Children’s Speech: What Can a Parent Do? – Part 2

By Pam Gentry1

This is the second of a two-part series on children’s speech disorders. The first was entitled “Children’s Speech: When Should a Parent be Concerned?” In it, the author, a teacher credentialed in learning and language disabilities, discussed various types of speech problems that occur and how to determine if intervention is necessary.

For minor speech and language problems, the following therapy guidelines should bring noticeable improvement in five or six months. If not, you may want to consult with a professional speech therapist.

Delayed Language Development

A parent-guided program to help the language-delayed child should be relatively unstructured and built upon these principles:

Language develops out of relationships. The best thing you can do for your child’s language development is to spend meaningful time together and to talk with him. Talk to him about his surroundings and the activities you are doing. Play with him and talk while you play. Share a variety of experiences together and talk about what is happening. Read books together and stop to talk about the pictures.

Language must have meaning. Talk about things in the child’s environment, and create new experiences so he can experiment with new language. Speak in short, simple sentences that build in complexity as the child’s use of language grows.

Reading, writing, and spelling are also language-based skills. Many children who do not exhibit noticeable problems with spoken language may find written language a major hurdle. It is particularly important to teach these children reading, writing, and spelling using an approach which emphasizes reading with meaning, writing to communicate, and spelling in context. Using the child’s own writing to teach reading can be particularly effective for this type of student because he is then dealing with language that is meaningful to him.

Language usually reflects the language environment. If your child is experiencing language interference from a multilingual environment, it will help for at least one parent to consistently use only one language with the child.

Modeling is a technique you can use to enhance the language environment of your home. If your child says: “I gots a leaf,” you can model the correct sentence by picking up a leaf and echoing, “I have a leaf, too.” Then expand by saying, “I have a big leaf. What kind of a leaf do you have?” If he answers, “I gots a little leaf,” you should provide the correct response—“You have a little leaf. You have a little leaf, and I have a big leaf.” Then trade leaves and say, “Now I have a little leaf, and you have a big leaf.”

This exercise can be further expanded by asking the child about other items or body parts. Being silly turns the exercise into a game.

In its extended form, this technique is essentially a frame drill for language learning. But note that it is not drill for drill’s sake. The language is meaningful to the child, he is reviewing the use of language in the context of daily living, and he is using this language to communicate with someone important to him.

Focus on one element of language at a time. Pick one item to work on, such as plural nouns. When improvement is seen, begin concentrating on another element of language.


The goal of home intervention for stuttering is to minimize the influences that maintain the disorder once it has begun. The following hints for parents are taken from Stuttering and Your Child: Questions and Answers.

Things That Help

  • Provide a calmer, less-hurried lifestyle in the home.
  • Speak less hurriedly when talking to the child.
  • Allow the child to finish his thoughts.
  • Try not to talk for the child or rush him to finish his thoughts.
  • Pause a second or so before responding to the child’s questions or comments.
  • If there are siblings, set up talking rules in your family:
    • We take turns talking.
    • Each person does his own talking.
    • We listen to each other.
  • If your child begins to talk to you while you are doing something that requires concentration (e.g., driving a car or using a knife), tell him that you can’t look away right now, but that you are listening and that he has your attention.
  • Pay attention to what the child says, not how he says it. Respond to the message.

Things That Hinder

  • Finishing the child’s sentences.
  • Rushing the child to finish his thoughts or sentences.
  • Interrupting the child while he is talking.
  • Frequently correcting, criticizing, or trying to change the way he talks or pronounces sounds or words.
  • Encouraging or requiring him to talk rapidly, precisely, and maturely at all times.
  • Speaking to the child at a rapid rate, especially when telling him to slow his own rate of speaking.
  • Maintaining an overly-rapid lifestyle within the home, or constantly living with time pressure.
  • Making the child give little recitations or plays to visiting friends, relatives, or neighbors.
  • Telling the child to stop and start over when he begins stuttering.


