Teaching S in Isolation & Syllables

LEARN 3 WAYS:  The lesson is provided in Video, Audio or Text format below.

In this lesson, you will be learning how to teach your child ‘S’ in isolation and in syllables.

As you can see by the attached image, this chart puts ‘S’ at about age 8 for most children.  In other words, by age eight, 90% of children can produce the ‘S’ sound correctly in speech.

However, I believe in working with children as soon as possible so they don’t develop bad speech habits.

We call ‘S’ errors ‘lisps’.    The 2 most common types of lisps are Frontal and Lateral.

Thun/sun is an example of a frontal or interdental lisp, because the tongue is  protruding through the teeth, making a ‘TH’ sound instead of ‘S’.  The ‘S’ sound can be harder for young children who are missing their front teeth, but it still can be produced correctly, because the proper location of the tongue is up above where the teeth would be.

A lateral lisp sounds more like something halfway between an ‘S’ or an ‘SH’ sound.  It might sound like ‘mish’ instead of ‘miss’.  The air is escaping off the sides of the tongue instead of shooting forward in a skinny stream as it should.

To teach your child how to say ‘S’ correctly, start with the ‘T’ sound, which is generally easy for children to make.  If they are producing ‘T’ correctly, the tongue should touch the area just above the top teeth, on the inside of the mouth.  This is called the alveolar ridge.

If you have a mouth hand puppet like ‘Mr. Mouth’ (my name for it), you can use it to help show the correct tongue placement.   Or you could use a tongue depressor or lollipop to touch the correct area.

If your child says ‘T’ correctly, then have him say ‘T’ three times in quick succession.  You can even do the ‘sprinkler’ trick — hold your arms out in front of you, hands together, and imitate a rainbird sprinkler.

Make the ‘T’ sound, one per second, as you slowly move your arms to the right 90 degrees. Then, quickly return back to your original position, making the ‘T’ sound increasingly rapidly until it is continuous and turns into an ‘S’ sound.



Basically, the ‘S’ sound is a ‘T’ where the airstream is no longer stopped by the tongue but allowed to escape through a narrow gap.  Have your child do the rainbird exercise with you to see if it turns into an ‘S’ sound.

Next you can have your child say ‘t—t—ssssss’.  And repeat that until it’s a habit to make the ‘S’ sound in the same place as the ‘T’.

Make sure your child keeps his teeth closed (or mostly closed) during ‘S’ production, to avoid a frontal lisp.  You can turn it into a game by saying that the tongue is a snake, and needs to be kept in the cage, behind the teeth.

Lateral lisps are a little harder to correct because they are less visual.  Tell your child to put his tongue closer to his teeth, and keep the air coming out skinny and straight.

Sometimes if the child is pulling his tongue back just a tiny bit, it can make the ‘S’ turn slushy and the air go sideways instead of straight forward.  So keeping the tongue right up near the alveolar ridge is very important.

Imagine if you have your thumb over the opening of a garden hose.  You can change the position of your thumb in order to change the flow of the water stream from straight forward to a fan shape coming out the front and the sides.  Basically, this is similar to what is happening with your tongue and the air stream.



One trick to tell  whether the air is coming out the sides or the front of your child’s mouth is to have him lick two fingers (one on each hand) and hold them to each side of  his mouth as he makes the ‘S’ sound.  If he can feel cold air on those fingers, the air is coming out the sides.

Then tell him to hold one finger in front, and try to get the air to shoot out the front where he can feel it.

Continue to practice these techniques, encouraging a soft ‘skinny S’.   If your child is making a kind of ‘spitty’ S’, tell him to be sure to keep his tongue in the right place without pushing too hard.

When your child can produce ‘S’ in isolation with 80% accuracy, you can start on syllables, like ‘Sah, Say, See, Sye, So, and Soo.’

For instance, you can start with ‘Sah’. It might help to use a mirror in front of both of you, or to at least give your child a hand mirror to look at.

Make sure your child puts his tongue in the right place to make a good ‘S’ to start the syllable.  Try to make it fun and reward your child for any effort to produce the sound correctly.   Practice this at least 3 times.

Then you can move on to the next syllable, ‘See’, and do the same thing.  You may find that some syllables will be easier for your child to produce, and that’s OK.  You can come back to the harder ones later.

Move on to as many syllables as you can, trying to get as many correct productions as possible.

When your child can produce ‘S’ syllables correctly 80% of the time, you can move on to Initial ‘S’ in words.  From there, continue to work your way through all the ‘S’ levels, as outlined in the How to Teach Your Child Speech course.

You’ve got this!