I'm worried about my child's speech skills

By Debra Collins, Family therapist


My daughter's speech is not quite where I think it should be. She has a tendency to say things backward like, "Mom, can I get some towel paper?" or she'll say "What should I wear on?" instead of saying "wear" or "put on." It's especially confusing when she tells a long story because her words constantly get switched around and the pronunciation is not always clear. How can I help her?


Those are great examples of what some young children do with word placement.

While not uncommon in her age group, it can be a concern if it seems to you that this is her normal speech pattern rather than an exception. As you have noticed, it will be more common in longer stories, especially when children are excited about what they are saying.

Ask her teacher if this is something she is noticing in the classroom that is causing concern. Also, does the teacher or your daughter's peers have difficulty understanding what she is trying to communicate? This may give you an additional guide as to how concerned you should be.

Follow your instinct. If you feel her articulation and expressive language skills seem off, ask if she can be evaluated by the speech and language teacher at her school. This will give you a better idea if she needs additional school services.

Sometimes it can help to have your daughter slow down when she's talking. Children can easily get ahead of themselves, which can result in the examples you gave. Be gentle so that she doesn't become too self-conscious.

One thing you might try is to tell her that what she says is important to you and that it would help you if she slowed down so you can understand and hear everything she's saying. You can also help slow her down by repeating some of what she says to you. If there is an error, you can repeat the phrase correctly. It is not necessary to point out her error at this time until you have a better understanding of what is needed.

Debra Collins is a licensed marriage and family therapist and has worked in both primary and middle schools as a school counselor. She gives workshops to teachers and students and offers parenting classes in the San Francisco Bay Area. To learn more, visit her website.

Advice from our experts is not a substitute for professional diagnosis or treatment from a health-care provider or learning expert familiar with your unique situation. We recommend consulting a qualified professional if you have concerns about your child's condition.