Teach Your Child Speech Sounds

3.    What Sounds To Work On First


 What Sounds to Work on First


Before you begin to teach your child, you have to decide what sound to work on first.  If your child is already receiving therapy from an SLP, just ask what they are working on in their speech sessions, and practice those sounds at home.  If you are currently unable to receive therapy for your child, then you’ll have to decide where to begin.

If your child only has one sound error like ‘R’, it’s an easy choice!  Work on ‘R’!  But if your child has several sounds in error, you can choose the sound or sounds that:

  1. Your child should already be producing at his/her age
  2. Might be easiest for your child to learn
  3. Might make the biggest difference in your child being understood by others

Let’s talk about  Option 1, the sounds your child should already be producing at his or her age.  Here is a chart that shows the age that sounds are usually produced correctly by typical children.  For instance, this chart puts ‘P’ at about age 3 for most children.  In other words, by age three, 90% of children can produce the ‘P’ sound correctly in speech.

So if you have a four-year-old who can’t produce ‘P’, you would know that’s a possible sound to work on, and you’d probably start with ‘P’ before a later-developing sound like ‘S’.

However, what if you have a six-year-old who is lisping his ‘S’ sounds, and that’s the only sound in error?  The chart puts ‘S’ at age 8 for most children.  Should you wait?  You may have friends or family telling you they’ll grow out of it.

I believe in working with children as soon as possible so they don’t develop bad speech habits. I tend to work on the earlier developing sounds first, but I wouldn’t wait until age eight to work on ‘S’ or ‘TH’.  Younger children can learn these sounds, so it make sense to address the issue earlier rather than later.

Now let’s talk about Option 2, the sounds that might be easiest for your child to learn.  Basically, any sound that is more visual, meaning you can see what is happening with the lips, teeth, or tongue, is easier to teach.  Take ‘F’, for example.  It’s easy to show the child that your top teeth touch your bottom lip when you make the ‘F’ sound.  Now ‘R’ is harder to teach visually because you wouldn’t normally see what is going on with your tongue inside your mouth with ‘R’ production.  You would need a light, a mirror, or a mouth puppet.  So ‘B’ might be an easier sound to start with.

Option 3 involves what sounds might make the biggest difference in the child being understood.    The consonant sounds N, T, R, S, L, and D are the most commonly used in spoken English.  (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/pdf/10.1080/00437956.1950.11659381 So it follows that if your child is having trouble with one or more of those sounds, their speech will be harder to understand by others.   Suppose your child is named ‘Ricky’, and his brothers are ‘Robert’ and ‘Ron’.  In that case, ‘Initial R’ might be a very useful sound to start working on so that your child can say his own name and the names of family members correctly.

Now, you don’t have to work on just one sound at a time.  In fact, rotating through multiple sounds can be helpful to keep a child’s attention.  It can also prevent the child from getting discouraged, which can happen if you are working on a difficult sound that he or she is not able to produce right away.  For instance, ‘vocalic R’, the ‘ER’, ‘AR’, and ‘OR’ type sounds, can be very hard for some children to learn.  I like to start teaching ‘vocalic R’ in small doses from the beginning of treatment, incorporating it into sessions where we also work on easier sounds like ‘TH’ or ‘L’.  By trying different sounds, you increase your child’s chances of having success with something.

Once you determine what sounds to work on, move on to the next lesson about speech practice basics.