I’m embarrassed when I have to take Uber with my daughter because she will never use her indoor voice. She always has to talk very loudly. She doesn’t understand that people are in earshot and we can hear her just fine. I always have to remind her 3000x a day at least. Nothing I ever do works. I’m not a loud talker so I don’t know where she gets it from. Help!!!

Yes, the inside voices problem. 4-year-olds cast it like an instant-embarrassment spell. And wouldn’t it be nice if our young ones remembered what we told them and applied it in future situations? If only it were that easy.

I’m assuming if the problem has gotten bad enough to ask on the internet that you’ve talked with her pediatrician about it? That should be the first step. She’s not too young to have her hearing checked, so do that first.

Now I’m going to assume, for a moment, that her hearing is fine. This isn’t an unusual problem for parents of young children to have, and most kids have normal hearing.

The first thing I’m going to ask is: how do YOU feel about the problem? Now I know you can’t talk to me (although if you want to tell me in the comments you can), but you can know how you feel about it. And I’m not talking about a one-word answer. Sit down and jot a few feelings words about how her loud-Uber-voice makes you feel. Just for you, you’re not going to tell her. Once you get a feeling word, go back for another, then another. See if you can’t drag up several diverse feelings that you have, most of which are lurking under your dominant feeling. 

Got your list? Good. Read it back to yourself, while breathing. How do you feel about having those feelings? Be honest. Write those down too. Then read the list one more time, thank the feelings for showing up to help (if you can manage some real gratitude it really helps), then throw the list away.

It’s really difficult when our children don’t follow the instructions we’ve given them right away. It can be tempting to think that they’re deliberately disobeying us. But very young children—under the age of 7 or 8—their neocortex isn’t well developed. That means they don’t organize anything very well, including the information we give them about when to do what in whatever situation. So we need to expect that they’re going to forget our instructions, and apply them wrong. It’s helpful if we can avoid letting our frustration convey blame as we realign our expectations—after all, do any of us appreciate feeling chastised while we’re learning? Does it make the learning easier? We also need to revisit the truth of the expectation that they’re going to make the same mistakes several (or many) times—and even more when they’re tired, hungry or having intense feelings of their own. We need to allow ourselves to relax, have our own feelings, and then perhaps issue a few preparion instructions in advance.

For example: you’ve called the Uber. You’re waiting, and she’s waiting with you. Or you could even do this before you call the Uber. You might say, “Okay, Janie, so we’re about to get into an Uber again.”

Janie: Looks up at you and nods enthusiastically.

Mom (once you have eye contact): “So what do you remember about Uber?”

At this point, Janie may say anything. She may even shout “we use our indoor voices!” Or, if she doesn’t get there, after listening to what she does say, you might offer, “do you remember what kind of voices we use when we’re talking in an Uber?”

Janie shouts: “Indoor voices!” 

Mom: “That’s right! Good remembering. Can we practice our indoor voices?”

Then do some practice. Ignore when she’s too loud, just say “That was good! Can you say that even softer?” or “Can you pretend you’re telling me a secret?” When she gets it right, say “Good job! We’re really ready now.”

When you’re in the Uber, keep good communication with her. If she starts to get a little loud, try a quiet signal, like your finger on your lips with a serious but encouraging expression, and nod when you notice she’s made an effort. Avoid correcting her out loud: she may be embarrassed in front of the driver. If she gets embarrassed she’s less likely to remember what’s expected. 

Bring a toy or book to read together on rides. 

An Uber ride is a transition that involves a stranger and a strange environment, and young children can become fearful during transitions. Don’t expect to surf the web, answer emails or take phone calls during an Uber ride with a young child. Most kids will be around age 7 or 8 before they develop a sense of safety around transitions that are familiar to them. If it happens younger for yours, that’s great, but keep expectations modest and everyone will arrive happy.

Featured image by Di Lewis of Pexels.

Published by Anne Lindyberg

Anne Lindyberg has a master's degree in school psychology and advanced training in Satir Transformational Systems. She is a former school psychologist, mother of two adult children, and loves living in the cornfields of southeast Iowa with her beautiful Toller-Dog, Lila and Sassy the cat.

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