Hi everyone! This post was written from the perspective of a mother AND a speech-language pathologist. This post is all about how to improve your child’s speech at home using everyday activities. If you’re not sure which sounds your child should be saying for their current age, take a look at the developmental norms here. Two points I want to make before we begin. First, any suggestions I make in this post are just suggestions. There are lots of different ways that one can improve their child’s speech and language at home and there are lots of different factors that play a role in your child’s speech and language development. If your child is not yet diagnosed with a speech or language disorder and you have concerns, please have them evaluated by a speech-language pathologist. There may be some structural or functional issues within your child’s mouth that is directly related to their speech difficulties. Second, you need to know the difference between speech and language in order to benefit from this post:
Speech is how clearly a person says each sound. Either you can say a sound the correct way or you can’t. For example, if your child is older than 4 years old and substitutes their “k” for “t” (saying “tat” instead of “cat”) their speech is impacted. Another example of a speech delay or disorder is if your child is 5 years old and you can only understand about 50% of what they say. Pretty cut and dry. Language is much broader. Language is how well a person processes information (what they hear, see, or read), and how effective they are at communicating their wants, needs, thoughts, and opinions to others. “Communication” can be speaking, writing, gesturing, or sign language. Language also deals with memory, attention span, following directions, vocabulary, basic concepts (colors, shapes, sizes, animals), the list goes on and on. If it has something to do with thinking and what you need to know in order to form thoughts and opinions and communicate those to other people, it’s language. An example of a possible language delay or disorder would be if you asked your 4 year old their name and they reply with “Daddy” or “4 years old”; they are not comprehending your question. Another example would be if your child is wanting some type of item/activity, but is unable to convey what he/she wants. Your child KNOWS what they want and may even be able to see a mental image of the desired item/activity in their mind, but can not effectively communicate that to YOU. A person can have trouble with only speech, only language, or BOTH.
If you would like to learn ways to help improve your child’s speech at home, please continue reading. If you want to learn how to help your child’s language development at home, please keep tuned for a post about how to help your child’s language development at home. This post is a bit lengthy and will be split into two parts, but is very informative, so hang in there with me!
I’m going to use the “k” sound as an example throughout this post for consistency purposes.
Talk TALK talk. I know you already are. The single fact that you are even researching ways because you are concerned for your child tells me you’re already doing everything you should be to help your child’s speech. A speech therapy trick, however, in order to help your child through simple talking is overemphasize the sound you are targeting. For example, “Oh, you see the CAT?” or “You are the KING of the world!” While you are talking, encourage your child to watch your mouth while you talk. Small babies, for example, often like to pay particularly close attention to our mouths while we speak.
Let them watch your mouth. Children learn so much just by watching your mouth. Some children learn how to say sounds correctly just through repeated exposure and observing correct models of speech.
Have them slow down. I have evaluated several children who can say each sound perfectly in words and repeat sentences with wonderful pronunciation. Once they start talking about what they had for lunch or what toy they want to play with though, those good speech sounds go out the window. Their talking speeds up and their sounds become distorted. You can teach your child to slow down by having them tap objects or their leg each time they say a word. For example, if they were trying to say, “I want a snack,” but it was not spoken clearly, line up 4 blocks and have them tap a block each time they say a word (I(tap) want(tap) a(tap) snack(tap). Even if they do have sounds they say incorrectly, it’s always a good idea to slow down anyway if they have a problem with speed.
Use toys and animals to teach and elicit sounds. For example, take a toy truck and pretend it is scraping across the rocks: K-k-K-k-K-k-K! Another example would be playing with a doll and you name her “Carrie.” Pretend Carrie is sleeping and when your child says, “Get up, Carrie!,” have Carrie wake up. Do not wake Carrie up, however, if your child says, “Wake up, Tarrie!” If your child keeps saying “Tarrie,” wake the doll up yourself and overemphasize the “C” in “Carrie.
Model your child’s speech. For example, if your child asks for a “cookie,” but says “tootie” instead, say, “Oh! CooKie! You want a CooKie.” Make sure you overemphasize the “k” sound in order to draw your child’s attention to the sounds. If you want to take it a step further and say, “Do you want a ‘tootie’ or a ‘cookie'”? Doing this will draw your child’s attention to the fact that there is a correct and incorrect way to say words.
Withhold items. Proceed with caution on this one. I am NOT saying to absolutely not give your child an item because they do not pronounce their target sound correctly. I AM, however, saying that you should encourage your child to say the word correctly. I’ll use “cookie” again as an example. If your child says, “I want a tootie,” pause for a second, encourage your child to produce the word correctly by attempting the word again or imitating the way you say “cookie.” If they make a good faith effort, regardless of correct production or not, then give them the cookie. This is NOT a means to humiliate or frustrate, but to draw their attention to correct pronunciation v. incorrect.
Books. Books are a treasure trove for finding words that have target sounds in any position of the word (beginning, middle, end). Not only are you all practicing speech sounds, but it is also an opportunity for developing or improving literacy skills. In reference to encouraging your child to watch your mouth while speaking, you can always turn your child around to face you while reading so they can see your mouth.
Twirly straws. The more twists in them the better. Every time your child wants a drink, throw that straw in there. Eat out a lot? Take it with you. When you suck from a straw, you pull your tongue back, causing you to work your tongue muscles. If you have a weak tongue, or a tongue that isn’t used to moving a lot in your mouth (not speaking much), it is going to most definitely impact speech. The more twisty the straw, the harder your child’s tongue has to work to pull up that liquid.
If this applies to your child, wean from the pacifier. I hated to type that – I really did. Neither one of my children liked pacifiers, but they did enjoy their “babas” and bottles. My eldest breastfed until she was 2 1/2 years old and my 20 month old still receives a bottle in order to put her to sleep for the night. Many of our children receive pacifiers, like mine did their “babas” and, still does, their bottle because it comforts them and is part of their routine. It’s the end of the day, or maybe just the beginning, and we’re tired and we know exactly what will calm our little one down. It is very common, however, for children’s speech to improve dramatically if they were past the one year or 18 month mark and quit receiving a pacifier. It is not a 100% guarantee that this will be the case for your child, but it definitely won’t cause their speech to regress.
Play I Spy. Great way to practice the target sound in phrases and sentences!
Be patient. If you haven’t looked at the sequence in How To Improve Your Child’s Speech at Home Using A Structured Approach, take a look at it, please! It’s important to see how many levels a person generally progresses through in order to start using a sound correctly in regular, everyday conversation. Knowing this, will help you avoid asking things of your child they are not developmentally ready for, which will in turn make everyone happier.
That’s it folks! Thank you for staying with me and remember, pick and choose suggestions from this post – don’t try them all at one time!
I hope everyone finds something in here that is helpful. If you do not see something that relates to your child, please leave a comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will do my best to create a post, no names mentioned of course, that will hopefully help your child.
This article was written by a speech-language pathologist, but is not meant to replace a speech-language evaluation or speech-language therapy. If your child is already receiving speech-language therapy at this time, please continue to work on improving your child’s communication at home. Therapy is so much more effective when we all work together with the same goal in mind!