmly?

Sounds to me like your three year old is the handiest resource you have. Perhaps make a conscious policy of taking a few seconds to consider her contributions at face value?
posted by flabdablet at 8:41 PM on February 5, 2021 [11 favorites]

Best answer: my kid sometimes accuses me of yelling when I'm most definitely not yelling, just saying things she doesn't like. Try to objectively judge if there's something wrong with your tone before assuming that you're doing something wrong. It's not necessarily the case that any whim or preference of your kid's must be given the weight of law.

That said, if you do have reason to believe that you get inappropriately shouty, then I agree with whoever said above that the easiest way to counter the tendency is to deliberately slow down. I mean your kid could be right, for sure. I have a loved one who gets shouty when he's excited and it is quite unpleasant. Slow your cadence and deliberately pause; make space for others to respond.
posted by fingersandtoes at 9:16 PM on February 5, 2021 [10 favorites]

Best answer: If you have a naturally loud voice, consider getting your hearing tested; that can be a sign of poor hearing.

You get to be enthusiastic, passionate, excited. Your child, or anybody, doesn't get to manage your emotions, but they can ask you to reduce the volume. Positive requests are more effective than Don't requests. So, Please talk softer is more effective than Don't yell. I have never experienced positive effects from anyone being told Calm down and I'd wonder where that phrase was learned. It's okay for you to ask me to speak more softly, but it's also okay for me to have strong emotions. You can talk to your daughter about emotions being valid, and that it's okay to ask people to change a behavior that crosses a boundary, but that there may be negotiation involved. We don't get to be in full control of our environments, we work with the people around us to find ways to live peacefully. You can request that she check in You sound angry? Are you angry? There's also a lot of cultural differences involved. Some people are more brusque.

To answer your specific question, ask your child and your partner to gently let you know if you are unpleasantly loud or seem angry; you have to have some awareness of a behavior to change it. And reward yourself as you make progress; rewards are the strongest way to change behavior.

I'm a bit uneasy about this situation because it's usually women who are asked to soften their expression of emotion.
posted by theora55 at 9:26 PM on February 5, 2021 [25 favorites]

Best answer: My toddler does the same thing, she's 2.5 ish sometimes we speak softer, sometimes we explain what's going on and reassure her. Then we go back to what we were doing. Kids are still learning the differences between feelings and will be for quite while, and sometimes things get categorized incorrectly like all yelling is anger and that's not true. Yelling can be happy or sad, or excited or interested or angry.
We also encourage independence by giving her a pair of noise reduction headphones she can put on if things are too loud for her because she also does not like alot of loud noises (coffee grinder, vacuum, etc).
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:28 PM on February 5, 2021 [18 favorites]

I have the opposite problem. I am as they say a low talker. I often assume I'm heard despite a low volume because I mostly listen to the resonance in my head vs. what is being heard through my ears. The resonance is much louder and makes my brain think I've spoken in a tone that was reasonable but in reality my voice didn't match that. It was just my brain playing a trick on me because my perception of it sounded so different. So then I would overcompensate and talk too loud because the other way didn't work. I've learned to combat this by focusing less on the sound information my brain gets first (the vibrations in my throat/face/etc) and more on what my ears are telling me. Actually listening to my own speech helped me adjust levels to where I could be heard but not too little or too loud.
posted by downtohisturtles at 10:18 PM on February 5, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Can you check in the adults in your life that you can trust to be honest with you about what you sound like to them? It's possible that you have an edge that others notice and overlook but your toddler hears it and is responding. It is also possible that what you are doing is fine and there is room to work with your toddler on the different kinds of voices that people use.

It might be helpful for you and the kid to play a loud/soft - angry/happy game where you use loud & happy, angry & soft voices and all the other combinations (loud surprise, quiet surprise etc) that you can think of in an exaggerated way that will help her understand better that what is going on.

On reread: you have had feedback from adults that sometimes you are too loud and sometimes not nice. My suggestion to practice paying attention to what your body does when you start to get that way. Really notice the shifts that happen - maybe your heart rate increase? maybe you notice tension in your chest or your hands? Then try to catch yourself in action - can you notice when you start to activate? Once you can, that gives you a chance to reset - sometimes just a couple of deep slow breaths can help everything quiet down just enough to give you space for a better response.

You could also consider a family signal for "lower the volume" that anyone can use but I wouldn't go there unless you think you could receive a signal like that without it making things harder for you. (Nothing like being told "calm down" to make an angry person feel unheard so use this only if you think it would work within your own family dynamic)
posted by metahawk at 10:43 PM on February 5, 2021 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Sometimes when I'm excited, I speak louder than usual. One of my friends came up with a patting the air gesture (like bouncing a tiny invisible ball) that makes me aware of it but doesn't interrupt me. I don't know if this would work in your circumstances but if you could speak to your kid and your partner together (perhaps having checked with your partner first) and say "sometimes I [mommy/daddy/ whoever you are known as] forgets to use my inside [quiet] voice and I don't even notice. You could help me to remember when I'm doing it by doing this [hand gesture]. And maybe if we notice [daughter / partner] using their outside voice, we could do that too. I think it would work better than telling each other, because then we get interrupted and maybe feel angry or sad or forget what we're what we're saying. I think there are lots of reasons forget to use their quiet voice. Sometimes it might be because they are angry, but sometimes it's because they are excited, or what they are talking about feels very important to them and they want to make sure they are heard. What we need to remember when using [hand gesture] is that it is not about telling someone to stop speaking, just a reminder that the voice is too loud, and we should be kind to whoever makes [the gesture] not angry, because it is a reminder that we love each other as a family and want to help each other."
posted by b33j at 10:59 PM on February 5, 2021 [2 favorites]

