A person’s voice is something very personal and unique. It’s how we express ourselves and share our thoughts and feelings. When a child’s voice quality is poor, they may struggle to communicate effectively. Their self-confidence may be impacted, and it can affect how others perceive them.
We all experience occasional voice difficulties. For example, when we are sick, our voice may sound hoarse, or “stuffed up.” If we are nervous, our voice might shake, or we might have difficulty speaking above a whisper. These problems usually go away, however, when they persist, they may indicate a voice disorder.
Voice disorders in children
Voice disorders commonly seen in children are most often due to vocal abuse or misuse. These are behaviours that have a negative impact on the voice. For example:
- Yelling, screaming, shouting;
- Talking too loudly, or whispering;
- Straining the voice to make silly character voices or sound effects;
- Speaking at too high or low a pitch;
- Constant throat clearing or coughing.
Over time, misuse of the voice can cause damage to the vocal folds (cords). For example, polyps or nodules may develop, and interfere with proper vocal fold function.
Your child may have a voice disorder if their voice sounds:
- Harsh, raspy, or hoarse;
- Higher or lower in pitch than that of their peers;
- Too loud, too quiet, or breathy;
- “Stuffed up,” like they have a cold, even though they are well;
- Nasal, like too much air is coming through the nose.
Your child may also have difficulty projecting their voice, and tire easily when speaking. In some cases, they may have periods of time when they lose their voice completely. If you are concerned that your child may have a voice disorder, please speak to your family doctor, a speech-language pathologist, or an ear-nose-throat specialist.
How you can help your child maintain a healthy voice
- Be a good model, keeping your own voice at an appropriate pitch and volume. Use a calm, “inside voice” and encourage your child to do the same. This can also be called a “talking voice” or “soft voice.“
- Reduce background noise. When driving in the car, roll up the windows when talking. Turn down the tv, or music, so your child does not have to “talk over” the noise.
- Practice stress reduction techniques such as meditation and/or breathing exercises with your child, or kid-friendly yoga to reduce tension in the vocal folds and the rest of the body.
- Avoid exposing your child to smoke which is damaging to the vocal folds.
- Identify medications with dehydrating side effects (such as antihistamines) and get your child to drink more water to compensate.
- Manage acid reflux, which can cause stomach acid to rise up and damage the vocal folds. If you think your child has acid reflux, speak to your family doctor.
Encourage your child to:
- Take voice breaks/quiet time to rest their voice;
- Go up to people to speak to them, instead of yelling from afar;
- Drink lots of water to stay hydrated, and avoid caffeinated beverages;
- Clap their hands and/or use noise-makers to “cheer,” instead of their voice;
- Practice deep belly breathing and avoid speaking on shallow breaths;
- Minimize coughing and throat-clearing; drink water and/ or use a hard-swallow instead when possible.
Try the following voice exercises:
- Use a straw to blow bubbles in an inch or two of water. Add your voice. Try and make it tingle in the front of your face! You can also do this without water, making the straw into a buzzy instrument. Touch your face by your mouth and nose to see if you can feel the vibration.
- Practice humming with a buzzy, tingly feeling in the front of the face. Try saying words and phrases with mmmm and nnnn in them, staying nice and buzzy in the face (e.g. Mooo. Meee. New. Morning! Maybe. Ninety-nine lemons.). What others can you think of?
Some helpful links and videos: