We don't generally tell my son to be quiet, as it's rarely necessary (despite his being extremely vocal). We want to encourage communication and his ability to express himself.

However, there are times where it isn't appropriate for him to be as loud as he can be while playing, or even while telling us stories.

We try to avoid restaurants that aren't obviously "kid friendly", although he is well-behaved enough that we generally have some leniency in that regard.

However, his volume sometimes does become an issue.

He seems to understand when we tell him he's being too loud, and needs to keep his voice down, but it only lasts a minute or two, and then his volume goes right back up.

How can we teach him about "indoor" and "outdoor" voices, and get him to control his volume when appropriate (preferably without being told more than once or twice per occasion)?

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    I should add, I would rather call it "quiet/regular voice" - I mean, ChuckieCheese is indoor but he doesn't need to use an 'inside' voice, and a wedding may be outdoor, but an outside voice isn't appropriate. And toddlers do not allow room for gray area! Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 14:19
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    If your toddler switches to a quieter voice when reminded, rejoice! It's not age-appropriate to expect someone under 3 to choose the right volume all the time without reminders. I know people in their 20s who need that reminder on occasion. (Consistently reminding should lead him to figure out society's volume rules over the next few years, but if it doesn't you're still doing great if he's able to switch modes when reminded.)
    – Chrys
    Commented May 10, 2014 at 21:29

2 Answers 2


This one requires consistency and patience, but I encourage you to take him out and expose him to as many different environments as you can. Kids can distinguish different environments and connect to the idea that different environments require different behaviors at a very young age. Many kids your boy's age that are bi and tri-lingual can distinguish who to use which language with even amongst strangers.

It is really just a matter of consistently giving him the necessary feedback as needed. It doesn't have to be discouraging or disrespectful, and he will forget and need reminders (he is two and they have a short attention span AND memory at this point). Now is a GREAT TIME TO START. The sooner the better actually, you never know when you'll wind up on a plane full of passengers, at a funeral or roped into a restaurant experience with extended family for example, when he'll need to know how to moderate his voice and actions to fit the occasion.

I would avoid using inside/outside voice exclusively. These are great descriptors, but you might couple them with quiet, soft, and loud as well. Our voice level is actually on a continuum and he will need to know a range of voices he can use. Softer and Louder are great vocabulary to use. In services (like weddings, church and funerals) he needs to know how to say nothing at all or whisper very softly. At restaurants he needs to know how to speak in a soft voice, at home his normal voice is fine indoors or outdoors and at the playground or arcade (such as CHuckee Cheese's) Loud voices are okay.

To Introduce the Concept You might try reading this really fun book all about quiet things and loud things as an opener for talking about times and places for different kinds of voices. It is a board book and has things like, "mommy's shoes are loud" opposing a page that says, "slippers are quiet." I read it with a quiet voice contrasting with a loud voice depending on the page we were on. Then, we talked about it. "Can you think of places where you need to be quiet?" followed by "Can you think of places or times when you have to be silent?" AND the opposing, "Can you think of places or times when you need to be loud?" You can even talk about how kids with baby brothers and sisters have to use a quiet voice while the baby sleeps, even if they can use a loud voice the rest of the time (this way it isn't only about location, but also events and circumstances).

When you are going to an event, or public space with specific social more's, expose him with the proper preparation on your part. Prior preparation can and should include practice at home. Start the day with a description about what to expect and a little practice about what kind of voice is needed at said location. "Okay honey today we will be at _. This place is a 'soft voice' kind of place." Then include a reminder just before arrival. If he needs reminders while you are at said location, just a quick, "soft voice remember?" will generally be all he needs. Same thing at home with "inside and outside voice."

When he is doing a good job. Make sure to observe it from time to time. "I really appreciate the voice level you are using. You seem to have been trying to match your voice level to the occasion/location"

When you are going out, you'll also want to be prepared with activities to help him stay busy, distracted and engaged. For example, feel free to take him to "adult restaurants because this will allow him the experience so he knows what to expect and how to behave. If he doesn't learn it now, he still has to learn it, he'll just be older when he does (and "bad behavior" that is really naive behavior will just be that much more embarassing. BUT, bring some crayons, a favorite coloring book, a fidget sort of toy and a favorite book because it is a lot to expect for a kid to sit and do nothing quietly. By being there he is gaining the opportunity to learn from watching you though.

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    Thanks! We do take him to a variety of places (tonight we're going to hands-on bat encounter at the museum!), and what we've been doing has been telling him he can talk, but he has to keep his voice down, and then praising him when he speaks in an appropriate tone. It sounds like we're on the right path; we just need to stick it out.
    – user420
    Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 18:30
  • Absolutely the right path! AND what a GREAT experience, sounds like tons of fun. Just keep it as reminders and eventually he'll remember and need fewer and fewer reminders. I edited my answer to add a book resource I used with my students and later with Alice at that age. Commented Nov 16, 2012 at 18:33

This is your 2 year old?

"Ooh that hurts my ears when you yell. Could you ask me again quieter so I can hear you better?"

After a while of this, get him to brainstorm/practice.

"Ooh too loud, what would help me hear you better?"

Plus, I think you can start using "inside/outside voice" - that's probably what he'll hear in preschool/school. "We are inside, let's use an inside voice." You can practice at home. Sounds silly, but experiential learning through role play is very helpful.

You can always use "bugs and wishes" that I described in a different question. First teach him how to use it, then have it become part of your family's language:

Get a picture or toy of a bug (ladybug, etc) and a picture or toy of a wand. Role play (and practice, practice, practice) using the bug and wand holding each up in turn:

"It bugs me when you __ and I wish you would _ instead"

This is basically an i-statement for little kids. It works wonders! After some time practicing this in your home. Let him use the props to remind him of the words. After he's comfortable with this part of it, introduce the next stage.

When somebody uses bugs and wishes, the options for response are:

"I'm sorry" "I didn't know" "I'll stop" "I'll do that instead"

That's it. He/you/whoever gets to choose one of these in return.

This teaches him how to express feelings of frustration/anger appropriately and gives him the words to actually do so (without just saying "use your words"). When he is frustrated at someone, prompt him and ask "Would you like to use bugs and wishes?" This is a tool he will be able to use for life!

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