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It depends on your child's age. "Lisping" is a lay term that describes the way a child mispronounces words. Typically it refers to the s sound being produced like a th sound. So if your child reads a sentence such as "My sister is 7" it may sound like "My thithter ith theven." While the s sound is normally produced with the tongue behind the top teeth, a child who lisps pushes his tongue out.
If your child's s sounds this way and he's only 6, don't worry. This happens with many children, and most will outgrow it by age 7 with no intervention at all. If your child is 7, though, you should get some professional help, since a lisp is a hard habit to break as a child gets older. Talk with his school's speech therapist about the situation, though most schools won't treat a lisp, which is considered a cosmetic concern rather than an educational concern. His pediatrician, dentist, or orthodontist can also refer you to a private speech-language pathologist who specializes in lisping for an evaluation. In the meantime, pointing out that he's lisping won't help your child stop and may harm his self-esteem.
And though you won't always be able to protect him from teasing, there are a few things you can do to help your child combat his lisp:
- Treat any allergy, cold, or sinus problems so your child can breathe with his lips together and through his nose. An open-mouth breathing posture causes the tongue to lie flat and protrude. Work on nose blowing, too, as a stuffy nose is often the culprit.
- Keep your child's fingers out of his mouth as much as possible, since thumb-sucking can contribute to a lisp. It's not an easy task to help your child quit sucking his thumb, though. Target the times he's most likely to suck his thumb, such as when he's watching TV or riding in the car, and substitute another comforting activity, such as playing with a favorite toy or puzzle.
- Pop a straw in his drinks; since you're using your lips instead of putting pressure on your teeth, this kind of sucking motion promotes good oral-motor strength, which is so important in language development.
- Encourage play activities that improve oral-motor strength. Have your child blow into a party horn with a small round mouthpiece. This is a good exercise because the effort needed to make a solid sound also strengthens the lips and cheek muscles, and tends to push the tongue back in. Blowing bubbles is another option.
- Have your child look in a mirror and practice putting his teeth together while he makes an s sound. This exercise can help him remember to keep his tongue behind his teeth.