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Why Can't I Understand My Child? Unpacking Common Speech Issues


boy looking in mirror poking out tongue during speech therapy

Do you ever find it difficult to understand what your child is trying to say? It can be cute to hear their attempts at words, but also super frustrating for both you and your child.


While every child develops at their own pace, sometimes they might need a bit of extra help to clearly express their thoughts and feelings. Understanding what's normal and when it might be time to seek professional advice is key to supporting your child's communication development. A speech pathologist can assist in demystifying your child's speech challenges and pave the way for clearer, more confident conversations.


What's the problem? All kids' speech is hard to understand sometimes.


Clear speech is crucial for children for several reasons:


1. Communication: Clear speech enables effective communication. Children need to be able to express themselves clearly in order to convey their thoughts, feelings and needs to others. Whether it's communicating with family members, peers, or teachers, clear speech facilitates understanding and interaction.


2. Academic Success: In school settings, clear speech is essential for academic success. Children need to be able to articulate their thoughts and ideas clearly during classroom discussions, presentations and when asking questions. Poor speech clarity can hinder their ability to participate fully in classroom activities and may affect their academic performance.


3. Social Interaction: Clear speech is also important for social interaction. Children who struggle with speech clarity may experience difficulties making friends or engaging in social activities. Clear speech enhances social confidence and facilitates smoother interactions with peers and adults.


4. Self-esteem: Children who communicate clearly are more likely to have higher self-esteem. Being understood by others and feeling confident in one's ability to express oneself can positively impact a child's sense of self-worth and confidence in social situations.


5. Future Opportunities: Clear speech skills are valuable beyond childhood. As children grow older and enter adulthood, effective communication becomes even more critical in various aspects of life, including education, employment, and relationships. Developing clear speech skills early on sets a foundation for future success.

Overall, clear speech is essential for children's overall development, facilitating their ability to communicate effectively, succeed academically, build social relationships, and navigate various life situations with confidence.



How do I know if my child's speech is normal?


Understanding speech sound development in children is essential for gauging their linguistic progress. Here's a breakdown of the stages and the sounds typically acquired within each:


Early 8 sounds: 

These foundational sounds are among the first mastered by children. They include:

/m/, /b/, /p/, /y/, /w/, /d/, and /h/.


Middle 8 sounds: 

As children progress, they begin to tackle a broader range of sounds. These include:

/t/, /ng/, /k/, /g/, /f/, /v/, /ch/, and /j/.


With the acquisition of these sounds, words like "tat" start resembling "cat" more closely, showcasing their growing mastery of speech sounds.


Late 8 sounds: 

As children approach school age, they begin to grasp more complex sounds, such as:

/r/, /s/, /z/, voiced and voiceless "th" (/ð/ and /θ/), /l/, /sh/, and /zh/ (as in "measure").


During this stage, children progress from saying "sticker" as "tikker" to pronouncing it correctly, and "three" replaces "free." It's common for some children to enter school still grappling with sounds like "r" or "th."


Understanding these milestones can help you identify when professional support from a speech pathologist may be required.


By 4 years of age, your child should be understood by around 75% of people outside of your family. By 5 years of age, 95-100% of all listeners should understand your child.


Why isn't my child speaking clearly?


If you find that your child is difficult to understand when they speak, it's the perfect time to consider consulting a speech pathologist. We can help identify the underlying issues and develop a tailored plan to enhance your child's communication abilities.


Here are some common terms you might hear from your speech pathologist:


  • Articulation Delay or Disorder: This occurs when a child struggles with forming sounds using their lips, tongue, or palate.

  • Phonological Delay or Disorder: This involves incorrect usage of sounds, such as substituting one sound for another (e.g., saying "tar" for "car"), known as fronting.

  • CAS (Childhood Apraxia of Speech) or Motor Planning Disorder: Although less common, this affects a child’s ability to sequence sounds properly. They may know the sounds they want to use but have trouble coordinating their speech muscles.

What to do if your child’s speech is unclear


  1. Make sure you give them a good speech model to follow. Have your child watch your face as you speak.

  2. Talk about words and the sounds you can hear in words. Increasing their general awareness of the structure of words can help them become clearer. For example, understanding that 'elephant' has three syllables can help them pronounce it clearly rather than their usual 'e-fent'.

  3. Play Look Listen Copy games in front of the mirror. Pull funny faces, make funny noises and see if your child can copy you. Copying facial expressions and sounds is great preparation for learning to concentrate on speech and moving the muscles related to speech. Learning to imitate these sounds and movements will set them up for success in learning new words.

  4. DON'T ask your child to repeat words over and over. If they can't make the sounds correctly or use them clearly, this will only lead to frustration and your child might withdraw from the conversation.

  5. Book an assessment with a speech pathologist. Once we determine the nature of your child's speech concerns, we can provide specific, targeted therapy tailored to your child's needs.


If you find that your child is difficult to understand when they speak, it's the perfect time to consider consulting a speech pathologist. We can help identify the underlying issues and develop a tailored plan to enhance your child's communication abilities.


Contact us to support your child on their journey to clearer, more effective communication.


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