What To Do When You Can’t Understand Your Child’s Speech:
As children develop speech and language, it’s critical to reinforce their communicative attempts. This presents a challenge for children who often have unintelligible speech utterances. How do we respond to our child when we can’t understand what they’re saying? Here are a few strategies I use during moments when I can’t understand a child’s speech:
4 Tips For Understanding Your Child’s Speech:
• Work with what you can understand, and request for more information. “Wow! I can tell you are really excited. You and daddy went where?”
• Gently request that your child repeat his utterance. You might say, “Uh oh, I didn’t quite hear you. Can you tell me again?” Try to read nonverbal cues from your child, such as gestures, emotion and eye-gaze.
• If possible, use cues from the environment. “Hmm, can you show me what you’re thinking about?”
• As much as possible, take advantage of moments to use visual support. For example, if you’re talking about a recent family vacation, print out a few pictures to show while you talk. Refer to the pictures to clarify specific people, places and ideas.
Should You Correct Your Child’s Speech Errors?
Children with articulation errors often feel self-conscious about talking, and I find that constantly correcting their errors often increases their reluctance to talk. Here a few tips for helping children with articulation errors:
• First and foremost, consult with your child’s speech therapist about how to practice speech at home. This will determine when, how and how often you should practice with your child. Your therapist will likely have specific suggestions for when and how to correct your child’s errors.
• During the early stages of therapy, I typically advise parents to only correct their child’s speech errors in the context of a designated practice time. Set aside a special time each day (about 10-20 minutes) for “mommy and me time” or “daddy and me time” to practice speech sounds. Tell your child ahead of time that you will be listening for their “good sounds.”
• During practice, use positive and descriptive language when correcting errors. For example, instead of saying, “No, try again,” give your child more specific feedback such as, “Wow, good try! I saw your tongue come out of your mouth when you said ‘s’. Let’s try saying ‘s’ with your tongue in your mouth. There you go!”
• As your child gains mastery of their new sound, encourage them to use the sound outside of the “designated practice time” by thinking of a special “word of the day.” For example, if your child is working on the “s” sound, your word might be “sun” during July. Tell your child that you will be listening for their good “s” when they say “sun” that day. Give your child positive praise every time you hear a good “s” sound.
• Always emphasize what is going well. For example, if you hear your child correctly say “s” as they are talking about their school day, give them positive praise: “Wow! I just heard you make a great ‘s’ sound! You are doing a great job saying ‘s’ a new way!”
• As your child nears the end of the therapy process, their speech therapist may encourage you to monitor your child’s speech outside of their designated practice time. This is an important phase in helping your child generalize their new sound into everyday speech. Consult with your child’s speech therapist for specific ways to monitor his speech in an encouraging way.
• Remember that your ultimate goal is to increase your child’s confidence when communicating with others!
If you feel concerned about your child’s speech development, you should consult a Licensed Speech and Language Pathologist for further assessment and guidance.