On preview, I agree with metahawk that the gesture should not mean "calm down", it should only ever mean "please lower your voice", and given your desire to actually do this, I believe after the first few times (because it is quite difficult to be corrected especially when you're trying to do the thing - it was for me), eventually it will be a Pavlovian response because it carries no judgement, simply information.
posted by b33j at 11:03 PM on February 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Your co-parent is a resource in these situations. When your daughter's saying "stop yelling," to not "talk to [her] dad like that" and to "calm down" as you're having a normal adult conversation, he could say he's not being yelled at.

Being a loud talker is one thing (and I agree with the above posters about the "kid being noise sensitive" and "get your hearing checked" possibilities), but if you know you can unwittingly develop an edge to your voice, your husband could signal that some modulation's needed; this would come in handy outside the home, too.
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:35 PM on February 5, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Hi. I am an excitable person with ADHD who tends to get louder as I get more excited about something without noticing that I’m getting louder because I’m focused on my excitement or passion about the topic. My ex would pat me gently on the arm and say, “you seem a little wound up,” when my energy became too much for him. That worked for us. I recognize that most of the humans I know, myself included, often speak to people they love in ways they would never speak to strangers because that would be unspeakably rude. At some point I recognized that, when I was still raising a child, and attempted to moderate my tone when I spoke to my family. Honestly, I don’t know if I succeeded or not.

I wish you all the best in becoming more mindful about your tone and encouraging your partner and child to do the same when appropriate. It’s a common problem. As others have noted, that is not necessarily the only problem. My kid was a bossy pants who attempted to police how I spoke, when I spoke, and what I said. And forget singing; I was not allowed to sing when my kid was a toddler unless I wanted to trigger a massive fit. So yes, the fact that your child is three may also play a part in their response to you.
posted by Bella Donna at 11:48 PM on February 5, 2021 [3 favorites]

Since no one else has suggested it yet... What about recording your voice for a few conversations?
posted by beyond_pink at 7:53 AM on February 6, 2021 [3 favorites]

Hmm. Firstly I would agree with beyond_pink that you should record yourself. I recently started making podcasts and how I thought I sounded was very different to how I actually sound (hello monotonia). It's worth doing.

However I did some snooping and saw that you wanted to move to England way back when. I wonder if your location is still the US (as it says) or if you moved. I ask because if your kid is English-born then it could be why. Americans are super loud by comparison. Apologies if I went off piste there. I'm trying to gauge if your kid is being reasonable or not. I agree with whoever said that "calm down" is not an acceptable thing for her to say though and to me it sounds like a very gendered response.

How loud is her father by comparison and what does he say when she says to not speak to him like that? Does he have your back? If the complaint comes from both I'd say it's worth considering as valid but if your kid is learning sexist critiques of girls and women I'd say it's time to nip that in the bud.
posted by ihaveyourfoot at 9:54 AM on February 6, 2021 [1 favorite]

Is the problem tone or volume? If it's more volume, like some others have suggested, have a gesture that means "turn it down." My dad talks loud when excited, and the gesture my mom uses with him is to twist her thumb and pointer finger to mimic turning a dial.

But if the problem is more tone, then I agree, try to record yourself- it's really hard to hear your own tone. (Though I agree with those suggesting that if it's mostly just the 3yr old complaining, you're perhaps not doing anything wrong)
posted by coffeecat at 10:35 AM on February 6, 2021

You should model, for your daughter, being a woman who is willing to stand up for herself, confident, and reasonably willing to push back on unreasonable requests, rather than a woman who wears herself down to a tiny nub in her own home whenever anyone says "boo."
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 10:43 AM on February 6, 2021 [4 favorites]

My gut is that this is your daughter being very typically jealous of your relationship with her dad -- she is starting to really "get" gender and the fact that you and she are both female, but that you have a relationship with her dad that she just doesn't have. That leads to a lot of same-gender aggression and acting-out in kids this age. That's why she does it when you're having fun with her dad.

There's really no need to second-guess yourself on this, or record yourself to see if you sound angry. You know you're not angry.

Also, as someone who has interacted with a TON of 3 year olds...they love doing this kind of role-reversal, "now YOU are the unreasonable/loud/yelly one!" kind of thing.

