When your baby is just born, their mouth, tongue and cheeks have already developed the strong muscles and skills to suck, enabling them to start feeding immediately. However, even with all this strength and dexterity, it will take years for these same muscles to develop sufficiently for your child to properly enunciate all the sounds needed for clear, understandable words.
New Canaan Pediatrics is here to explain which sounds you can expect to hear first, which can be a real challenge and when intervention may be needed.
One of the first sounds to develop is the “m” sound, and that’s a big reason why most toddlers say “ma ma” first. In some cases, babies may begin with “da da”. However, this can be more difficult as “m” is made with just the lips and “d” sound is created by the tongue and the roof of the mouth. By the time your child celebrates their first birthday, you may also hear “p”, “h”, “w”, “b” and “n”. If you don’t hear all of them, or you’re not hearing them clearly, don’t panic. Your child might be 3-1/2 years old by the time they can deliver these sounds easily and understandably.
Between ages 2 and 4, you may also start hearing “k”, “g” and “t” sounds.
When your child is entering kindergarten, they will typically start using blends, such as “st”, “pl”, and “gr”. Listen closely: “stop” will replace “top” and “great” will sound just great, rather than “gate”. Some blends are more difficult and may take your child up to age 7 to master, particularly “sh” and “ch.” You may hear “chopping” instead of “shopping” until your child is in second grade or so. The “th” blend may take up to 8 years to develop, to properly say “thick” instead of “tick.”
You may hear a “w” substituted for an “l” such as “wuv” instead of “love” until about age 7. This can also be true for a “y” sound that may be substituted with an “l”, as in “lellow” for “yellow.”
Some sounds are more of a challenge to acquire and substitutions may continue well into elementary school. You may hear a lisping “th” instead of a clear “s”, a “w” sound for “r” such as “buwd” instead of “bird”, or notice that your child struggles with “ing” saying, for example, “goink” instead of “going”. These sounds are among the most difficult to form and your child may have their eighth birthday before all muscles are sufficiently developed.
When it seems that your child’s speech is difficult for strangers – or even family and friends – to understand, take your child’s age into consideration. Challenging sounds may not yet be fully developed.
However, there are times when intervention is needed, and needed as soon as possible. Make an appointment with New Canaan Pediatrics when your child:
- Drools excessively, even when not teething
- Doesn’t use their lips when eating or cannot eat neatly, dropping food from their mouth
- Keeps their mouth open and/or tongue out; holds an open mouth posture
- Is unable to touch their tongue to their upper lip, or to lick their lips
- Is a mouth breather
- Has difficulty making a “kiss face” or blowing “raspberries”
- Has difficulty blowing out candles, or blowing bubbles
- Cannot bite their lower lip
When you notice these muscular or functional challenges – at any age – it’s best to call New Canaan Pediatrics for a full physical exam. We’ll perform a hearing check and possibly recommend a speech pathology services.
Questions about your child’s speech development or want to make an assessment appointment? Send us a message through your patient portal. We are here to help!