So far in our Fitting Feedback discussion, we’ve talked about the importance of having a basic understanding of how we produce speech sounds so we can give our children specific, meaningful and helpful feedback that is fit for their level of understanding (read that here).
We started out by appreciating how the different parts of the mouth all work together to make different noises (read that here). From there, we went through speech sounds as children typically develop them, beginning with the most visible and earliest to develop (p, b, m) to some less visible sounds (t, d, n).
All of this is to help them to hear, see and notice sounds, not only for speech, but to build strong listening and preliteracy skills.
Now, we’ll move further back in the mouth to two sounds; /k/ and /g/, which are often a source of much frustration for many children and their parents as they seem to be among the most difficult for many young children to acquire. Children tend to substitute /t/ for /k/ and /d/ for /g/, so words like “come” and “go” become “tum” and “doe,” respectively. This is a common pattern among toddlers, but is typically gone by 3 1/2 years.
Helping kids hear and produce /k/ and /g/ takes a bit more work than other sounds because they occur at the back of the mouth and are not easily visible to the child.
Just like we have to open our mouths a little to let them see how the tip of our tongue touches the top of the mouth for sounds like /t, d/ and /n/, we’ll need to be sure to let them see inside our mouths for /k/ and /g/ as well. This time, however, we’ll need to open our mouths wider to allow them to see the back of our tongue touching the top of our mouth.
With your mouth wide open, model /k/ and /g/ allowing just the back of your tongue to make the sounds, being careful to make sure they can see inside your mouth.
“Watch the back of my tongue go up! k-k-k-g-g-g”
As you can imagine, it’s not easy to model these sounds in words while keeping our mouths open. Therefore, the emphasis really is on building their awareness of the difference between sounds made with the tip of the tongue vs. the back of the tongue, so that when you give them feedback they know what you mean when you refer to using the “back” or “tip” of the tongue.
Kids who substitute /t, d/ for /k, g/ will often continue to make the /t/ or /d/ even when they recognize the difference in the sounds and are genuinely trying to imitate /k/ and /g/. They will continue to close their mouth out of habit. Emphasizing a wide open mouth is important so they can see what they are doing. This is where mirrors or phone cameras can be helpful.
“Ooh! I like how you tried to say that with the back of your tongue! I think you closed your mouth. Keep your mouth open wide!”
These kiddos also tend to think they said /k/ or /g/ when then didn’t, and may try to correct you when you suggest they used their tongue tip instead of the back. Don’t argue with them or try to convince them they didn’t say it correctly. There is such thing as too much feedback. You’ll get the feel for when it’s best to just move on.
They will likely make the sound by itself but not be able to use it in words (like all other new sounds they learn) for some time. They will revert to their normal way of saying words they know until the brain lays the groundwork for using /k/ and /g/. Nonsense words are often more effective for practice than common words for this reason.
Remember, just have fun with the sounds. Encourage them to have fun making different sounds and reduce pressure to do something they can’t do yet by sharing the burden and acknowledging some sounds are hard to make and that it’s OK!
SIDE NOTE: A few words that we CAN say while keeping our mouths open wide (enough) to model for them: car, key, and guy. Using words that don’t end in another consonant allow us to keep our mouth open for the whole word.
This will wrap it up for the Fitting Feedback series. Hopefully you’ve gained some confidence in knowing how to talk to your kids about speech sounds. Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions or need support with implementing strategies with your child.