Articulation problems require a more systematic and technical approach. The parent who has a basic understanding of our sound system and is able to use this knowledge to identify his child’s spoken errors (see first article) is prepared to help the child at home. Parent and child should set aside ten to fifteen minutes a day to work through the steps together. A relaxed, positive atmosphere will maximize the effectiveness of the sessions.

The following steps outline a program applicable to any pronunciation problem.

Step One. Identify articulation errors and categorize them according to the sounds involved and the positions of these misarticulations in words (refer to first article).

Step Two. Determine a target sound. If the child has multiple errors,

  • choose a sound he is able to produce correctly some of the time,
  • choose a sound that is easily observed during production,
  • choose a sound that is developmentally easier (see first article).

Step Three. Teach the child to recognize the target sound when it is produced correctly. Show him how your mouth looks when you say it. Ask him to indicate when you use the target sound in isolation and in words. Deliberately mispronounce the target sound and contrast it to correct production. The child should learn to discriminate the correct sound. The goal of this step for the child is ear training, not production.

Step Four. Find a way to help the child produce the sound correctly in isolation. Some things to try:

  • Make him aware of the parts of his mouth and talk about how the sound is formed (see a phonetics book with diagrams of the articulators).
  • Use a mirror so the child can compare his formation with yours.
  • Stroke relevant parts of the child’s tongue and mouth with a cotton bud to help him feel where placement should be.
  • Identify words in which the child produces the target sound correctly, then work toward elongation of that correctly produced sound within the word.

Once the child learns how to produce the sound correctly, he needs to practice until he can make the sound at will.

Steps Five, Six, and Seven. After the child can correctly produce the sound in isolation, progress to practicing it in syllables (consonant/vowel, vowel/consonant, vowel/consonant/vowel). When this skill is well established, begin practicing the sound in words (with the sound in the initial position, the final position, and then in the medial position). Once correct production is established in words, put these words into sentences for practice. Books of word lists are available to help you build the necessary inventory of practice words.

Step Eight. The child uses his newly learned sound in daily speech. Until now, speech correction has been restricted to the structured sessions. The rest of the day, the child needs to know he will be listened to, regardless of how he says something. Many children will begin to carry over the correctly produced sound on their own initiative.

If your child has not begun to carry over independently, ask him to start using his “new” sound during oral reading. In addition, choose a time during the day to use “good speech.” Reward him according to the amount of time he uses the target sound without error. Slowly extend this time, and soon the child’s new sound will be a habit. Begin working on a second sound.

For Professional Help

When you consult with a speech therapist via mail, state the child’s age, his grade in school, a brief statement regarding his health, a quick evaluation of his speech development and physical development (whether slow, average, or above average), and when you first noticed a problem. In addition, state what kind of problem you have noticed (refer to first article of this series). Give descriptive details of the words/sounds with which he has a problem and the context(s) in which he has trouble communicating. A quality tape recording of your child conversing or reading will also be very helpful.

After evaluating your child, the therapist may recommend personal therapy or advise you on a more specific program of therapy for you to carry out on your own.

For Further Reading

For some wonderful resources on stuttering visit Stuttering Foundation. Besides information on stuttering there are free ebooks and brochures to download. Some brochures have been translated into other languages such as Spanish, German, Dutch and Thai.

Speech Correction: Introduction to Speech Pathology and Audiology (9th edition) by Charles van Riper & Rob L. Erickson. Earlier editions of this classic college textbook on speech pathology are still in circulation. This readable text includes many sample dialogues to illustrate therapy procedures.

Permission to copy but not for commercial use.

  1. Pam Gentry has experience around the world in a variety of traditional and non-traditional education settings. She began her odyssey in education as a public school speech therapist, having certification in speech therapy, learning and language disabilities, and the multiply handicapped.

    From 1989 until 2013 Pam and her husband served with SIL. That service included 10 years on a remote atoll in the Solomon Islands where she homeschooled their four children and directed a women’s literacy program. This was followed by four years in a large Central Asian city where she filled various teaching and administrative roles at an international school.