Vocal Hygiene for Kids – Habits They Should Keep
Children love to use their voice in different ways. Apart from talking they can be seen to sing or whisper. Many a times, they may also indulge in singing loudly at a high pitch, shouting / yelling excessively or even whispering continuously while playing. Habitually using the voice in these manners can be associated with ‘vocal abuse’; resulting in roughness or breathiness (i.e. a change in quality of voice).
Physiologically, such vocal abuse affects the child’s vocal cords. The voice box (or larynx) houses the vocal cords (or folds). The vocal cords are muscles that open and close while making a sound and swallowing. When air flows through the cords (as they are tightened slightly), they produce sound. Vocal abuse can alter the pattern of movement or cause growths (polyps / nodules) which also alter the movement and in turn the sound / voice quality.
Many a times, the change in voice quality can be spontaneously reversible. However, at times it needs therapy or even surgery to correct. Therefore, teaching a child good vocal habits or ‘vocal hygiene’ is essential to ensure good quality of voice and least amount of wear and tear to the vocal system. Vocal hygiene refers to few simple ‘habits’ to ensure taking care of the vocal cords and voice box.
Tips to encourage vocal hygiene and good voice use in your child:
When teaching good vocal habits to young children, it must be remembered that they learn best by seeing others (‘modelling’). If they see their parents or caregivers (‘their models’) follow certain habits, they are likely to follow them. Habits are good to make and mostly will be life – long.
Some habits that should be encouraged are –
- Reducing yelling and shouting: The child should be encouraged to use his normal voice (voice that regularly use to speak in) as often as possible. Yelling or shouting on a regular basis are ‘abuse’ to the vocal cords. If the child shouts to show displeasure, s/he should be taught alternate modes to express himself (e.g. using words of feeling). Furthermore, if the child shouts to get people’s attention from a distance – he can be taught to use his body (such as clapping hands) – to call them.
- Removing any stress on neck muscles while speaking: At times, a child may stress his / her speech muscles while talking. The muscles around the neck or face would be seen to be tense. S/he must be reminded and taught to relax the muscles while speaking.
- Becoming aware of his / her volume: A child may not always be aware of the volume s/he uses while talking. A parent / caregiver can talk about volume of voice (their and the child’s) during multiple times through the day. The caregiver use sentences such as – ‘Let’s whisper where we should go.’ Or ‘Use a soft voice to ask for what you want to eat.’ These can be encouraged during daily routines, play time or even reading time. Over time, a child may become aware of the loudness of his / her own voice.
- Becoming aware of changed voice quality: Talking about the changes in voice are important. Exposing the child to understanding breathy, rough vs normal voice can be done while talking about how different people sound. In turn, the child builds an understanding of ‘different’ voice qualities. This will help him/ her to talk about changed voice to the parent / caregiver, as it happens. In the long run, the child would be able to take care of his / her voice better.
- Drinking adequate water: Hydration of the vocal cords is as important as that of the body. Dry vocal cords can change to the quality of voice. A child should be encouraged to remain hydrated on a regular basis. Many children may forget to drink water during play or during a fun conversation. Regular reminders can be set for them to take a glass or sip of water.
- Clearing the throat appropriately: There are times when there is itchiness in the throat. It comes naturally to ‘clear the throat’. Consistently clearing of throat is quite harmful to the vocal cords. The child should be instead taught to drink water. If the itchiness persists, a softer way to clear the throat may be to ‘hum’ gently in short bursts.
- Taking breaks while talking: Children can get engrossed in conversations and forget to give their voice any rest. When with family or supervised caregivers, a child can be ‘reminded’ to take turns while talking or ‘listen’ for a while.
- Practicing quiet time: At a time through the day, a child can be encouraged to ‘rest their voice’ by practicing ‘quiet time’. It can span from five minutes to an hour, even. Here, the child will be expected to engage in an activity of choice – coloring, book reading, listening to music, playing with blocks or cars, while talking / speaking minimally. This can be considered as a time of ‘forced’ rest for the voice. It can be crucial for those kids who enjoy socializing and engaging in conversations.
- Understanding when their voice is tired: This can be difficult for many children at first, but with improved awareness of the voice, this can be achieved. Getting a child to understand for instance, when the throat hurts (due to excessive talking / screaming) or when the throat feels dry (due to lack of hydration), is essential. They should be encouraged to rest their voice at that time and take a break from talking. Even learn to drink water is important.
Taking care of the voice through use of vocal hygiene should become as habitual as brushing teeth or bathing the body. It will assist in the prevention of vocal issues or disorders. And, as the proverb goes – Prevention is better than cure!
Let’s work towards more awareness and improved vocal hygiene!