Does your child find the “s” sound hard? This is the third in our series of posts about making specific speech sounds. You can read the post about teaching the “k” sound here and the post about teaching the “f” sound here.
When should a child be able to say the “s” and “z” sounds?
Like “f” and “v”, these sounds are known as fricatives, meaning that they are made with a long stream of air. It is normal for a younger child to mispronounce theses sounds. There are several common errors that can be made with these sounds. Many younger children will use “t” or “d” in place of “s” (for example “sun” becomes “tun” or “dun”). This process is known as stopping – the child is taking the long sound and making it short, or stopping it. This error is the main one that we are focussing on in this post.
Many (often slightly older) children will replace “s” with a “th” sound, (so that “sock” becomes “thock” for example). This is also a common error.
The “s” sound is usually correct and being used before the “z” sound. We would expect the “s” sound to be in place by around 4 1/2 nd the “z” a little later by around 5 years old. However, some children will persist with using a “th” in place of “s” and “z” for a little longer than that. Stopping of the sounds has usually resolved by around 4 years however. 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 qualifed speech and language therapist. However, here are some factors as well as age that may affect whether a child needs therapy or not:-
- What error are they making? If the child is replacing the “s” with a “d” or “th” as discussed above I would be less concerned. As I have already explained the “d” error may well resolve a little earlier than the “th”. Some children make other errors as well. For example, some children have a lateral lisp. This means that the air is coming over the sides of the tongue instead of the middle. Some children also say the sound through their nose instead of their mouth. We will talk about these in more detail another day, but if your child is making either of these errors, please consult a speech and language therapist.
- Are they using the sound in any words? Have you heard a clear “s” at all? Do they sometimes say it correctly at the end of a word? Or in the middle? 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 “s” or “z” sound produced?
The “s” sound is produced when you put your tongue tip behind your teeth by the ridgey part on the roof of your mouth and blow the air through. This is tricky! You need your tongue to be very close to the roof of your mouth but still need enough space for the air to get through and make the sound. Try it yourself now. The “z” is made in exactly the same way, but your voice box is ‘turned on’, meaning that your vocal cords are vibrating.
When the child makes a “d” instead, they are making a short sound by moving their tongue quickly 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 how to do that here and here.
If your child becomes good at these skills quite quickly, then you can try some of the strategies below. Only try a few sessions for a couple of minutes. If the child finds producing the “s” sound hard, please stop and try again in a few months’ time or wait and speak to your speech and language 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 practise 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.
- I usually encourage the tongue to be in the right position by asking the child to bite their teeth together and blow.
- If the child is finding it hard to keep their teeth together, look in the mirror together and show them. Exaggerate the movement by smiling to show the child exactly what you are doing.
- Asking them to make a snaky sound or hissing sound can often help. I often move my hand towards them like a snake as I say the sound, to show that it is a long sound.
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 teaches you how to teach a new sound from start to finish with videos, handouts and practical homework exercises to consolidate your learning.
Once your child is ready to practice words, do look at our pack of photo picture cards for the s sound. You can find out more about them here or click the button below to buy.