Does your child find the “f” sound hard? Now let’s be clear, we are talking about the sound ‘ffff’ not any rude words! This is the second in our series of posts about making specific speech sounds. You can read the first post about teaching the “k” sound here.
When should a child be able to say the “f” and “v” sounds?
These sounds are known as fricatives meaning they are made with a long stream of air. It is normal for a younger child to mispronounce these sounds. The normal error is for the “f” to become a “p”, so fish becomes pish. The “v” sound normally becomes a “b” so van becomes ban. This process is known as stopping – the child is taking the long sound and making it short, or stopping it.
The “f” sound is normally correct and being used before the “v” sound. We would expect the “f” to be in place by around 4 years of age and the “v” a little later, by 5 years old. For more information about when a child should say specific sounds, read this post.
When should I be concerned?
If you are concerned about your child’s speech, always consult a qualified speech and language therapist. However, here are some factors as well as age that might affect whether a child needs therapy or not:-
- What error they are making? If the child is replacing the “f” with a “p” or “b” as discussed above, then I would be less concerned. If however they are replacing the “f” with a “k” this would be a more unusual pattern and may need some direct help.
- Are they using the sound in any words? Have you heard the “f” at all? Do they sometimes say it correctly at the end of a word? Or in the middle? As with the “k”, the “f” can sometimes come in the blends first, so you might notice the child saying friend or frog correctly first. If they are starting to use the sound, it may well be starting to develop on its own.
- Is it just this sound that your child finds hard or are there others as well? Does it make your child hard to understand?
How is a “f” or “v” sound produced?
The “f” sound is produced when you make a contact between your bottom lip and top teeth and blow air through your mouth. This is tricky! You need your lip and teeth to touch, but still need enough space for the air to get through and make the sound. Try it yourself now. The “v” is made in exactly the same way, but your voice box is ‘turned on’ meaning your vocal cords are vibrating.
When the child makes the “p” instead, they are making a short popping sound with their lips, instead of letting the air flow through.
How can I teach a child to say these sounds?
Firstly, a brief warning. We are going to share some ideas with you about helping your child make these sounds. Some children will be able to copy the sounds quickly with just a little bit of help. Other children will need more time and repetition. If you are waiting for a speech therapy assessment, you can help by working on their listening skills first. You can find out more about that here and here.
If your child becomes good at these skills quickly, then you can try some of the below strategies. Only try a few sessions for a couple of minutes. If the child finds producing the “f” sound hard, please stop and try again in a few months’ time or wait and speak to your speech therapist. It is really important not to keep practising the sound incorrectly or make your child self conscious about the way they speak. Remember to keep any practice relaxed and fun.
When teaching a new sound, use as many different cues or ways to help as you can. You can find out about cueing here. Give them instructions telling them what you want them to do, show them, use pictures to represent the sound and use gesture as well.
- The “f” is made with a slight contact between the lip and teeth. However to make it easier for children we ask them to “bite their lip” (gently!) or “tuck their lip in” and blow.
- If the child is finding it hard to tuck their lip in, look in the mirror together and show them. Exaggerate the movement and show the child that you are really tucking in your bottom lip behind your top teeth.
- If they are finding coordinating the movement and blowing, you could start with blowing bubbles or blowing onto your hand so they feel the sensation of air coming through their mouth.
- Some children are helped by putting a finger on their bottom lip as it helps make the contact between lips and teeth. This is also the sign used in cued articulation – a way of visually representing speech sounds. You can read more about that here.
Once your child can consistently make the sound on its own, it is time to try and use it in words. There is more about the process of speech sound therapy here or you could check out our online course which has lots more information and videos of use explaining how to make the sounds, handouts and practical activities to complete.
Once your child is ready to practise words, do look at our pack of photo picture cards for the f sound. You can find them in our shop.