Many children exhibit speech problems early in their development and parents understandably worry about the child’s well-being and later success in school.
If you’re concerned about language issues with your child the first thing you’ll want to do is consult a professional. They can help you identify strategies that will work best for the particular problem and break it down into manageable steps that won’t be overwhelming for you or your child.
Whether it’s stuttering slurring or the result of an identified injury or deformity the speech-language pathologist can look for physiological problems that may be contributors and suggest special exercises you can do at home to address those specific causes.
The right approach
Practice. If your child has trouble saying a certain sound “f” for example encourage him or her to just make that sound all by itself. Once that comes more easily you can incorporate it into syllables like “fi-fi-fi” or “fa-fa-fa” before moving onto actual words that use it. Repetition is your friend—and it’s an opportunity for “gamification.” Give tokens for completing a set number of exercises.
Focus on what the child can do instead of overemphasizing what he or she can’t do. While it’s important to pay attention to improvements in speech remember to praise other small victories like picking up toys being polite or using the bathroom. And don’t be tempted to allow bad behavior simply because the child has a speech problem.
Keep background noise and distractions to a minimum during learning sessions and at other times too. Studies show that too much TV can actually delay language development because parents tend not to talk as much to their children as they otherwise would. Children learn to speak best when they are actually spoken to.
Listen! Ask questions and be attentive and patient with the replies. Interrupting and expecting the child to “just spit it out” will create anxiety which can make the problem worse. Let him or her work it out without pressure. On the other hand don’t be too focused or the child may become uncomfortable. Try to keep the conversation natural and don’t add pressure by demanding perfection.
Use straws. Drinking liquids through them or blowing air out of them will help your child develop the muscular strength in the mouth that’s important for clear speech. Make it into a game—get a ping-pong ball and see if he or she can blow it through a goal you set up or keep the ball at the end of the straw by sucking up air through it.
Read. Reading a favorite book to your child and then having them read it back to you can provide excellent reinforcement. Even if the child is too young to be able to read words having them explain what they see in the book and remembering the context from hearing it can strengthen speech and confidence.
You can make a difference
The activities you do at home and the positive reinforcement you provide can help your child make huge strides toward speaking clearly an important skill he or she will need to succeed in the future—whether the problem is due to a physiological condition or something else.
Aside from getting ongoing professional help one of the biggest things you can do for your child is to talk clearly to him or her on a regular basis. Kids imitate their parents and your own behavior models theirs. Carry on a conversation and be patient.
Your child wants to communicate and be understood. With some professional guidance and attention you can help make that happen.