Our children’s speech sounds are developing all the way from birth to around age 7. During this period it is very normal for your child to have sounds they find tricky to say. Sometimes this can make it hard for them to be understood and can also affect their reading and spelling.
Below are some ideas of how you can support your child’s speech development at home. If you have ongoing concerns and are finding it tricky to understand most of what your child is saying it can be helpful to check in with your local speech and language therapy service.
As well as these strategies and activities, check out the speech sound production area of the Speech Blubs app for engaging ways of practicing sounds with your child.
If you are not able to understand exactly what they are saying, see if you can work out the overall context e.g. are they telling you about something on the TV? Are they asking for a type of snack? By communicating to the child about the topic, you are showing them you are listening even if you cannot understand the individual words.
To be corrected all the time can be disheartening and frustrating for our children. So instead just model back the word simply so they can hear the correct version. For example, instead of: “No, can you try again … tiger starts with a ‘T’ sound, not a ‘D’ sound!” try saying: “Oh, yes! A tiger!”
Highlight to the child that it’s you as the adult that is having difficulty hearing and understanding, rather than it being a problem with them. You could say: “Could you say that again for me? Sorry, my ears weren’t working today.”
Changing parts of your mouth to make new sounds is extremely effortful. Therefore make sure you praise your child for the effort they are putting in, even if the sound isn’t perfect yet. Awareness and motivation are the keys to unlocking your child’s speech development so praise and positive feedback help a lot.
With older children who are more aware of their difficulties, they might be able to identify the words they find tricky. They can work with you to identify these words and write them in a book or stick them on the fridge. These can be words they try and practice every day in order to get them stronger and clearer. You can then tick them off when they are achieved. This again reinforces positive feedback and celebrates effort and progress.
If I said to you today: “Ok, so from today you are no longer allowed to use a ‘K’ sound. Instead you have to use an ‘L’ sound – so it’s not ‘cat’ anymore it is ‘lat’, etc”. Have a go! I bet that with two minutes you will be struggling and already forgetting. That’s because changing the habitual movements of our mouth is so tricky because much of it happens subconsciously. Therefore it takes time for a child to grow awareness of their mouth placement to become conscious of sounds and errors. A word that they learn to say correctly on its own might still take 6 months to become automatic in conversational speech.
Sometimes a child might need to work on 10+ consonant or vowel sounds. Working on them all at once can be overwhelming and unsuccessful. Therefore maybe pick a sound of the week where you focus on supporting one sound for the next 7 days and not comment on other mistakes. This allows your child to focus on one sound and see progress, leading to greater confidence and application.
Speech sound work can be long, repetitive, and boring! Spice up activities by incorporating games, activities, language therapy apps like Speech Blubs, and physical movement e.g. throwing a ball back and forwards whilst naming ‘S’ words or hiding all the ‘P’ pictures underthings in the room for your child to find before they name them.
Sometimes speech sounds can be tricky to support because your child has limited awareness of their mouth and vocal organs. Therefore have fun looking in the mirror together, look at and label different parts of your mouth, face, and neck, e.g. tongue, lips, teeth, front of the mouth, back of the mouth, voice box, and lungs. When it comes to talking about where parts of your mouth go for a particular sound, your child will feel confident of knowing what needs to go where e.g. “For a ‘P’ we put our lips together”.
The best way a child learns about speech sounds is by watching and listening to you. Make sure you slow down your speech slightly so they can hear the words clearly, try and have your face towards them when speaking so they can see your features moving, and avoid having your hands around your face when talking so they can clearly see your mouth.