Speech Sounds2 MINUTE READ

How to Work on Speech Sounds with Children Under 4 Years Old

In this post we're going to discuss how to support speech sound acquisition in toddlers and young children.

In our previous article we talked about how different sounds develop at different ages, with easily ones like /b/ /p/ and /m/ developing early, and more difficult sounds like /th/ /r/ and /j/ developing later. 

You might notice your young child struggling with certain sounds that are expected for their age. According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA), this chart covers what sounds most English-speaking children should be able to pronounce based on their age.

By 3 months:

  • Makes cooing sounds

By 5 months:

  • Laughs and makes playful sounds

By 6 months:

  • Makes speech-like babbling sounds like puh, ba, mi, da

By 1 year:

  • Babbles longer strings of sounds like mimi, upup, bababa

By 3 years:

  • Says m, n, h, w, p, b, t, d, k, g, and f in words

  • People familiar with the child can understand their words

By 4 years:

  • Says y and v in words

  • May still make mistakes on the s, sh, ch, j, ng, th, z, l, and r sounds

  • Most people understand the child’s speech

Choosing the Right Words to Work On

If you notice your child is struggling with a speech sound expected for their age, we can start supporting them early on. For kids who are having difficulty with their speech clarity, you can try focusing on words that are functional. So if they're having trouble with the /f/ sound, focus on saying words like 'fall' or 'flamingo' to and with your child. 

Auditory Bombardment

One strategy that speech-language pathologists commonly use is called auditory bombardment. It essentially means that when we have a sound we want to target, we use that sound a lot within a short period of time. So again, if we were going to practice the /f/ sound, we might say, "The blocks are going to fall. They're falling down. Don't fall blocks!" or "The little fish is swimming! What does the little fish want to eat? French fries?"

Value of Visual Cues

When speech sounds are proving tricky, it can be helpful to add another clue to the puzzle. Visual cues are just that! Try to gain your child's visual attention and have their eyes focus on your face. Seeing your mouth and face form the sound correctly will help them to imitate the sound more accurately. Bring objects near your face - like a toy - before modeling so you can be sure you have their attention. 

What If I Need More Help?

In some cases, children with speech sound disorders will need the intervention of a skilled speech-language pathologist. If you have concerns about your child's speech clarity, bring these up with their pediatrician and seek an evaluation from a speech therapist. 

To learn more about speech sound disorders, check out our helpful guide here.

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