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Mama Drama: Articulation Angst

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Dear Mama Drama:

My 4-year-old son has an extensive vocabulary but like a lot of kids, has a difficult time saying his “R”s and “L”s. When should I start worrying about getting him in speech and what can I be doing with him now?

~ Concerned Mama

(photo credit)

Dear Concerned:

While I’ve worked with children of all ages and a wide range of special needs, I am not a speech expert. To make sure you get the best information I consulted with Deb Trench and Ashley Neff, Early Childhood Speech Language Pathologists in Aurora Public Schools.

Articulation guidelines indicate that the ability to clearly articulate the /r/ sound should be developed by the age of 8. Children should be able to use /l/ sounds consistently around five or six, with boys often being on the later end. Since your son is well below these ages you won’t need to worry just yet. However, there are several things you can do to support his development of these sounds.

Play with language: Make up silly alliterations and rhymes that use these sounds. Work together to see how many words you can think of that start with specific letter sounds – include the ones he is struggling with, but expand beyond that as well. Search out items in your environment that start with specific letters – a letter specific version of I Spy. These are great activities to do while riding in the car or waiting in line.

Correct through restatement: When your son mispronounces these sounds, repeat what he has said emphasizing the correct pronunciation without necessarily correcting him. “You’re right, that is a big LLLion.” “You want the RRRed shirt?”

Read aloud: When reading aloud remember to read the words as well as talk about the pictures together. Here are a few suggestions of books that emphasize the letters /r/ and /l/. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile by Bernard Waber, London Bridge is Falling Down by Peter Spier, Rain Makes Applesauce by Julian Scheer, Red is Best by Kathy Stinson,  Rosie’s Roses by Pamela Duncan Edwards, and Rotten Ralph by Jack Gantos. You can browse the library or bookstore for more books focusing on these letter sounds.

Talk with your child: Frequently conversations with your child will support both his articulation and his continued language development.

Remember that articulation involves initial, ending, medial (middle) and blended sounds. Initial sounds generally come first.

If you continue to feel worried or have any other developmental concerns please seek further evaluation for your child. Early intervention is very effective and sets the stage for academic and social success. For children under the age of five, contact your local school district and ask for their Child Find evaluation team. Consult with your classroom teacher about a referral for an evaluation for school-age children. You can also consult your pediatrician or a private speech language therapist.

Motherhood is an amazing journey that can have its share of Mama Drama. The Mama Drama column runs on Fridays with everyday mothering questions from readers and answers providing strategies to tackle these daily challenges. Send your questions and challenges to, and your Mama Drama could be in next week’s column! Lisa is also available for private consultations. All emails and identifying information will remain confidential.

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  • comment avatar Amber's Crazy Bloggin' Canuck August 13, 2010

    Whew and such great advice. I’ll start working on it!

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  • comment avatar Lori Lavender Luz August 13, 2010

    How about advising on this: when you notice a friend’s child (almost 8 yo) isn’t articulating well. Should you say something or not? If so, what? Don’t wanna be a budinsky.

  • comment avatar Lisa Vratny-Smith August 14, 2010

    Don’t feel like you have to do everything at once, Amber. They are just choices to work from. 🙂

    Lori, that is a tricky situation. My speech friends and I have experienced it both ways where parents have been appreciative or gotten very upset. Our advice is to tread lightly. By the time the kids are almost eight parents are usually aware and have made a choice that this isn’t a big deal to them. Although, if the articulation errors are really impacting the child’s communication, social, or academic performance, it might be worth being a budisnsky. You might just mention this post and note how it made you think about this child and wondered if s/he was in need of support with speech. Good luck!

  • comment avatar Lisa Chernow January 17, 2011

    My daughter substituted an “L” for every “sh” “f” and “s” sound. She wore “locks” and “loos” on her “leet” (socks and shoes on her feet) and washed her “lace with “loap.” At age 6, during a ten minute car ride, her speech completely cleared. “Listen: I can say FOUR instead of LOUR. I can say SAM instead of LAM!” It was bizarre.

    My son had similar issues – he substituted a “y” or “w” for “f” and “s” beginning sounds while he substituted a “t” for ending “s” He said “yet” for “yes” and wore “yocks and yoos on his “weet.” By the time he was 6, the only difficulty he had was with “r” – he said “gull” instead of “girl” and “wohld” instead of “world.” That went away slowly during the 2 months before he turned 7. He became aware that some people had a hard time understanding him and self-corrected, adding an extra long “r” sound until he got it right.

    We read with our kids, talked with them frequently, and never corrected their speech or made them feel self conscious about it. We never took them to a speech therapist because their pediatrician and their teachers weren’t concerned – the advice was to wait so long as their speech didn’t bother them.

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