Words are powerful. Words can build up or break down your child’s confidence, shape her identity, and affect her emotions. And words are never just words. Words are voiced with tone and volume. When you speak to your child, the tone and volume of your voice are critically important. Children tune into your emotional tone and the volume of your voice long before they are able to understand the words.

In fact, your tone of voice plays a part in developing the essential top-down brain pathways that will help your child effectively manage intense emotions as he grows up. Top-down brain pathways are the networks that connect the area of the brain where thinking and reasoning occur with the area where emotions are activated. Over time, your child will be able to think about his strong feelings rather than simply bite, hit, run away, or have a tantrum. He will learn to think about feelings rather than just react to them.

It is important, of course, to try to talk to children with words they understand. It is possibly more meaningful to remember that your tone of voice will get through even if your child doesn’t understand all the words. Take a minute to think about it—even adults startle and withdraw when loud and harsh language is heard, but we are all drawn to the sound of a pleasant, mellow tone of voice.

More to consider:

Recognize how your child is experiencing a situation—even if he or she is experiencing the situation in a way different than yours. Take a child’s distress seriously.

Manage your own emotions, so you can offer a calm emotional and physical presence for your child. Then you can use physical soothing to release the calming chemicals in your child’s brain.