Some children drop “S” sounds -- or replace them altogether -- at the beginning or end of words. While this articulation problem can be normal, as “S” is one of the toughest sounds to master, some children have a speech or articulation disorder that requires the consult of a speech and language pathologist. You can use a few tips from SLPs at home to help your child pronounce “S” sounds.
Compare the “S” sound to a noise an animal might make. According to Judy Kuster for Minnesota State University, Mankato, encourage your child to make animal sounds -- say, “Cats hiss when they get angry. Can you hiss?” or “Do you know the sound a snake makes? It sounds like ‘S’. Let's be snakes together.”
Describe how to make the “S” sound with your child. According to Chicago Speech Therapy, the “S” sound is made by placing the tip of your tongue behind your front teeth but without touching the roof of your mouth. Your lips are parted, much like you would do when you smile.
Demonstrate how to make the “S” sound. Encourage your child to smile, and show him what it looks like in the mirror. His teeth are together and lips are apart, like you already described. Make the "S" sound and have him try to repeat the sound.
Ask your child where his tongue is -- it should be behind his front teeth. If he has trouble with tongue placement, ask your child to make a “TH” sound, where the tongue is protruded. Ask him to slowly move his tongue behind his teeth, and the result will be an “S” sound. Kuster suggests that children with a lateral lisp might find it easier to place the tongue behind the bottom teeth to produce the “S” sound.
Practice breath control with the “S” sound by encouraging your child to draw his finger from his wrist up to his shoulder while he says the “S” sound the entire time. This trick helps your child practice the breath support needed to produce the “S” sound.
Try the “butterfly procedure,” an idea explained by Caroline Bowen, a speech language pathologist in Australia. This approach starts with working with the “T” sound, followed by “TS.” The tongue is in the “butterfly” position, like when you say “EE” -- the sides of your tongue are raised slightly, like the wings of a butterfly.
Children might begin using “S” sounds around age 3, but according to Early Intervention Support, many children don’t master the “S” sound until age 7 or 8 years. Tools like tongue depressors are useful for improving “S” sounds, but they should be used only under the help of a trained speech and language pathologist or occupational therapist.