While speech impediments are not uncommon in children, some are more prominent than others. When you are still getting to know a child, there can be an adjustment period where you get used to understanding their particular patterns of speech. During this time, it is very important that you remain supportive and avoid anything that the child may perceive to be a criticism about their speech. To that end, we have put together a few tips on how to have conversations with children with unclear speech.
Often when speaking to someone with a speech impediment, your natural instinct can be to interrupt to try and finish their words, sentences, or thoughts for them. Doing this is not only just as rude as someone interrupting you, but it gives the impression that you don’t think the child can manage on their own, and that you don’t have the patience to try. You might think you’re being helpful, but all you’re really doing is discouraging them from trying.
We all know how it feels to be in the middle of a story, only to realise that the person isn’t listening. Whether they’re playing with their phone or just have a glazed over look, it makes you want to trail off and just give up. People who have a speech impediment will experience this a lot more frequently than those who don’t, so when they’re speaking, be sure to give them your full and undivided attention.
Show & Tell
All kids have certain objects and words that are only really used within their family, so sometimes understanding them is as simple as asking them to show you what they mean. For example, a toy rabbit could be called anything from Bunny to Mr. Hops, while a soother could be called a binky. If you don’t understand what the child is saying after a few tries, ask them if they can show it to you. This way, their attempt to communicate will still be a success, and you will be better equipped to understand them next time.
Repetition can be a useful tool in two ways. The first is to use it to subtly correct a child’s pronunciation without directly criticising them or interrupting. For example, if they are telling you about their new watch, and mispronounce the word “watch”, you can help by repeating the word over and over e.g. “What a lovely watch, I love watches. I got my dad a watch for his birthday”. The second way to use repetition is to encourage a child to fill in the gaps of your understanding. So if you understood the child say they got in the car, but not the rest, you can repeat what you caught as a questions “You got in the car?”, and gently nudge them towards clarifying the rest.
These are just a few tips to help make conversations with children who have unclear speech a little easier and more natural. However, the most important thing to remember is that people with speech impediments are still normal people, and you should show them the same patience, attention, and respect that you would you want to be shown when speaking. To learn more about this topic, see our blog on how to help children continue a conversation.