Has the once adorable way your preschooler pronounces "red" gone on too long? It's probably not time yet to worry that she has a speech problem, experts agree, but parents should be listening closely. The test lies in whether you, and others outside the family, can generally understand your child. If not, or if she has a major speech distortion (such as a lisp) it might be worth a trip to the speech therapist to catch the problem early.

Mispronouncing a few sounds at this age is normal, according to Simalee Smith-Stubblefield, associate professor of Speech-Language Pathology at University of the Pacific. “What's important in preschool is that you understand most of what a child says, even if you don't understand all the sounds".

Still, experts agree it's important to stay on top of your child's speech habits, even if they are progressing normally. You can help your child better articulate sounds with these games:

  • Rhyme All the Time. Rhyming books, especially Doctor Seuss, can make your child more aware of sounds. After your child understands the basics of rhyming, you can take turns thinking of a word and trying to come up with a rhyme. If your child has a specific problem sound, make sure you concentrate on rhyming that sound. You can make up ridiculous rhyming words and have your child make up a silly definition (orange-lorange: a two-inch tall dragon that likes to drink orange juice). Whatever you need to do to make it fun, do it! The point is to have your child repeat the problem sounds.
  • Find that Word a Partner. Teach your child why it's important to enunciate each sound by providing word pairs with similar sounds, such as “one” and “run”, or “sort” and “fort.” Word pairs can be a crucial weapon, according to Smith-Stubblefield. “When children have difficulty producing a sound, they often think they're saying it correctly.” With word pairs you can show your child that there is a difference in sound and it's a good thing, too, because otherwise nothing would make sense!
  • Clapping it Out. Syllables can be a tough concept for preschoolers. Putting those hands together can be a fun way to show your child that each word is made up of sounds. Carefully break down the word, then ask your child to pronounce each sound. To keep this game fun you can do theme words, such as pirates or cartoon characters.

These activities give your child valuable practice time, which builds their confidence. After some hard work, and hopefully some fun, your child will be able to articulate any sound with ease.