Beyond Baby Talk: 6 Strategies to Improve the Phonology of Young Children

Though baby talk can be adorable, there comes a time when it needs to evolve into “big kid” talk. Adults rarely find it cute when grown people say “wook at da widdle puppy” instead of “look at the little puppy.”

Fortunately, most children move through the baby talk, or phonological development stages, fairly quickly without the need for direct intervention from an SLP. For the children that get stuck and develop personal phonological rules that make their speech hard to understand, we can use a few different strategies, therapies, and techniques to clean-up their speech.

Those of us that work with children in the birth to three age group are uniquely positioned to address the phonological processes as they emerge. We can help children through different stages and work to prevent them from adopting the wrong rule systems into their speech. Our approach should also focus on parent involvement and education on typical speech and language development.

Over the years I’ve found success with the following techniques:

1. Say It How They Say It

When kids change the meaning of their message by inadvertently shaping a word into an alternate word, reflect back what they said and what they meant to say. Be sure to be silly rather than intimidating as in, “You said you are wearing ants but those are pants!”

2. Read Books

Introduce minimal pair therapy in an approachable way while supporting literacy. The Word Menders Series of books are a great way to address many of our goals.

3. Act it Out

The Stimulability Character Cards, while not specifically designed to work on phonological processes, introduce all consonants in beginning and medial positions by pairing fun actions with the illustrations. Little kids love these and really enjoy acting out and saying the phrases.

4. Keep it Playful

Introduce early minimal pair therapy using objects supplemented by flashcards in play. Name the target words pointing out the contrasts in meaning as you place them into a dump truck or slide them down a slide. For example, with voicing errors have a fan and a van to show as you label.1

5. Encourage Listening Skills

Auditory training activities, as well as auditory bombardment, help kids decipher word meanings while helping them hear correct productions.2

6. Educate Parents

Parents who don’t understand the process behind typical speech-language development can become concerned when their kids say words incorrectly. To quell their fears, explain the role phonological processes play in typical speech-language development and answer any questions they may have.

Remember, every family wants to hold on to some forms of baby talk like calling a favorite aunt KiKi instead of Cathy or calling a blanket a “wubby.” These words are special to the family and should be respected. Our job is to make sure those developmental speech errors don’t invade the bulk of the speech as children grow and develop.

  1. Speech Sound Disorders-Articulation and Phonology, Practice Portal:§ion=Treatment, Accessed 1/24/17.
  2. Hodson, B. Enhancing Phonological Patterns of Young Children With Highly Unintelligible Speech, ASHA Leader, April 2011, Vol. 16, 16-19.