It seems that in the blink of an eye your baby will progress from a gurgling, babbling bundle… to a vehement pointer, communicating their needs with single (loud) word demands for “more” or “juice”… to a UN level negotiator, using full (if irrational) sentences such as “I can’t put my shoes on Mummy because my hair hurts”.
During this preschool period of rapid language growth, many mums say they’re uncertain of how their children are progressing with speech and language.
“He doesn’t speak clearly. No-one else understands him but I know what he wants. He gets so frustrated. How do I help?”
“Should she be able to say that sound by now? How do I practice it with her?
It takes (literally!) years for children to master the fine motor movements and complex grammatical rules involved in learning to talk, and the steps towards fluent, intelligible speech are very gradual. Communication skills develop from birth throughout childhood, however up to 25% of children start school every year with a language disorder or delay (Speech Pathology Australia 2011).
Some pre-schoolers are slow to talk; many have difficulty saying sounds correctly all the time, or make speech errors (e.g. “tat” for cat and “dink” for drink).Some words are more difficult than others for children to say, and some children can become more difficult to understand when they use longer sentences. Some errors fall within what we expect in normal development, and some errors need a little more help.
Tips, Tricks and Useful Information
Parents play a vital role in encouraging children’s communication development during the pre-school period, and during this time, children learn language best by listening to familiar adults speaking it. Two of my favourite strategies are outlined below.
A simple strategy to try is called “modelling”.Rather than demanding that your child say a word correctly, simply say what you want your child to say, and let them hear those target words frequently. Over time your child will begin to copy the language they hear. Ultimately this is an easier (and far less stressful) way to help your child say a word correctly than asking them to repeat themselves!
Spend some time modelling language and expanding it at a level just above your child’s to help them hear what comes next.TRY:to say what your child meant, for example:
If your child uses 1 word at a time and says “car” …you might say “Daddy’s car” or “car gone”
If your child uses 2 words at a time and said “Daddy’s car”… you might model “Daddy’s car’s gone” or “where’s daddy’s car?”
If your child is using full sentences and says “where’s daddy’s car gone?”… you might say “where HAS Daddy’s car gone? It’s disappeared!”
Helping with Speech Sounds
If your child has a speech sound they can’t say – it’s much easier to practice the sound by itself rather than in words.For example, your child can’t use an “s” sound andsays “dun” for “sun”.
TRY:Spend some time playing with “s” sounds to get the sound right by itself, making playdough snakes and saying “ssssss” as you push them along, letting air out of balloons and copying the sound “sssss”.Often getting the sound right on it’s own rather than in a word can helps your child to develop it in words.
If you are concerned about speech sounds your child cannot say, have a chat with a speech pathologist.They can provide more details on speech sound development at different ages and provide more strategies to help develop them.
A little bit about Dee…Since I started back at work after maternity leave, my practice began to offer Saturday Communication Check Up Clinics for preschoolers struggling with speech– our most senior Speech Pathologists spend some time with you and your child, and provide an opinion about whether to seek further help, or tips to try and improve things. We are finding increasing numbers of families are accessing this service, as the cost of the session is credited toward any ongoing sessions required.
Dee Wardrop Speech Pathology Services
“Communication Support for Children and Adults”
352 St Georges Rd, Thornbury VIC 3071
89 Charles St, Seddon VIC 3011
Ph (03) 8376 6399 Fax (03) 8669 4037