What happens when a girl uses a high, uncertain voice? People don’t fully listen to her or take her seriously. During pre-teen and teen years, when a girl may already be going through a self-esteem slump, the feeling that others aren’t really listening can only lower her confidence.
If your girl is going through a phase of hesitant, muted speaking, this article can show you how to encourage a strong girl voice. Your girl can take some simple steps to recapture her earlier voice. Virtually all younger children use strong, assertive voices, notes Helen Gary Bishop, vocal coach and adjunct professor at New York University’s Department of Culture and Communication. As girls enter the tween and teen years, “many girls begin tightening their throats, essentially stifling the sounds they make,” Bishop explains. “They tense up the passageways that connect breath to sound.”
A girl may change the way she sounds because she finds her feelings and actions are not acceptable to peers and others. She may fear that speaking confidently and will make her less “feminine” or bring her too much attention when she’s feeling insecure about herself.
Yet your daughter may assume that she’s talking normally, notes Bishop, especially if her friends talk like that too. Rachel noticed that her 13-year-old daughter Alice had become more self-conscious and introverted and was speaking more softly, which Alice insisted wasn’t a change. But when she heard herself on a tape recording, she was surprised to hear what Rachel was talking about. Mom and daughter practiced doing skits and scenes from plays together; when portraying a character, Alice sounded strong. With practice, she began to speak more forthrightly, both with her friends and others.
Here are more ways you can help your daughter reclaim her voice:
- Explore her feelings. Let your daughter know you realize that the tween and teen years are hard and that it’s normal to feel uncertain in new situations. Try this: “I understand why girls sometimes change how they sound. Women do that, too.” Encourage her to share her feelings when she’s feeling insecure. Ask her to simply notice the times when she’d like her voice to be stronger.
- Listen together to the way women she admires sound—both relatives and women in TV shows, movies, and music. Share your favorites and talk about why.
- Try voice strengtheners (see Resources). Here’s one to try: At a time when she’s relaxed and ready to have fun, find a place where you both can be as loud as you want. Stand with your legs apart, knees slightly bent. Begin breathing deeply from the abdomen with your mouth open wide and make a “hah” sound as you exhale. She’ll notice that her chest will vibrate and her voice will begin to sound deep and resonant. You could give that voice a name—say, her “now-hear-this” voice. A name will prompt you both to recall that satisfying, breath-filled “hah” quality that makes others sit up and listen.
- Consider classes. Acting classes, yoga, singing lessons, or chorus will all help her strengthen her abdominal breathing and voice. And don’t forget at-home techniques such as singing loudly or doing any kind of readings from books or plays that let a girl speak as a character.
- Do your part. Dads, assure her that a rich, self-assured voice is attractive and feminine. When your daughter slips into using a stilted tone, gently ask about her feelings and how she could express herself in a “take-charge” way. Moms, listen closely to your own voice. Often we unconsciously model uncertain tones for our daughters. If you do, work on sounding stronger. This will be a gift to both your daughter and yourself because there is a direct connection between rediscovering a stronger physical voice and being able to speak about your feelings and needs.
Freeing the Natural Voice by Kristin Linklater (Nick Hern Books, 2006)
The Second Circle: How to Use Positive Energy for Success in Every Situation by Patsy Rodenburg (Norton, Jan. 2008) includes voice strengthening advice from Rodenburg, who coaches actors and others, as well as other ways to communicate more effectively.