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Motivating Children to Practice Speech at Home: Tips from a Speech Therapist

When it comes to helping your child improve their speech, practicing at home and in everyday life is one of the most important ways to ensure progress! The more you help your child use the techniques learned in therapy at home, the quicker they’ll reach their communication goals.

However, sometimes this is easier said than done, right? 

As a speech-language pathologist, I frequently hear parents say, “My child won't practice for me the way they will for you during speech sessions! How can I change this?”

The short answer is to keep practice positive. When practice is engaging and fun, your child is much more likely to willingly participate, instead of put up a fight. 

Here are five important tips to help make at-home speech practice the best part of your child’s day! 

1. Pick the right time of day

Before you even begin practicing speech goals with your child, make sure you select a time of day that will be distraction-free, so your child is happy and ready to interact. First, think about your schedule: are you most available and distraction-free in the morning, middle of the day, or evening? Then, think about your child’s personality throughout the day. Is your child typically happier and more playful in the mornings or evenings? Find a time of day that works best between your schedule and your child’s. 

Once you find an ideal time, try it out! Planning out a simple schedule like this will truly pay off. Your child will be ready to engage and play, and you will have the time to devote all your attention to your child!

2. Choose an activity your child enjoys

I can tell you first-hand that having the right activity is key in keeping a child engaged. For some kiddos, I select interactive games. For others, reading activities or crafts are best. It just depends on what the child enjoys most.

Think about an activity your child loves to do. The beauty of speech practice is that you can target speech goals in almost any activity--without any fancy or expensive materials! 

You can do this by implementing what I call “structured play.” You alternate between “work” and “play” throughout your practice time. Here’s an example: Before every turn your child takes in their game, craft, etc., prompt your child to practice the speech goals you are targeting one to five times before their next turn. Then continue on in this fashion (work-play-work-play). Alternating between speech tasks and rewards (the activity) helps to keep children motivated and participating!

Here’s a pro tip: If your child is having a hard time staying engaged, only make them practice their speech goal one time. Keep the ratio of work to play 1:1 initially. As they get used to this structured play, you can increase the expected amount of practice between turns. 

3. Select the right level of complexity

Part of the reason kids have a hard time participating in speech activities is simply because they can be challenging. When children struggle, they can sometimes become frustrated and unmotivated to practice. Even though the communication goals being targeted may seem simple to you and me, to your child they can feel overwhelming. 

If you notice your child is getting frustrated, then try these things: 1) scale back the difficulty level of the task, or 2) provide extra cueing to help your child complete the task. We want to make sure we're working at the right complexity level for your child--not too easy, but not too difficult, either. 

Another benefit to this is the positive feeling your child will have once they achieve a goal. Giving them simpler tasks initially can help your child gain a sense of accomplishment. Once their confidence improves, they'll be much more likely to take on more challenging tasks!

4. Balance the frequency of practice

It's important to find a “sweet spot” in regards to how often your child practices. Many parents will ask me, “Should I correct my child every time I hear a misproduction, or if they say something incorrectly?” To many parents' surprise, my answer is, “No.” Let me explain. 

What if someone constantly corrected what you said all day long? Would that make you feel discouraged? Most likely! Would it make you less likely to want to practice with that person? Probably. The same is true for your child. As important as frequent practice is, you don’t want to practice to the point of annoyance or frustration.

A good rule of thumb is to practice five to seven days a week, for 20 to 30 minutes per day. Feel free to practice all the way through, or break practice up into two 10- or 15-minute practice sessions. You know your child best, so decide the ideal practice time based on their attention span! 

A good rule of thumb is to practice five to seven days a week, for 20 to 30 minutes per day.

Outside of these set practice times, you can also regularly model the speech goals for your child. This way your child observes and hears you using the correct pronunciation frequently, without the pressure of practicing all day long. 

Here’s an example: Let’s say your child is working on their /s/ sound production. Throughout the day, you can model good /s/ production for your child and point out different words and items in your environment that start with the /s/ sound. 

Speech models like this, coupled with structured practice, is the perfect mix to help your child make progress towards their goals.

5. Give encouragement and praise

This is one of the most important tips, in my opinion, and one that’s close to my heart. No matter how practice goes with your child, no matter how many tasks they get right or wrong, don’t forget to praise them! 

This can be hard because it’s still important to point out incorrect responses. Good awareness of correct vs. incorrect responses is the only way a child can improve. However, we need to balance this by also providing positive comments. 

Here are some of my favorite phrases to say in response to a child who may be struggling with a task:

  • “I love how you're trying!”

  • “That’s not quite it, but I see that you're 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. 

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