Keep Your Kids Talking by Teaching Them to Practice Good Vocal Hygiene

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Ways to practice good vocal hygiene Children love to use their voices. Just think of a baby squealing for the pure joy of it or friends cheering each other on during a game. Kids’ vocal folds can get a real workout.

As with any type of exertion, voices need balance. Overuse can injure the vocal folds, causing the voice to become raspy. By practicing good vocal hygiene, children can keep their voices strong. In recognition of World Voice Day, April 16, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Speech-Language Pathologist Paula Barson, MA, CCC-SLP, shares advice for teaching your child healthy vocal habits.

What are vocal folds and how can they become injured?

The vocal folds, also known as vocal cords, are a pair of ribbon-shaped tissues in the larynx. They are open when we breathe and come together and vibrate when we speak. This vibration is part of what makes the sound of the voice.

Too much yelling, singing and even whispering can strain the vocal folds. The ongoing friction can cause nodules to form on them, which is a common cause of voice issues in both children and adults. These small callouses weigh the folds down, causing hoarseness and even fatigue from working harder to bring the vocal folds together during speech.

Encouraging your child to practice good vocal hygiene

It’s not realistic to expect children to never raise their voices – after all, being loud is part of being a kid. However, you can aim to balance vocal activities with quiet time.

“If there’s a big soccer game, you probably don’t want to take your child to the bounce park or bowling with friends right afterward,” says Barson, who works with the Pediatric Voice Program and other programs at CHOP.

Barson also recommends encouraging children to be aware of the way they use their voice and to find other ways to express themselves. She suggests the following:

  • Drink plenty of water. Being well hydrated helps keep the vocal folds vibrating smoothly and easily helps to prevent injury.
  • Find alternatives to yelling when able. Children might clap their hands and wave their arms on the soccer field, use noisemakers or stomp their feet from the stands.
  • Walk over to someone instead of yelling to them. You might tell your child that you won’t answer them if they yell across the house. Be sure to set a good example by doing the same when you want someone’s attention.
  • Follow loud activities with quiet ones. The vocal folds need rest after overuse. You might give your child 10-20 minutes to read quietly or use the iPad following an afternoon at the playground or a sporting event.
  • Turn down the music or television when having a conversation so you are not competing to be heard.

Post-nasal drip and reflux can also irritate the vocal folds and impact the voice. Your pediatrician, allergist, gastroenterologist, or ear nose & throat specialist can help parents address the root cause of these issues.

If you suspect your child has a voice injury

Children’s voices change as they grow, but a sudden change may point to a voice injury.

Talk with your pediatrician if you notice any of the following:

  • Your child’s voice is raspy or hoarse for more than 2-3 weeks.
  • Your child becomes breathless when speaking.
  • It’s hard to hear your child when there is background noise.
  • Your child’s voice fades in and out.
  • Your child complains that their neck hurts when they talk or they feel tired from talking all day.

A speech-language pathologist can work with your child and family to change their vocal habits and provide the tools for ongoing healthy voice use.

Children use their voices every day – some days more loudly than others. By helping your child establish good vocal habits now, you will help ensure that they will be heard loud and clear … far into the future.

Contributed by: Paula Barson, MA, CCC-SLP

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