3 things to do when you don’t understand what your kid is saying

by Adina Levy

There are so many reasons why we sometimes miss what kids are telling us. Just some of the reasons can be:

  • Unclear speech sounds, like using different sounds in words or missing sounds. “Dog” can sound like “gog”. “Three” might sound like “fee”
  • Stuttering – repeating sounds, words, or getting stuck when trying to ‘get words out’
  • Quiet or mumbled speech that’s hard to hear
  • The words your child chooses or the way they communicate might not be clear, it may not be exactly the right word, or they might be vague. “I need the thingy” “uuugh!” “It’s a spaceship” (but it’s actually an astronaut)
  • The order that your child explains things in is a bit confusing. Maybe they start telling you a story in the middle or skip around a bit

Here are 3 ways to respond when you don’t understand what your child is telling you

1. Get down to their level, stop distractions, and tune in to your child. When you’re face-to-face with your child you can hear and see their communication better

2. Let your child know that their communication is important to you. “Can you tell me again? I want to hear what you’re saying but it’s a bit tricky sometimes”

3. Become an interpreter for your child. Make your best guess about what they’re trying to share with you and give them space to confirm or try again. “I think you were saying you wanted more trampoline” “More trampoline, is that right?” “You want this one? (hold out the object you think your child was talking about) Oh! Banana!”

    father and son on beach

    Bonus tip: If your child uses unclear speech sounds

    Often, correcting your child overtly isn’t helpful. The best strategy to keep your child confident and connected with you is to model clear sounds so they can hear them. You can also talk about sounds really explicitly to build your child’s concept of different sounds and how they work together to build words.

    Child: nake

    ✅ Parent: Snake! I see a snake! Snake starts with a ‘sssss’ sound

    Don’t say “It’s not ‘nake’, say “snake” ⬅️ This can make kids shut down, or feel reluctant to try the word again. Speech sounds can be hard and there are many reasons why kids use unclear sounds. If you have concerns that your child’s speech is more unclear than others their age, contact a speech therapist (email me for some help connecting with a speechie who works on this area)

    Bonus tip: If your child is stuttering

    Give them time to express their message. Don’t interrupt. Show them that their message is important to you and wait for them to finish talking.
    And seek speech therapy assessment as soon as you notice stuttering (research tells us the best thing is to get help ASAP rather than ‘wait and see’. This isn’t my main area that I support now, but if you’re in Australia you can email me with your subrub/town and I’ll try to link you with services who can help you.

    Need more ideas to help your child’s talking and conversations?

    Check out my online speech therapy course Connect & Grow! I share OODLES of tips and ideas to help you boost your child’s communication skills through your regular daily activites

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