Your child has been trying to communicate with you since uttering that first cry shortly after birth and now uses distinct words and even sentences. However, just as it took time for your child to learn her first word, it takes time for children to learn to speak clearly and correctly. Be patient!
In their first couple of years of life, all children pronounce words incorrectly (dysarthria) as they are learning to speak. By 3 years of age, children pronounce most of their words correctly and a stranger would understand at least three-quarters of them. By 4 years of age, mispronounced words are less common, although many children still use words incorrectly and have difficulty with certain sounds, especially f, l, r, s, v, sh and th.
Stuttering (dysfluency) can be a part of normal speech development for some children. Stuttering, an interruption in the normal flow of speech, is typically first noticed between the ages of 2 and 5, though sometimes can be noted as early as 18 months of age. Many cases of stuttering last for only a few months, and most children who stutter stop completely before the end of their childhood. Only about 1 percent of children develop chronic stuttering that lasts into adulthood. Girls and boys are equally likely to stutter during childhood, but boys are more likely to continue to stutter beyond childhood.
If your child mispronounces words, makes grammar mistakes or stutters, you can help at home by doing the following:
- Encourage conversation. Set aside time each day for sitting down and talking with your child one-on-one, but also talk while doing every day activities such as grocery shopping or making dinner.
- Use adult language, not "baby talk," when speaking with your child.
- Speak to your child slowly and clearly.
- Make eye contact with your child and use your facial expressions and other body language in addition to words to enhance communication with your child.
- Be a patient, attentive listener.
- Do not finish your child's words or sentences and do not interrupt.
- Do not pressure your child to speak to strangers or perform in public.
- If your child's life is stressful at home or at school, work with family members or teachers to provide a more relaxed environment.
If you are concerned that your child seems to be stuttering or pronouncing many words incorrectly, talk with your child's doctor. Occasionally, the doctor may refer you to a specialist (a speech-language pathologist) for further evaluation.