Is your child difficult to understand? Children start developing their speech sounds skills from the time they first start to vocalize until they reach mid-elementary school. When sounds are emerging, children often simplify later developing sounds by using omissions, substitutions or inconsistent productions (see post on Typical Speech Development). Parents can facilitate speech sound development by exposing children to emerging sounds in games and stories and naturally providing models when sound substitutions occur.
Here are a few tips for working on speech sounds with your child at home. Remember, working on speech sounds at home doesn't need to look like a fabulous speech therapy session. Spending just 5 minutes a day (or every other day) practicing your child’s sounds can be very effective!
Get face to face. It's important for your child to be able to see your face when working on speech sounds. Speech-language pathologists often use cues to help draw a child's attention to our mouth. You may need to remind your child how to make the sound. It might sound like, “Look at my mouth! See how I keep my tongue behind my teeth to make the /s/ sound? Let’s look in a mirror together. Now you try!”
Reduce frustration. If your child is misunderstood, try using clues from the environment to help you fill in the missing information or try "Show me" as a way to help understand your child's message. If you're still not getting it, acknowledge that your child is trying and gently move on. It's okay to say, "I can tell you're really trying hard to tell me something. I'm sorry but I'm just not getting it right now." This way you have still acknowledged your child but not implied that they have done anything wrong.
Exaggerate and emphasize sounds in words during daily routines and activities. For example, if your child has difficulty producing the "sh" sound, you could work on speech by practicing the word "shoe" as you get ready to leave the house. It could sound like, "Hmm... where are your SHOES? I'm looking for your SHOES. Oh! There are your SHOES. Red SHOES. Let's put on your SHOES." Pause often to give your child the opportunity to practice saying the word. Even if your child doesn't say the word, you are still working on important speech and language skills by providing your child with lots of opportunities to hear the sound!
Repeat, repeat, repeat. Did you know that for your child to change their speech sound habits, they need to practice their target sound at least 120 times each practice? That sounds like a lot, but by using 'Give Me 5" you can hit that magic number each time you practice. Each time your child says their target sound/word, have them say it FIVE times instead of just one time. I like to put a finger up each time a child says their target sound/word until they get to five and then reward by giving them a high five!
Use games to make practice fun. Incorporating a game as part of speech sound practice makes the process so much more enjoyable! Children want nothing more than to spend time with their parents and speech sound practice provides that opportunity! Have your child pick out their favorite game or activity and before they take their turn, have them practice their target sound in words or phrases. Remember it is equally as important for YOU to be saying the words many times during the activity, emphasizing your child’s target sound so that he is hearing that sound being produced correctly! As a general rule, say each target word AT LEAST as many times as your child says it, emphasizing the target sound in each word. If you’re running low on games or need some fresh ideas, check out My Top 5 Games For Working on Speech for game suggestions.
If your child is currently receiving speech therapy services, be sure to ask your child's speech pathologist what sounds you can practice at home! Your speech pathologist is there to help you and your child. If you are trying to get the most out of your child's speech sound practice, but are finding that progress is still slow, talk with your child's speech-language pathologist at your next session, or give us a call. Together, we can work with you to put together a plan to get your child's progress back on track.
TIP: Check out www.mommyspeechtherapy.com for FREE downloadable picture cards by target sound (i.e., "initial /s/ words," "final /p/ words," etc.).