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I Don’t Get What My Child is Saying: Should I Be Concerned?

Have you every experienced talking to your child and not understanding half of what they are saying?

It’s normal to not understand your child early on. It can be hard, but parental support is important for language learning. There are some things you can do to understand your child better, and we’ll discuss that here..

We’ll also discuss when is the right time to talk to a speech language pathologist, and what you can do at home to help.

Why Can’t I Understand My Child?

As your child gets older, they’ll try to tell you about things they are interested in. There will be times that some words or sentence structures aren’t right. They may replace letters (“wabbit” for “rabbit”) or omit the end of words altogether (“bo” instead of “ball”).

It’s important that you don’t panic or take it as a sign of delay. It’s not uncommon for children under the age of 3 to have trouble with language. It is possible that they are developing their speaking skills through some processes.

Your child’s brain is at work when they try to make sounds simpler. As oral motor abilities are developed, this mispronunciation is a way of honing their language skills. Simpler versions of sounds are used since they aren’t fully capable of certain oral movements.

Their oral motor skills grow along with their speech development, so it will take time. When an unfamiliar listener understands some sentences at their age, you should be able to estimate your child’s speech progress.

To set a higher standard, we use ‘unfamiliar listener’ as a benchmark. If someone unfamiliar to you is interacting with your child, it may be more difficult for them to understand what your child is saying.

  • 50% to 75% of what your child is saying should be understood by 2 years old.
  • At 3 years old, they should be able to understand 75% of what your child saying.
  • Even though their pronunciation is not perfect, they should be able to comprehend at least 90% of what they say by the time they are 4.

As your child develops better oral skills, the ‘wrong’ sounds will fade. The American Speech Hearing Association (ASHA) website has a list of the most common speech patterns. They have a quick resource for the estimated when your child will stop using certain sound replacements.

Don’t hesitate to contact a speech language pathologist if you find that you can’t understand them more often than you should. Speech therapy can help improve their language capabilities before they reach school age and prevent further language delays.

What Parents Can Do at Home

As your child shares their thoughts, you may still have a hard time. Your support is essential for your child as they go through this stage of development. You can help your child by doing a few things at home.

Listen and Let Your Child Speak

When your child is asked a question, be patient and wait for them to respond. You don’t have to rush them into responding.

When friends or family members do not understand them, that’s the same situation. If the person you are talking to does not hear what your child is saying, ask your child nicely to repeat it.

It would be better for you to not answer on their behalf. They will become dependent on you to answer when someone asks them a question instead of answering it themselves.

Enunciate Properly

Be as clear as possible when you speak to your child. If they make a mistake, repeat the word with the correct pronunciation. They will benefit greatly from the modeling of proper articulation.

It helps to exaggerate noises. Try to get them to pay attention to how your mouth, lips, tongue and teeth are moving when you say something.

Repeat and Inquire

If you can pick up on some of their words, repeat them back to them. Say it back with an inquiry or question. This way you ask them to confirm or try again if it’s not right.

Some kids cut off the last part of words, such as “cuh” for cup. If you don’t get what they mean, you can follow up with a guess and ask again, “Do you want your cup?”. If you enunciate the word well, they can learn how to say it with proper sounds.

Practice Difficult Words/Sounds Together

Learning sounds can be done in a different way than just talking around the house. It is possible to explore and experiment with different sounds during playtime. Animals can be used to make noises with your target vowels or consonants.

It can be helpful to focus on certain speech sounds. Make up sentences for the target sounds and look for items that contain them.

Don’t Stress Them Out

Don’t take out your frustration on your child, you’re unsure of what they just said. They might give up on their efforts to speak if you show that you are frustrated from the miscommunication.

Allow your child to clarify what they said. Looking at what they are doing and their facial expression is also a means of getting thoughts across, so use that to your advantage.

If they are young, you can encourage them to use other means to answer questions, such as using their fingers to express numbers. Requesting your child to use their words is a good idea when they become a little older.

Try to make it seem like you didn’t hear them well and that you were confused. Telling them that they are not saying things correctly will only put a blame on them and they will lose their self confidence.

One of the things that will take a lot of patience is going through your child’s phonological process. When they reach the age where they are able to articulate correctly, it can be very rewarding.

If you still find it difficult to understand them, don’t hesitate to book a free consultation below to get in touch with our speech therapy team.