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3 expert tips for improving your tot’s speech clarity

One speech-language pathologist weighs in on how to better understand your perplexing tot.

3 expert tips
for improving your tot’s speech clarity

It can take until second grade for a child to acquire fluent speech that is free of articulation errors. Before this time, certain kinds of errors can make a young child less understandable.


As a speech-language pathologist, one of my goals is to offer ideas for improving your toddler’s speech clarity—and for helping you to understand your child with a little more ease.

After all, understanding your toddler’s thought-process can be difficult enough without taking articulation into account!

Here are 3 common articulation errors and accompanying suggestions for improving your tot’s clarity.

Leaving off the last sound of a word.

This is quite common in younger children, which is why not everything an 18-month-old says is understood.

For example, “bae” could mean “bath” or “bad” or“bag.” The only way we know which one a child is referring to is by using context clues.

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By age 2, kids should be able to put consonants onto the ends of words, with few exceptions.

To encourage your child to do this, try practicing with words that end in /m/, /p/, /t/ or /k/ sounds.

Use words like game,mom (not mama), up, cup, hat, sock,or duck. Exaggerate these consonants when you say them and model for your child that you want him to make the same exaggerations.

Substituting consonants at the beginning of words.

Another common error pattern is something called initial voicing. For instance, a child might say “dape” for tape, “big” instead of pig, or “gat” instead of cat.

Take a quick moment to think about what your mouth is doing when you say /d/ vs. /t/, /b/ vs. /p/ and /g/ vs. /k/. You may notice that your mouth is actually doing the same exact thing for both sounds!

The only difference lies in the throat. For /d/, /b/and /g/, but not for /t/, /p/ and /k/, your vocal cords are vibrating. If you put your finger on your throat, you can feel this vocal cord vibration as a buzzing sensation.

What children have trouble with is going from anon-buzzing sound to a buzzing sound; they prefer to keep it all buzzing.

One way to get your child to say these sounds correctly is to whisper. When you whisper, you don’t buzz your vocal cords.

Have your child whisper a handful of words that begin with any of these sounds that he cannot currently say. This has the effect of showing your child that he can indeed make the sound.

The next challenge is to put this skill into actual words.

In English, the /t/, /p/ and /k/ sounds have a nice,strong burst of air when they’re said at the beginning of a word. So, in order to get kids to have that initial learning breakthrough, we want to emphasize this burst of air.


Try to use external cues to show kids what to do.  

For example, use a single piece of tissue paper and hold it about three inches in front of your child’s face. Now have your child say tape, pig, or cat. If he says the /t/, /p/ or /k/ sound correctly, the tissue paper will get flipped up. If he says it incorrectly, the tissue paper will stay put.

“Stopping” air flow when it shouldn’t be stopped.

Another sound pattern that is a serious culprit in reducing your child’s clarity is something called “stopping.”

Some sounds necessarily and momentarily stop airflow to make the sound correctly.

Try saying the word eating. When you say that first vowel (“ee”), in order to say the /t/ sound, you have to place your tongue where the upper front teeth and gums meet and stop the flow of air. That’s because the /t/ sound requires that you stop the air flow.

Now try to say easing. The air doesn’t stop flowing. Many children will stop the air flow where the air should actually keep flowing.

Any sound that requires continuous air flow can become subject to stopping.

So, you might hear your child say he’s not four years old, but “tor” or “door”.

To improve your child’s pronunciation, try something called minimal pairs. Think of two rhyming words that only differ in the sound you want your child to say correctly and another sound.

If your child cannot say the /f/ sound, good minimal pairs might be fin-tin, fake-take, or Jeff-jet. Practice saying these words with your child, emphasizing the differences between sounds.

This can allow your child to perceive the difference between what he is saying and what he should be saying.

Although these three speech patterns are very common among toddlers, they should phase out by 2½ years.

If these patterns are still present as your child approaches 2 ½ years, it may mean that your child’s speech is in need of attention from a speech pathologist.

However, the above tricks are an excellent place to start. In some cases, your child may just need a little help from you to notice and address these patterns.

