Demanding Tone of Voice

Dear Miss Faith, My daughter is four years old. She never went through the terrible 2’s and the 3’s have been fun until now. Lately everything she says is in a demanding tone of voice. It has been a real struggle. I’ve been helping her speak in an acceptable tone of voice by rephrasing everything she says for her, as you’ve suggested on your blog, and this has been working really well. She immediately changes her unpleasant tone to a pleasant one by mimicking me. Also, I have been praising her when she speaks in a pleasant tone of voice on her own. Is there anything else you would suggest doing?

Dear Mama,

It sounds like you’re well on your way, and with consistent (and patient) rephrasing on your part, she’ll move through this phase and be done with it. The only other thing I can think of is to try and speed the process up just a little bit by planting the seed of the idea that she might choose that tone of voice on her own.

Say she whines about something that’s frustrating her, and you say, “You can say, ‘Mommy, will you please help me?'” She repeats it in your tone, and you respond as if she’d said it on her own: “Yes, I’d be happy to help.” Wait a beat, or even start helping her, then look over to her and say, “You know, someday I bet you’ll be able to ask in a friendly voice all on your own.” That’s it. Don’t go on about it, don’t expect it from her, just plant the idea that she can do it on her own.

Other times, you might plant the idea more subtly. Say she wants something, and asks for it in a whiny voice. You repeat it in a nice tone, with a please, and she imitates you. You might say, “Yes! I’m happy to give you some crackers when you ask so nicely like that.” Eventually, when she wants something, she may think about doing that on her own initiative. Of course, you can’t always give her what she asks for even when she asks nicely, so if she does ask nicely for something that’s inappropriate, you might say, “I love how you asked me so nicely, but we’re not going to buy any candy today. Maybe you’ll get some candy like that for your birthday. Would you like that? What kind would you choose?” (You’re saying yes in imagination, letting her know that you’re not saying no to her desire).

Since she’s four, it shouldn’t be too long before she can remember how you’d prefer her to ask for things, if you remind her. Once you think she’s at this point, let her come up with the words and the tone on her own. She makes a demand for something, and you might say, “How could you ask more nicely?” or, “Why don’t you try asking again, in a way that makes me want to say yes.” If she can’t come up with it on her own, go ahead and give her the words and the tone to imitate, the way you’re doing now. When suggesting that she ask again works pretty smoothly, you’ll get to the point where if she whines about something, you might be able to just cup your hand around your ear and look at her expectantly, and she’ll rephrase on her own without any more prompting.

Of course, you wish that this could all happen more quickly than it probably will, but be patient. Putting in the work on tone of voice now, will enrich your time together for years to come. It’s definitely worth it.

Warmly, ~Miss Faith


I love your comments! Please post below…


  1. Hi Miss Faith,
    I just discovered your blog a few days ago and I am so glad I did! My little guy is eighteen months and I am just learning to be a parent. Your posts are much more helpful then any book I have gotten from my library (and that is a long list).
    Thank you so much!

  2. Faith, I don’t know how many years I have known you but your blog, workshop and your work has helped me out so much. I continue to refer to your blog regularly and even think about taking a Lifeways class, (I think that’s what it’s called).

    This particular blog post is great, because I have been using the “you can say” or “you may say” for a while, and it has worked for us very well, and within this blog post are the seeds for a deeper verbal interaction between me and my son.

    • Thanks, Beverly! I’ve loved having you in my classes. I hope things are feeling really rich with your son these days.

      Speaking of my classes, for the next one starting in October I’ll be separating it into two sections, one for parents and the other for daycare providers and play-group leaders. I’m really looking forward to it, so let your friends know.

  3. Stephanie L says

    This advice is great. Your writing radiates such patience and warmth. Thank you.

  4. Dhanya Smtih says

    Repeating things the way I would like them to be said has been working GREAT with our 2.5 yo, I like giving him a large vocabulary of pleasant language soooo much more than just nagging him to say “please.” Right on Miss Faith and mommas who are doing this, thanks for inspiring!

  5. Thanks for this. I love the small point that you make about not saying no to the desire–the desire is fine, but not appropriate in current circumstances/timing. You’ve said a similar thing in other posts, about the fact that it is fine to feel how you are feeling, but you must express it in an appropriate manner. This is such an important point. Thank you!!!

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