Tips for when you can’t understand what your young child is saying.

Is your child really cute, but you can’t always understand what they are saying?

This is one of the glorious parts of early communication development. They are not meant to be saying everything exactly the same way as adults.

Kids are learning the sounds and then learning how to combine them with other sounds. This is known as articulation.

Then also as children learn to talk there are rules that impact how they combine sounds together in words and this is known by speech pathologists as ‘phonology’. So when your child says ‘tar’ for car or ‘dop’ for stop, or ‘bu’ for bus. These patterns are normal and to be expected.

Things get tricky and harder to understand if they stay in these stages for longer than ‘normal’ or sometimes as their language really explodes and they are talking in longer sentences then this can make it harder to understand them. Also, they go off to day care and kindy and then come home and talk to you about things that happened that you have no idea of the context for!! Then you are really struggling to work out what the hell they are trying to tell you.

Both my girls were difficult to understand at some point in time before they were 4 years of age. One because she stuttered and had some phonological processes that were a bit unusual. The other because her speech sound development was just a little bit slower. I did take them both to a speech pathologist as I wanted to be mum and not the speech pathologist but my number 2 girl refused to speak a word with the speechie despite the fact that she did not stop talking at all at home! I was just after some reassurance. Both of these girls went off to school completely 100% intelligible and were able to tell all the stories in the world to whoever stopped and listened. They both also went on to learn to read. Reading builds off oral language. So early speech sound development is important to later reading development.

So, what did I do?
1. I knew they could hear, as I had their hearing checked.
2. I had an understanding of what was ok and what was not and I knew how to respond to these.
3. I modeled to them all the time. If one of them said “tar” and was pointing at a car, I said – “Car, you can see a Car, Car, red Car”. So they got to hear the ‘k’ sound many times.
4. I did not put pressure on them to say the sound correctly – so I never (well extremely rarely and only with purpose) did I ever say “Say ‘k’” or “Say car”… it is no fun even as an adult communicating under pressure. I don’t think we should put pressure on our kids to ‘get it right’.

If you would like to know more about what is typical development and how you can help your child at each of the stages then head here for a pdf I have developed covering these topics.