Strategies to Help Your Child Speak Clearly

By Roxane Bélanger, M.O.A., SLP-C, Reg. CALSPO
Speech Language Pathologist,
First Words Preschool Speech and Language Program of Ottawa and Renfrew County

During the pandemic, many parents and educators are wondering how to support children who are learning to speak and use new sounds. Wearing a mask and accessing therapy services can cause concerns for parents with a child presenting with speech sounds difficulty. Many tools and strategies are at your fingertips.

What should I do if I don’t understand what my child is saying?

Speech sounds develop gradually. As a parent, you should be better able to understand your child as they get older and their ability to use sounds correctly improves. In situations and conversations where you find it difficult to understand a child, use these strategies:

  1. Be face to face, at eye level (e.g. get on the ground, squat down, etc.)
  2. Don’t pretend to understand! Be honest!
  3. Repeat to your child the parts of the message that you understood (e.g., “You went to grandma’s and what did you do?”)
  4. Be positive and acknowledge his efforts (e.g., “I see you are trying to tell me something and I want to know what it is, but I am having trouble understanding right now”)
  5. Encourage your child to repeat what he wants by pointing, gesturing, showing an object or image, taking you into a room, etc.

Your child may be aware that they are not always understood and may become frustrated or sad. Be patient. Show your child that you are interested in what they are saying and above all, don’t force them to repeat it. Celebrate successes when you understand what your child has shared with you. Repeat the word more than once by modeling the right sounds and praise your child for persisting.

What should I do to help my child speak more clearly?

Other strategies may help you when you understand your child’s message.  Use those strategies in everyday routines. Daily routines (e.g., bath time, getting dressed, meals, free play, changing diapers, playing with puzzles, reading books) are great to use these strategies repeatedly. The important thing is to offer multiple repetitions, frequently.

  1. Repeat sounds or words that your child did not say well several times by offering a better model. If your child says, “Look mom! The nake (snake)!. Say to your child, “Oh wow! The SNAKE! I see the SNAKE! The SNAKE is long! “)
  2. Highlight a sound: Exaggerate difficult sounds and words to make them stand out for your child (eg, “I see the long sssssssssssnake!”)

Celebrate successes when you understand what your child has said, repeat the right model more than once and praise your child for persisting.

For more resources and strategies, visit the First Words website at  Take a look at the following:

Recognizing speech and language problems early on is the best approach!
Check out our First Words Communication Checkup tool to know if your child is
meeting communication milestones. Refer online if necessary. For more information, visit or call Ottawa Public Health at (613) PARENTS.