“When he’s concentrating, he gets it right”
“When I remind her, she can fix it straight away, but when she’s talking on her own, she always forgets”
“I guess he’s just being lazy”
These are comments we hear daily from parents and let us say: we hear you. It seems logical; your child DOES speak correctly when they are concentrating or when you remind them, so when they get it wrong, they must just not be trying hard enough. Is your child just being lazy with their talking? In short, no.
Let’s pretend you are learning French (already French-speaking parents out there, pretend you are learning Finnish or something equally difficult to master). When you go to your French class and focus hard and copy your teacher’s words, you get almost all of them right, yes? The more you practise, the better you get until you tentatively label yourself as “fluent in French/Finnish”. So you go on holiday to France, ready to have a good time. But when you land late in the day, you realise the buses aren’t running and you are likely to miss the check-in time at your hotel. You start to feel stressed and realise you are going to need a taxi. But the airport is huge and confusing and you aren’t sure which exit to use to find the taxis. So you approach the first immaculately-put-together French person you see and, feeling flustered and anxious, you ask them for help. I bet your French is spot-on right? Ha! No….no, I don’t think so. Even though you practised so much and have learnt the words to say correctly, in that moment, you still trip up and resort to using some gestures to get your message across.
So why does this happen? Why do skills seem to go out the window when applied in real life? The answer is because the skill hasn’t become ingrained yet; it isn’t natural and instinctive. It doesn’t occur effortlessly without our conscious thought. And that’s okay; it just needs a little bit of extra practise.
Our children are the same. Their skill of using that /s/ sound correctly or remembering to say “the” and “a” in sentences or including the sound at the end of a word, is new and it hasn’t quite embedded itself yet in their developing brains. For us, it may take a more stressful event like being lost in an airport or feeling really upset, for our newly learned skill to drop off, but for children, exciting (and distracting) stimuli are bombarding them 24/7. For them the whole world is new, everything needs to be investigated and learned from scratch, so many exciting things are happening all the time. It’s no surprise that when they are running around with their friends at a party or when they bound up to you to tell you about this cool rock they found, they will trip over those precious sounds they have been practising so hard. Or even when they are just sitting at the dinner table or sharing a bedtime story with you in the evening, so much is going on in their brains that they make a few mistakes with just one of the many new skills they are currently mastering.
So how do we help them get better?
This is where silly sentences come in; you may have seen these in therapy with your Speechie. When children need that extra boost to generalize their skills, we like to practise silly sentences that get them giggling and excited and in that elevated mood that usually leads to mistakes in their talking. But! We give extra prompts to “remember your sound” and load on the praise when they are able to remember, even when feeling silly. This can help the transition into everyday speech, so that they can still stay on top of their skill even when things are going on or when they are excited to upset or tired.
Your child is not lazy, they’re actually trying really hard and it’s completely normal for them to make errors “even though they can do it when I ask them”. So let’s get silly and get practising and they’ll get there in the end!