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  • Susie Csorsz Brown


One thing I've noticed: tone of voice speaks loudly. You can say the kindest words possible in a menacing tone of voice, and the words mean nothing; the tone makes the words feel mean and menacing as well. In the same light, you can say a horribly rude slur in a crooning loving way and your tone conveys a very different message than might your insults. (Seriously, if you are a pet owner, try it. I say for pets because I wouldn’t want to feel as though I’ve encouraged any parent to emotionally scar children…)

There have been numerous occasions when I've heard one of my boys hiss some poisonous comment at their sibling, deliberately trying to be as hurtful as possible. I can't imagine why one would go to such effort to be unkind, especially to a family member, but that is the way of siblings, sadly. Those of you who share my joy of parenting multiple kids know the sound I am referring to: hissing, venomous sounds only a sibling can make, directing to or belittling their (usually younger) family member. How do they make these noises? How is it okay to treat another person with such meanness?

Would you treat a friend like that? Would you use that same tone of voice, or body language or attitude? Why do we treat a friend nicer than we would our family members?

Siblings are powerful: they can make or break an interaction with a sibling. They go from the very best of friends one minute to bitter enemies the next, and nag as we might as parents wont to do, it's to no avail. I mean, we did the very same thing when we were kids, right? This is the way of sibling interactions, since the beginning of sibling relationships.

What to do, what to do. A couple suggestions.

Watch your own tone of voice. Monkey see, monkey do, right? Your kids will mimic your words, your tone, your respect of and for others, and your lack of it. Do you have snotty comments to make at your spouse's expense? You can bet you'll hear your words (and lack of respect) back ten-fold from your offspring. Beyond the words, think about your pitch, and your speed of speech. Do you rush words? Talk loudly? Do you make eye contact when delivering a message? If your words are harsh and hasty, you’re not taking the time to invest in really creating a thoughtful message.

Tone of voice isn't what we say but how we say it. It's the language we use, the way we construct sentences, the sound of our words and the personality we communicate. It is to writing what logo, color and typeface are to branding. The tone of a message can be the loudest part; not just in volume, but in message. The tone you use can overshadow what you are really trying to communicate.

Think before you speak. Even when angry or irritated, we should consider the impact of our words.

Tell the truth. It may be difficult, and it may get you in trouble, but telling the truth is the best thing to do. You broke something? Own up. You got in trouble at school? Speak. Lying, or blaming a sibling for something unfairly, is not ever the right answer.

Be open about your feelings, but keep in mind that others have the right to do so, as well. Everyone has a right to speak; no one has the right to yell or abuse. Keep your ears open; you are not always 100% correct, and sometimes ‘correct’ can look differently to different people.

Listen – to yourself and to others. Listen to your words and your tone. Listen to your volume. Are you communicating your message in an appropriate manner? What are you hearing from your family? What might they be feeling? Repeat what you’ve heard. Not in a mimicking-parroting way, but to help whomever you are speaking with to know what you hear them saying. This helps them know what you have heard, and gives them instant feedback on their own communication skills (read: did they actually say what they think they said?)

Generally, ‘you’ statements are not a good way to start a two-communication. You statements are most often accusatory, rude and when used, are more often intended to insult and offend than to open a line of communication.

Check your timing. Some people just need some time to dig through their day, and process. They need downtime. Interruptions during downtime result in crabby comments. If you want to hear about their day, don’t interrupt this time. Just like moms and dads need me-time, so do kids. And siblings often forget this important detail.

Regularly, I find myself reminding my kids that family is forever. Your friends? Yes, they are important, but family? 100% behind you, 100% of the time. Treating a brother unkindly is not okay. Treating a parent with disrespect is not okay. Good communication is a key part of healthy family dynamics.Words

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