When in doubt, consult your pediatrician or a qualified speech pathologist.

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This is how we’re defining success this school year

Hint: It's not related to grades.

In the ever-moving lives of parents and children, opportunities to slow down and reflect on priorities can be hard to come by. But a new school year scheduled to begin in the midst of a global pandemic offers the chance to reflect on how we should all think about measures of success. For both parents and kids, that may mean putting a fresh emphasis on optimism, creativity and curiosity.

Throughout recent decades, "school success" became entangled with "academic achievement," with cases of anxiety among school children dramatically increasing in the past few generations. Then, almost overnight, the American school system was turned on its head in the spring of 2020. As we look ahead to a new school year that will look like no year past, more is being asked of teachers, students and parents, such as acclimating to distance learning, collaborating with peers from afar and aiming to maintain consistency with schooling amidst general instability due to COVID.

Despite the inherent challenges, there is also an overdue opportunity to redefine success during the school year by finding fresh ways to keep students and their parents involved in the learning process.

"I always encourage my son to try at least one difficult thing every school year," says Arushi Garg, parenting blogger and mom of a 4-year-old. "This challenges him but also allows me to remind him to be optimistic! Lots of things in life are hard, and it's important we learn to be positive during difficult times. Fostering a sense of optimism allows kids to push beyond what they thought possible, like biking without training wheels or reading above their grade level."

Here are a few mantras to keep in mind this school year:

Quality learning matters more than quantifying learning

After focusing on standardized measures of academic success for so long, the learning environment this next school year may involve more independent, remote learning. Some parents are considering this an exciting opportunity for their children to assume a bigger role in what they are learning—and parents are also getting on board by supporting their children's education with engaging, positive learning materials like Highlights Magazine.

As a working mom, Garg also appreciates that Highlights Magazine can help engage her son while she's also working. She says, "He sits next to me and solves puzzles in the magazine or practices his writing from the workbook."

Keep an open mind as "school" looks different

Whether children are of preschool age or in the midst of high school, "going to school" is bound to look different this year. Naturally, this may require some adjustment as kids become accustomed to new guidelines. Although many parents may wish to shelter our kids from challenges, others believe optimism can be fostered through adversity when everyone is committed to adapting to new experiences.

"Honestly, I am yet to figure out when I will be comfortable sending [my son] back [to school]," says Garg. In the meantime, she's helping her son remain connected with friends who also read Highlights Magazine by encouraging the kids to talk about what they are learning on video calls.

Follow children's cues about what interests them

For Garg, her biggest hope for this school year is that her son will create "success" for himself by embracing new learning possibilities with positivity.

"Encouraging my son to try new things has given him a chance to prove that he can do anything," she says. "He takes his previous success as an example now and feels he can fail multiple times before he succeeds."

There's no denying that this school year will be far from the norm. But, perhaps, we can create a new, better way of defining our children's success in school because of it.

This article was sponsored by Highlights. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on www.comfortsforbaby.com to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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As a mom, I say the phrase 'let me just…' to my kids more times a day than I can count.

Yes, I can help you log into your class, let me just send this email.
Yes, I can play with you, let me just make one more call.
Yes, I can get you a snack, let me just empty the dishwasher.

I say it a lot at work, too.

Yes, I can write that article, let me just clear my inbox.
Yes, I can clear my inbox, let me just finish this meeting.
Yes, I can attend that meeting, let me just get this project out the door.

The problem is that every 'let me just' is followed by another 'let me just'... and by the time they're all done, the day is over, and I didn't do most of the things I intended—and I feel pretty bad about myself because of it.

I wasn't present with my kids today.
I didn't meet that deadline.
I couldn't muster the energy to cook dinner.
The house is a mess. I am a mess. The world is a mess.

It's okay, I tell myself. Let me just try again tomorrow.

But tomorrow comes and tomorrow goes and the list of things I didn't get to or didn't do well bears down on my shoulders and my heart, and all I can think is, "I am failing."

And I think that maybe I'm not alone.

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