Speech Sounds

Is Your Child Ready to Practice the /R/ Sound?

Let’s discuss when children typically develop their /r/ sound, as well as some tips to help you assess if your child is ready to begin practicing /r/.

Research has shown that most children can correctly say the /r/ sound by 5 years old. I like to use the start of school as a rule of thumb. If your child is going into kindergarten and is having a hard time with their speech, or their /r/ sound in particular, it may be time to start working on these more challenging sounds. 

When kids start school, they’re suddenly put into a much more social environment. They begin to develop relationships with teachers and peers. These new people may have a harder time understanding your child’s speech than you do. After all, as caregivers we have an intuitive connection with our children.

Children who struggle with their speech may suddenly become conscious or aware of these challenges. As you can imagine, this can hurt a child’s confidence in their abilities. Holding a meaningful conversation, socializing with peers, and speaking in public are life skills many children develop in the classroom. If a child doesn’t believe in their abilities, they may clam up, be held back in their social development, or struggle academically.

In order to help children be confident communicators, it’s best to give them the tools for success as soon as possible!

Now keep in mind that while children typically should pronounce their /r/ sounds correctly at 5 years old, that doesn’t mean you should wait until then to begin working on this sound–especially if you notice they’re having difficulties. You can–and should–start practicing much earlier! 

But how do you know when to begin? Let’s talk a little about determining if your child is ready to start on the /r/ sound. 

Before a child begins practicing and improving their /r/ production, they first have to understand the difference between a correct and incorrect /r/ sound. Speech therapists call this “discrimination.” 

To test this out with your child, model a correct /r/ and ask your child if you said it right or wrong. Then say an incorrect /r/, and ask your child the same question. Can they spot the right sound from the wrong sound? 

There are a few ways to switch this up. You can simply make the /r/ sound. Or you can use it in a word–rice and wice. You could try dropping an incorrect word into a complete sentence and have your child identify the word with the incorrect sound. One tip? It's helpful to imitate the /r/ error that you hear your child making. 

If your child can’t tell the difference, spend some time focusing on this skill first. It’s essential that your child can discriminate between a correct and incorrect /r/ before moving on. It may feel a little redundant to do these exercises over and over, but I promise it’s worth the time and effort! 

Once your child can tell the difference, try some imitation exercises. Imitation is simply the act of providing a correct model for your child, and seeing if they can repeat it back to you.

Model the “errr” sound for your child and have them imitate. It’s completely okay if you need to give your child a little help. You can open your mouth a bit and have them watch your tongue movement as you say the /r/ sound. Make sure to explain your tongue positioning, as well. 

Once your child is able to correctly imitate an /r/ sound from you, that’s when you know it’s time to start working on it! This sets the foundation for all future learning.

If your child tries and tries and just can’t get it, you may need to wait a bit longer. Sometimes kids need to progress developmentally before they’re ready–after all, as we’ve mentioned, the /r/ sound is one of the hardest to master. However, if your child is 5 or 5-and-a-half years old and still struggling with /r/, it’s a good idea to contact a speech-language pathologist. They can help move your child toward being ready to practice. 

So let’s go over a few of the key takeaways we just discussed:

  • Most children can correctly say the /r/ sound by 5 years old.

  • If your child is going into kindergarten and is struggling with certain sounds, it may be time to start working on their speech. Once school starts, clear communication is more important than ever. 

  • To be ready to start practicing /r/, kids have to understand the difference between a correct and incorrect /r/ sound. They should also be able to imitate the /r/ sound.

Remember, if you're ever unsure about your child’s development, or you’re concerned they’re not showing progress, it’s a good idea to talk with a  speech-language pathologist. They can evaluate your child and recommend a personalized plan to get them on the path to clearer speech.

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