Difficulties with production, known as speech sound delays, are very common in preschool and school aged children. It can be hard to know how best to help your child while you are waiting for an appointment with a Speech Pathologist. Here are my top tips in how to support your child in everyday conversation:
- Build Confidence The most important thing is to maintain or increase your child’s confidence. You can do this by not talking about your child’s speech in front of them, making sure others are not imitating or teasing, and by praising your child sincerely and openly every day.
- It’s very noisy in here! Background noise, such as TV, radio and washing machines can make it especially tricky for kids to tune into sounds and learn from other people talking. A good rule of thumb is to pause the T.V. or music when talking, and then press play when you’re ready to listen or watch again.
- Can you hear me? About 30% of children with speech sound difficulties have had recurrent glue ear which compromises hearing. Listening with glue ear is like trying to listen under water – not one bit easy! It is important to get your child’s hearing checked if your child has difficulties with speech sounds.
- Play with Sounds A great way to help children develop speech sounds is to play with sounds. Fun activities include singing or reading rhymes and leaving off the last rhyming word to see if your child can fill it in, clapping or stamping out syllables like e-le-phant, and playing I spy something that rhymes with….
- Watch and Learn Children learn from listening and watching their parents. Sitting face to face so your child can watch your mouth will help them learn how you make the sounds.
- Repeat Repeat Repeat Think about a time you were learning a different language at school. Now imagine you were being constantly corrected – how would that feel? I know I would think ‘let me finish!’ or ‘give me a break, at least I’m trying’. Try focus on listening to the message your child is telling you, rather than how they’re saying it. Instead of correcting them, get in the habit of repeating back correctly so they hear the right way to say it. Here’s an example:
Child: Look daddy there’s a tat
Parent: yes there’s a cat! He’s a stripy cat. I like stripy cats. Hello little cat!
Child: me too I love tats!
In this example the child has heard the ‘right’ way to say cat four times, but has not felt corrected or wrong, and most importantly the conversation has continued.
- Kid Time Encourage your child to mix with other children as much as possible – children learn a great deal from each other.
- Take the time to talk Try make time every day for a calm, enjoyable activity with your child where they can play with you and learn from you. Examples include using pictures to make up a story together, painting, playing a board game or baking. These individual activity times, even if only five minutes long, are really helpful for young children to learn about speech sounds and feel confident in their ability to communicate.
- Interpret Usually, you as the parent understand your child’s speech best. On the other hand, it can be particularly tricky when your child speaks to a new person such as your friend or a new teacher. It is OK to interpret for your child in these situations. This will let the conversation flow with the new person, will stop your child from experiencing conversation break down, and will help your child build confidence. From your little one’s point of view, mum and dad are simply just in the conversation too!
- To wait-and-see or to not wait-and-see? At different ages and stages it is perfectly normal for children to make sound substitutions. The tricky part is figuring out if it is age appropriate or not. Additionally, some substitutions can be a red flag that the difficulties are unlikely to go resolve naturally. This is where your Speech Pathologist can help figure it all out. Well-meaning family members might say things like ‘boys just learn later’ or ‘my daughter was like that and grew out of it’. Whilst some children might ‘grow out’ of these delays, many do not, and it is difficult to predict who will and won’t. The safest option is to book an appointment with an experienced Speech Pathologist who can do an assessment and clarify all of this.
Sinead Ryan is one of our fabulous Speech Pathologists who works at our Ormond practice. Sinead has a special interest in speech sound disorders.