My favorite was the 3yo who would tell me off if I didn't go take a nap when he wanted me to. "You're tired!! Take a nap!!!" was a common response to anything he didn't like. That's not because I really needed to nap; it's because he was 3yo and people told him to take a nap all the time. Why shouldn't he get to do the same thing?!?
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 1:02 PM on February 6, 2021 [6 favorites]

Rock 'em Sock 'em's answer helped me put two and two together -- does she go to daycare? She might just be parroting and practicing what she hears from the teachers / adults in daycare.

I did this to my parents all the time (teachers are S-tier adults, so why not emulate your teachers' speech?) and probably confused the hell out of them, as USA elementary schoolteachers' vocabulary was not what got taught in 1980s China.
posted by batter_my_heart at 1:59 AM on February 7, 2021

Response by poster: Thank you all for the thoughtful feedback!
A few things I want to address:
-It is not just my 3 yo giving this feedback. I've been told multiple times in my life that I can be abrasive, even when I don't mean to be. I recognize that she is 3 and 3yos are...opinionated. I want to change this now because my child is asking me to and her request echos feedback I've received before. I promise I am not unreasonably weighting a preschooler's opinion.
-We don't use the phrase "calm down" in our house because as many of you have said, it usually has the opposite effect. I don't know where she picked it up, as she's not in daycare/preschool. We do use "calming songs" that give specific instructions on breathing and mindfulness and sometimes include the phrase. She does use these "calming songs" and instructions on me, but usually when my upset is real. She's a star.
-My husband does correct her and we do reassure her together that I am not yelling. The budding misogyny angle is interesting, but I am far and away the preferred parent (could write a whole other AskMeFi on helping my husband cope with constant rejection)
-I understand where it comes from, but the insinuation that I am overly accommodating to criticism and thus not modeling assertive womanhood for my daughter was a bit hurtful to me. There is a difference between personal growth and being worn "down to a tiny nub in her own home whenever anyone says 'boo.'" That is good advice in general, but this is not that.

A few of you nailed it: "intensity" is what I'm trying to correct when I'm speaking and that intensity can come off as yelling or an abrasive tone, probably depending on the subject and the interlocutor. I've struggled with anxiety a lot and often feel like I'm not being understood, so it would make sense if this is shown in my voice. I think deliberately slowing my speech and being mindful of when I'm tensing my body will be the key.
I also like the idea of keeping her noise-canceling headphones out for her to use whenever, as she does complain about the coffee grinder, vacuum, etc.
We will address the manner in which she makes these requests like theora55 suggested. I really like that.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 4:11 AM on February 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: "intensity" is what I'm trying to correct when I'm speaking and that intensity can come off as yelling or an abrasive tone, probably depending on the subject and the interlocutor.

Reason I suggested using your own kid as your first touchstone here is that having you call a thing "intensity" that she quite probably is actually experiencing as yelling doesn't help you moderate it. I recommend believing her. If she raises an objection to your yelling, then given the circumstances you've clearly articulated both in your original question and in your followup, then the most likely thing is that you are in fact behaving in a way that could reasonably be labelled with that word - a behaviour, furthermore, that you've expressed a desire to achieve better control over.

In other words, if you use her prompting as a reminder that the behaviour you've always thought of as mere "intensity" can reasonably also be labelled as yelling, that might be all the motivation you need to rein it in; a motivation that is also applicable because it's being raised right when the behaviour is happening.

Think of this as reverse ding training. You don't need to pause your flow or even offer explicit acknowledgement of your daughter's dings. All you need to try is instantly moderating your tone whenever you hear her issue one; maybe even go so far as to repeat the last thing you said, if your flow was otherwise on the point of winding up anyway. Kids are sharp. She'll notice when you do this and that will function as all the acknowledgement she needs.

The other reason I've suggested making use of your kid here is that she's not yet socialized into the kind of counterproductive politeness that routinely stops most adults from dinging each other for this kind of thing. It's that old principle where only a true friend will tell you when your breath is terrible. Your daughter is your true friend here.
posted by flabdablet at 5:35 AM on February 7, 2021 [2 favorites]

Where I'm coming from, by the way, is experience of having needed to be pulled up by my own tiny child, backed up by my own beloved wife, for a tendency to drift into a hectoring and lecturing tone when speaking on subjects I'm well-informed on and care deeply about.

This is how I learned that not only do all human beings suck at taking advice (and the better and more necessary the advice, the worse we suck at taking it) but the more we care about a thing, the less we behave as if we cared about communicating it in ways that help others care about it too. People are weird.
posted by flabdablet at 5:52 AM on February 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

I also have problems regulating the volume of my speaking voice (my hearing has been tested and is fine). This happens especially when I've excited (good or bad) about something. If I'm speaking too loudly, my wife calmly says, "You're yelling" or "you're too loud" and I apologize and back down on my volume. It's on me to never contest if she says I'm being too loud knowing that I have issues with this.

It would be good to sit down with your husband to agree on a short phrase "Speaking too loud" ? that they will say when you're speaking too loudly. Always believe them. If you always back down on volume, and never contest that your volume was fine; your 3 year old should find it easy to believe that you're not shouting in anger at your husband.
posted by nobeagle at 6:47 AM on February 8, 2021

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