5 Life Hacks to Recognize the Importance of Tone

This time of year, as parents wade back into the school routine, you may be noticing your tweens and teenagers have already missed assignments.

Similar to wading through a 1-800 customer service line, we can spend hours online trying to resolve issues. We encourage our tweens and teens to write their teacher and work through the systems themselves – even suggest they go to speak to a teacher to clarify an assignment or discuss missing work – but this can be fraught with complexities and even met with a wall of negativity and resistance.

Are you ever going to post the Latin assignment?” – Yikes!

Once we get our child to write these messages, we may find that the tone is abrasive, the messaging is incoherent, it’s missing important pieces and sometimes, you may even end up writing most of it yourself!

What we want for our kids, instead, is for them to actually learn these skills in order to build independence.

5 Life Hacks to Teach Your Child to Self-Advocate and Address Tone

  1. Read the email aloud – Read the email your kid just wrote aloud, together. Wonder out loud by asking, “Do you think there is “tone”? How do you interpret it?” If he doesn’t see it, tactfully point out the possible lack of clarity or the sharp tone. This allows your child to understand that their words, and the way they say things, may be unintentionally unclear, harsh or even inappropriate. Don’t preach and be a historian, just allow him to step into the person’s shoes.
  2. Spy and watch for tone of voice in the real world – When you two are out and about, tune into instances when someone has a negative, jarring or hurtful tone. What could the other people be feeling? What was the reaction on their face? Be conspiratorial. Don’t reference his own foibles, just evaluate his reaction.
  3. Create an email template with your child – Who wants a weekly inquiry? Instead, help your child write a few email templates for missing work, work that they did but did not register or assignments that need an extension or additional help.
  4. Rehearse in-person discussions – Speaking directly to a teacher can be hard or embarrassing. Your kid may genuinely feel overwhelmed by the prospect and have a myriad of reasons why they can’t; they don’t have enough time, it doesn’t matter, there is no partial credit, etc. Find out what makes it hard. Be patient. Calmly note the resistance, “I notice you are telling me how it can’t be done- is there another plan? What else can you do?” Rehearsing how to approach a teacher, what they can say and creating a plan as to when and where they can fit this discussion in may be essential.
  5. Link Self-advocating to what they care about – Self advocating is a life skill yet many kids, especially those with executive function challenges, may not have the bird’s eye view to recognize this. Rather than lecturing and allowing him to tune you out, link speaking self-advocacy to what is in it for me (WIFM). Consider together what is in it for her. Does it get you off her back or allow her to attend a specific social event? Does he want to be an engineer and wants his teacher to recommend him for a robotics club?

Self-advocacy is empowering. Speaking for yourself and making decisions about your life has big benefits, especially for kids who learn and think differently. Recognizing tone helps them appreciate nuance. Both these skills build confidence and independence – and the results may surprise them!

Social Emotional Learning Resources

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