Watching your child struggle with a speech impediment can be difficult. It’s not just the mispronunciations. It’s the fear they create. The discomfort, the stress, the anxiety. Speech issues can be confidence killers.
As a parent, you want to support your child in every possible way, but at the same time, you don’t have much power over this particular problem. You can’t make words form correctly on their tongue. There are, however, many other things you can do to help your child navigate the physical and emotional realities of life with a speech impediment. Read on to learn more about how you can help your child handle their mispronunciations.
A trip to the ear doctor?
Ear doctors aren’t necessarily the first place most parents think of when they want to work out their child’s speech challenges. However, there is a strong correlation between ear health and language skills.
Young children can be very prone to ear infections. It’s a problem that usually works itself out when the child is around five years old. Some children don’t experience the issue at all. It’s mostly a matter of inner ear shape. Some ears retain significant amounts of fluid. Others don’t.
But all that yellow, infected, pus-filled – We get it.
It sits on top of the eardrum, making it hard for your child to hear. They may not be hearing words correctly. They also might not realize exactly what they sound like. Ear doctors can assess the significance of the problem, and work out solutions that will help your child hear better.
Fair warning: some of those solutions are surgical. Others aren’t. Regardless, it’s hard to make progress without first improving your child’s hearing.
Avoid showing outward signs of worry
It’s natural to be concerned when your child can’t pronounce all of their words correctly. Particularly when it feels like they are falling behind the rest of their classmates. The truth is that speech impediments are rarely permanent.
The majority of children can correctly pronounce all words by eight years old. Anything before that wage is somewhere on the spectrum of what is normal. Anything beyond that age can still usually be ironed out with the help of a professional.
But the more concerned you seem, the more worried the child will ultimately be. Think about every high-stakes situation you’ve ever been in. Sporting events. Big tests. Public speaking situations. Did adding pressure ever help?
No. If your kid can tell that you are worried, they will become more worried, and it will make it harder for them to work things out.
Be proactive at home
Of course, the best way to help your child overcome their speech impediment is to actively work on it with them at home. There are many ways you can do this, and it may be best to consult with a speech-language pathologist to determine which methods will be best for your specific child. Below are some common methods that you might encounter.
Practise words that they are struggling with
Obviously. If your child says a word incorrectly, you gently work on getting them to say it right. There are limits to how far you should take this. If your child expects to be corrected every time they say something wrong, they might become less inclined to speak at all. Make sure your corrections are kind and lighthearted and try to read the situation carefully. There may be times when it’s best to let it slide.
Practise words they aren’t struggling with
Does it sound pointless? There are a couple of reasons why this is a good idea. For one thing, it cements good habits. Children can backslide with word pronunciation, so if you aren’t actively working on their good words along with the bad, you may find that they take one step forward and one back. The other reason? It builds them up. If practising speech is always seen as difficult and unpleasant they will dread it. Stirring in familiar words gives them the chance to experience occasional triumph.
Modelling is slightly different from the conventional practice in that you don’t necessarily formalize what you are doing. You just work their problem words into conversation naturally so they can hear the pronunciation routinely. It helps if you do this in context as it makes the exercise more organic, and also cements the lesson into their minds more effectively.
Read with them
Parents know that for every situation in a young child’s life, books factor into the recommended treatment plan somewhere or other. To be fair, it’s because they actually help. Reading not only strengthens the bond you have with your child. It also helps develop early literacy skills, and it can help iron out speech problems. Books are filled with words. Carefully selected and used in the right context. The more exposure they get, the easier it will be for them to work around their speech issues.
It’s also important to banish mispronunciations in your household. Family members often lean into the linguistic mistakes of children. A child mispronounces a word incorrectly, and before long, everyone is doing it. Sometimes on accident. Other times just because they think it’s cute.
Resist the temptation. If your child is going to overcome their speech difficulties, they can’t be getting inundated with mispronunciations.
Be the support system that they need
The last, most important, and in some ways, most difficult step is to just be an excellent support system. It’s hard because you will see your child struggle. You’ll see them become sad and frustrated, and you’ll feel that pain so much more deeply than you would have even guessed was possible before you became a parent.
They don’t mention that when you’re taking the kid home from the hospital for the first time. They don’t say, “It poops nineteen times a day, and it will teach you a new definition of heartache.”
Probably because they’re too busy making sure your car seat is properly installed.
But that’s the job. Support them. Encourage them. Be there for them. Things will get better eventually. Patience makes the time pass easier for both of you.
Ellen Diamond, a psychology graduate from the University of Hertfordshire, has a keen interest in the fields of mental health, wellness, and lifestyle.
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