Our most popular posts on Speech Blog UK tend to be the ones about speech sounds. It is an area that schools and parents feel unqualified to tackle alone – and with good reason! If your child is having a significant difficulty with speech sounds, you do really need advice from a speech and language therapist.
They can advise you on which sounds to work on and how to do it, as this will vary a lot from child to child. No speech and language therapist can give you specific advice without meeting and assessing your child.
However, waiting times can be long and there are some general ideas that may help while you are waiting. The aim of this post is to give you some ideas of things to try while your child is on the waiting list or to support your child’s therapy.
Encourage your child to look when you are talking.
Say their name and then wait for them to look before you speak. This is a small thing but it can make a big difference. The more a child watches others when they are talking, the more they are likely to pick up sounds naturally. This is especially true if they have had glue ear or other hearing difficulties. I often encourage children to watch my face by bringing the toy we are playing with up next to my mouth. I have been known to do this with my iPad sometimes!
Play listening games.
Go for a walk outside with your child. Close your eyes and see what sounds you can hear and identify. Is that a dog barking or can you hear a plane flying in the sky?
Play games with musical instruments or objects that make noise. Get your child to close their eyes while you make a sound. See if they can tell you which one they heard. Talk about sounds that you hear generally using words like noisy, quiet, high, low, long, short etc.
Pull faces in front of a mirror.
Sit next to each other. Pull a silly face and see if your child can copy it. Let them pull silly faces for you to copy too. Because we can’t see our mouths when we are talking, it can be hard for many children to know what they are doing with their lips, tongue etc. This game helps a child to explore the different parts of their mouth, what they can do and how the different movements feel. Add silly noises in as well if you want to. Have fun with this!
Encourage silly sounds, animal noises etc.
This follows on from the last idea. This is a great thing to do with very young children whose speech is not clear or who are not saying many words. As you are playing with your child, make lots of sounds as part of your play. For example, if you are playing with vehicles, make car and aeroplane noises. If you are play cooking, make the frying pan say “ssss” as it cooks, or make a pouring sound as you pretend to pour out drinks. Most children enjoy listening to these sounds.
Don’t ask your child to copy, just keep making the sounds around them and leave lots of pauses so that they have a chance to try too if they want to. Many children will start having a go at the sounds themselves after a while.
Go around the house and find things that start with the difficult sound.
If you are aware of a particular sound that is difficult, go around the house with your child and see how many things you can find that start with that sound. Collect them together. Make sure you say the name of each thing lots of times while you are looking so that your child can listen to them and think about the sounds. The aim is for them to keep hearing the sound said clearly rather than to practise it themselves. This will work better with children aged 3 1/2 or older
Remember to think about the sound of the word, not the spelling. These are not always the same. For example, circle starts with a “s” sound, even though it is spelt with a c. Giraffe starts with a “j” sound, even though it is spelt with a g.
If your child’s speech is very unclear or they are only using a few words, encourage them to use signs, gestures and pictures to help them communicate. This can really help reduce their frustration and help them to be understood by others.
Model back the correct production.
When you hear your child saying a word unclearly, say it back again correctly for them to hear. This should be a positive thing. Don’t tell them that what they said wasn’t right, just repeat it back again slowly and clearly. For example, if your child says “loot at that tat”, you might say, “yes, look, what a lovely cat!”.
If you are working on a sound in therapy, comment on it at other times.
If your child is having speech sound therapy, you are likely to be given particular words to practice. Specific practice sessions for this are really useful. However, don’t forget to talk about the sound at other times as well. It can be hard to get the balance right with this – you don’t want to bombard your child so that they become frustrated and can’t say anything without someone commenting on how they say it. However, just mentioning it a few times a day can be really helpful.
For example, if you hear your child use their tricky sound when they are chatting, you might say “that was a great “f” sound in “fish”, well done”. Or you might choose one word which you have particularly noticed and point out the sound in it. For example, “that word has that special “s” sound in it, can you hear it? Sock”. If your child is able to repeat it back again correctly, that’s great. If not, don’t worry – just keep it positive and focus on them listening to you saying the word.
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