It’s normal for young children to pronounce words differently from adults. There’s no need to correct your child each time they make a mistake – it can interrupt the natural flow of their communication, might frustrate your child and may discourage them from speaking. Instead, try using a speech modeling technique with your child.
When your child makes a speech error, instead of making them correct themselves, you can repeat back what they say, with the correct pronunciation. For example, if your child says, “I want the tar”, you could reply, “You want the Car? Which Car?”- with a slight emphasis on the correct sound. Try to give several models of the word if possible: “Let me find a Car. Let’s see. I have a blue Car and a red Car. Which Car do you want?” Keep your child engaged by keeping it natural and playful.
An exception to this approach might be if your child has been working on a certain sound in speech therapy and you know they can produce it correctly and may just need reminders. Your speech pathologist may suggest that you ask your child to correct their sound some of the time in this case.
How do you know which sounds your child should be able to produce and which are age-appropriate errors? While every child will meet their milestones at slightly different times, here is a general guide to what speech sounds the majority of children can say at each age level:
2 years: p, b, d, m, n, h, w
3 years: t, k, g, ng, f, y
4 years: s, z, v, sh, ch, j, l
5 – 6 years: zh, r, th
While all children will make some mistakes in their speech during the first few years of speech development, by about age three years, most children should be understood by their main caregivers, siblings and peers. If your child is not producing as many sounds as expected or is still difficult to understand, an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist can help determine if speech therapy is needed.
Crowe, K., & McLeod, S. (2020). Children’s English consonant acquisition in the United States: A review. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. https://doi.org/10.1044/2020_AJSLP-19-00168