Speech Sounds

Keep Your Child Motivated to Practice the /R/ Sound

When it comes to improving speech, practice with a caregiver–and doing that throughout your everyday routine–is one of the most important ways to ensure progress.

This is especially true when it comes to the /r/ sound. By now you know just what a challenge this sound can be. And it can take a considerable amount of time to perfect. Setting aside time to practice almost every day is important.

So how can you keep your child interested in learning /r/? If they’re not motivated, they’ll be less eager to practice. Figuring out what keeps your child excited about speech practice is one of the most important things you can do on this speech journey! 

First, let’s talk about some ways to set the stage for motivation. 

Believe it or not, picking the right time of day for practice is a huge deal. Try to practice at a time of day that’s distraction-free and when your child is more likely to want to interact. Think about your schedule–when are you most available? Then think about your child’s personality during their day. Are they typically happier and more talkative in the mornings or evenings? Find a time of day that works best for both of you.

Next, make a schedule! Not only will this keep you both accountable, it will allow you to devote all your attention to your child at the appointed time.

Here’s another tip that’s essential: You have to find a highly desired activity for your child to do while practicing. As a speech-language pathologist, I can tell you, this is a key piece of the puzzle. For some kiddos, I select interactive games. For others, reading activities, crafts, or physical activities are best. It just depends on what your child enjoys most.

Think about what your child loves to do in their free time and start there. The beauty of speech practice is that you can target speech goals by doing almost anything–without any fancy or expensive materials!

Let’s say your child loves to play games like Go Fish or Monopoly. Before each of your child’s turns, have them practice their target sound or word. If your child loves to play outside, practice while taking a walk. Or have them say their /r/ sound before running through the sprinkler. 

Whenever and whatever practice looks like for your family, at the beginning, keep the ratio of work to play one-to-one. That means your child practices one /r/ sound before each turn of the game. Or they practice one /r/ sound before each basketball shot. With this approach, your child is immediately rewarded for practicing their sound. This is a huge motivator, especially if they have a hard time staying engaged. Eventually, you can increase the amount of work they have to do before each activity. 

What if your child seems frustrated? As I’ve mentioned repeatedly, we want to make sure your child is practicing at the right level of complexity. Not only does this allow your child to make the most progress, but it can be super helpful in avoiding frustration. 

If you’re sensing a lot of tension from your child, scale back the difficulty level of the task. For example, if you’re working on word level, then step back to syllable level. This will likely be easier for your child, giving them a sense of accomplishment that will boost their confidence!

Let’s move on to the next tip. Yes, practicing daily and frequently is incredibly important. And as a general rule of thumb, the more practice, the more progress. But, it’s also possible to overdo it. We need to provide a good balance. 

Think about it like this: What if someone constantly corrected your speech, or had you say new words, all day long? Would that make you discouraged–maybe even a little annoyed? Most likely! The same is true for your child. As important as practice is, you don’t want to do it to the point of irritation or frustration. 

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Practice 5 to 7 days a week for 20 to 30 minutes per day. Feel free to practice all at once, or break it up into a few shorter sessions. You know your child best, so decide the ideal practice time based on their attention span! 

Outside of these practice times, you can focus on regularly modeling your child’s speech goals. Give them something to imitate! This way your child hears you using a good /r/ sound frequently, without the pressure of practicing all day long. 

My last tip for motivating your child is one that anyone, of any age, can relate to–encouragement. All of us do better when we have positive support from the people who matter most to us. 

As you practice with your child, no matter if they’re getting every word right, or every word wrong, find some way to encourage or praise them. 

You can provide positive support while still being truthful. For example, if you hear an incorrect production, don’t tell them “Great job!” or “That sounds great!” You want your child to understand right from wrong and correct their own errors.

Instead, you can try:

  • “I love how you’re trying!” 

  • “That’s not quite it, but I see you are working so hard!”

  • “You never give up! Let’s keep practicing. I know you can do it!” 

And of course, on the days your child is really rocking and rolling with their speech goals–tell them! The smile on your child’s face when they feel that sense of accomplishment is like nothing else in the world. 

So let’s go over a few of the key points we’ve discussed here:

  • Try to pick a specific time of day to practice speech with your child.

  • Choose activities to do during practice that your child enjoys. At the beginning, keep the ratio of work to play about equal.

  • If your child seems frustrated, try shorter practice sessions, or step back a level to an easier task.

  • And along the way, offer plenty of support and encouragement!

Always remember–you know your child best. Just pay attention to their mood and motivation. Take the time to give them exactly what they need at that moment. They’ll know you’re on their team no matter what!

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