Over the last 30 years, I have had a chance to see many children with speech difficulties. Children who do not speak properly may sound cute at first, but this might become an obstacle as they grow up. At some stage, their parents stress about it and take them to a speech therapist or a speech pathologist.
But parents can fix some of the speech problems very easily. This post includes my tips for fixing one of the major speech difficulties – physical sound production. Hundreds of parents around the world have used them and changed their children’s life. If your child has trouble pronouncing words, you do not need a speech therapist. Using the suggestions below will do the same for your child.
Causes of speech difficulties
When children have difficulties with speech, it can be one or a combination of three reasons. It is very important to distinguish between these reasons, because the way to treat them is different.
This means that the child cannot hear things properly and therefore, cannot reproduce sounds properly. Some common examples of this are:
- Fluid in the ear (too many ear infections, runny nose) preventing sounds from getting to the child’s brain. Usually, when the hearing problem is fixed, the challenge disappears within a short period
- Parents speaking with an accent or having difficulties in language or speech providing the child with the wrong sounds to mimic
It is necessary to evaluate how long the child has been missing proper auditory input and catch up on that missing time.
This means that the child has a difficulty interpreting sounds and giving them meaning, retrieving auditory memories or forming sounds from meaning. This is a learning difficulty. You will be happy to know that they are rare.
Working with the child requires someone with special education qualifications to teach the child a way to improve this brain function and/or compensate for the auditory processing problem.
This means that, even if the child can hear properly and process properly, he or she cannot pronounce words properly. This is most often because the child cannot control the muscles of the mouth properly.
Usually, you can see this when they eat. Kids with mouth motor challenges do not chew for long and swallow their food almost whole, because it is hard for them to move the food around in their mouth. You can also see it when they cannot chew gum for more than a few seconds. This is the most common difficulty and, fortunately, the easiest to fix.
In this post, I will focus mostly on output difficulty, because it is easy to fix and parents need to do the hard work anyway. The solution is to strengthen the muscles of the mouth, which you need to do at home for 10 minutes every day, and you will see results within two to three weeks.
Speech development in children
First, you need to understand what contributes to this weakness of the mouth muscles. When babies suck a pacifier (dummy) or drink from a bottle, the do not need to regulate their saliva. The mouth produces saliva, which they swallow at regular intervals with breathing, so they do no need to think about it.
Speech requires good regulation of saliva. We hold our saliva as we speak and swallow occasionally. It is easy to see it with food or with a chewing gum. Children with weak mouth muscles, often from using a dummy or eating only from a bottle for too long, cannot regulate their saliva very well. Whenever they feel there is lots of saliva in their mouth, they swallow, and if they happen to have something in their mouth, they swallow that too.
Proper speech requires all the muscles in the mouth to work properly, which means being able to move food in the mouth from one place to another and chewing at least 10 times. If kids do not eat well, they are more likely to have speech difficulties and vice versa.
There are many things you can do to strengthen your child’s mouth muscles and guarantee clear speech. Since I believe we can do everything with kids by turning it into a game, I am going to share with you many activities that are fun. Remember, you want to avoid telling your kid he or she has a problem. Make it fun, play with the whole family, even do it in the car. If kids do not think of it as a problem, it will not be that much of a problem and they will cooperate more.
I have used these techniques on my children and had no problems at all, so you do not have to use them because your kids have challenges. You can use these activities to make sure there are no problems.
Mouth Gym: Fun activities to improve speech
- Blowing out candles – slowly move the candle farther and farther away.
- Blowing out candles with straw and water – teach your kids to fill up the straw with water and then spit the water onto the flame of a candle. This will require good control of breathing and mouth muscles (otherwise they will swallow the water). Their goal is to blow out the candle. Again, move the candle away gradually.
- Blow bubbles – use soap bubbles and you can use a straw as well.
- Chewing gum – measure how long the child holds it in his or her mouth. I have used this technique with children and it made a huge difference within a week.
- Make bubbles from chewing gum – this requires strong control of the muscles, including the tongue. It takes time, so be patient and give your kids time to practice.
- Spitting – ask the child to gather saliva and spit it to a distance. Kids with difficulties spit on themselves, but as they get better, they will spit farther and farther away.
- Spit bombs – ask the child to role a small piece of paper into a ball, place it into a straw and spit it at a bucket or some other target. The farther they can do it, the stronger their mouth muscles are.
- Sound making – make a clicking sound, bottle opener sound, raspberry sound, horse sound and ask the child to mimic them.
- Kissing lipstick – give the kids lipstick and ask them to put it on and different impressions on some paper. Count the different shapes they can create. It is fun!
- Blow up a balloon – this requires control of breathing and mouth muscles.
- Soccer straw – take a small pompom and some straws and play soccer on the table. The kids will have to blow the pompom with their straw to make it fall on the opposite side of the table. This game is fun with 2 or more player, so the whole family can play.
- Whistle – teach the child to whistle. This requires good control of air and lip muscles. Be patient and cheer whenever they make a sound.
- Chew 25 times before swallowing – this is a good activity for the whole family. The more we chew, the better our body prepares the food for digestion. Chewing longer can also help greatly when working on the mouth muscles. Play a dinner game with the whole family or counting 25 chews before swallowing the food.
- Funny faces – when you make funny faces, you use different muscles of the face, including the mouth. If you do it in front of the mirror, it will draw attention to the difference in the eyes, mouth, cheeks and nose. It is funny and very useful.
- Alphabet sounds – go over the alphabet with the vowels and ask the child to repeat each sound three times: Aa, Aa, Aa, Ba, Ba, Ba … De, De, De … Ne, Ne, Ne, Pee, Pee, Pee … See, See, See … Doo, Doo, Doo … Loo, Loo, Loo, and so on.
- Speak in accents – the difference in accents is the use of the lips, the tongue and the way the air flows in the mouth. It requires lots of control. You can take a song or a rhyme and try to sing it in different accents.
- Marbles – this activity was used originally to overcome stuttering (it helps and I may explain it in a different post). You take three small marbles, put them in the mouth and try to speak as clearly as possible for 5 minutes, then 10 minutes and so on. Unfortunately, when people have a challenge with regulating saliva and the danger of swallowing the marble, marbles could be dangerous. Instead, you can use three round bubble gums. Since the bubble gum is sweet, your kids will have more saliva to regulate. If they swallow the bubble gum, it is no big deal. Play a game where you both talk and need to guess what the other person is saying or sing a song and try to guess the song, and then swap. Again, try first and check how long the child can do it, and next time, try to do it for longer.
- Draw with your mouth – ask the child to draw with a brush with watercolors or a marker. At first, the child can draw anything, and later, ask for something specific, like a sun, a flower, a face, a tree, etc.
- Pick up food with your mouth only – cut some fruit into small chunks that would fit into the mouth easily and ask your kids to pick them up with their lips only. Mandarins, grapes and strawberries are examples of good size to fit into the mouth. Remember, no hands! Again, every game done as a family becomes fun, easy practice.
- Empty plate – make a shape out of chocolate spread or honey on a plate and challenge your child to lick the plate clean as quickly as possible. Licking strengthens and improves control of the tongue. When Tsoof was little, he used to call out “Empty plate” happily whenever he finished his food. This can be your agreed signal to stop the clock and check your child’s progress.
These 20 activities are sure to work. I have tried them with hundreds of children over 30 years and the success rate is 100%. If you work on it for 10 minutes a day, you will see results within two to three weeks, guaranteed!