Keeping our children healthy is something that every parent is concerned about, but many parents may not know that it is also important to keep our children’s voices healthy. To achieve voicing, our breath travels up to our vocal folds (vocal chords) which vibrate to make sound. We change the sound using our articulators (e.g., tongue, lips, teeth) to produce speech.
Most children engage in some level or vocal misuse or abuse, which can have long-lasting effects on vocal health. These behaviors can include excessive yelling, cheering or screaming; continuous throat clearing or coughing; or using harsh or hurtful sounds to communicate. Some health and environmental factors can also contribute to one’s vocal health, including pollution, smoking, infections, and reflux.
SO WHAT CAN I DO TO HELP MY CHILD’S VOICE?
1) Use “inside voice”: Modeling your own appropriate volume will help your child learn what is appropriate. Using an “inside voice” is safest to reduce any extra stress to the vocal system.
2) Avoid whispering: Using a whisper voice can produce unnecessary strain to the vocal system and can result in damage to the vocal folds (chords).
3) Don’t yell: Similar to whispering, yelling without adequate breath support can force the vocal folds together, resulting in strain or even vocal nodules (callouses).
4) Try not to cough/clear throat: Excessive coughing or throat clearing also forces the vocal folds together, resulting in a harsh slamming of the muscles.
5) Practice diaphragmatic breathing: Supplying the vocal system with adequate breath support is crucial to achieving healthy phonation (sound). Practicing diaphragmatic breathing, or “belly breathing,” can maximize breath support, allowing for longer and clearer sounds. Inadequate support can result in a hoarse/harsh vocal quality.
6) Avoid talking over people/things: As with yelling, talking over people or television can result in using a louder or yelling voice.
7) Talk in quiet environments: Avoiding noisy environments can help to maintain adequate volume and healthy voice. When in crowded restaurants or on playgrounds, children naturally raise their volume to be heard.
8) Reduce pollutants/environmental stressors: Pollutants, allergies, and asthma can all contribute to vocal health. Keeping air irritants and allergies to a minimum are essential to promoting a healthy voice.
9) Drink lots of water: Just like any other mechanism, our vocal system needs to stay lubricated. Drinking lots of water and staying hydrated can enhance vocal production; conversely, not drinking water can be harmful to our vocal system.