It’s completely normal for a young toddler’s speech to be somewhat unintelligible. Hard “C” or “K” sounds typically don’t develop fully until ages 5 or 6, and combination “CH” sounds along with the “S” pronunciation of a “C” will be mastered around ages 7 or 8, according to Early Intervention Support. By practicing these sounds and working through oral-motor difficulties, you can help your child pronounce “C” and “K” sounds.
Strengthen the muscles of your child’s mouth and tongue by letting him drink through a straw. Make sure your child is not suckling, or putting more than 1/4 of the straw in his mouth. Once your child masters sucking through a straw with thin liquids, try something thicker like yogurt. According to Heidi Hanks, speech and language pathologist, most deficiencies with “K” sounds are due to problems with tongue retraction or oral-motor weakness; sucking through a straw addresses both these issues.
Read books with “C” and “K” sounds. Giving your child exposure to these sounds models appropriate pronunciation. Hanks suggests slowing down or emphasizing words with “C” and “K” sounds to bring attention to the target sounds.
Have your child lie on his back and say “C” and “K” words. This position typically makes pronunciation a bit easier because the tongue falls to the back of the mouth.
Used the “fixed-up one” routine, coined by speech and language pathologist Dr. Caroline Bowen. Say something like, “If I said ‘tat’ instead of ‘cat’ it wouldn’t sound right, would it? I could fix it up and say ‘cat.’ Do you hear the fixed-up one? I said ‘tat’ and fixed it up and said ‘cat.’” This method teaches the subtle differences between words but also as it applies to conversation.
Practice minimal pairs with your child. Similar to the “fixed-up one” routine, minimal pairs use pairs of words that differ with one sound; for example, “bat” and “cat” is a minimal pair. This activity helps your child realize the small differences in pronunciation between words. Focus on minimal pairs with the target “C” and “K” sounds.
Have your child practice gargling water. Similar to lying on the floor, this method helps put your child’s tongue in the correct position for making “C” and “K” sounds.
Things You'll Need
Glass of thin liquid
Glass of yogurt
Lists of minimal pairs
If your child continues to struggle with “C” and “K” sounds, make an appointment with a speech and language pathologist. This professional might use other tools, such as a tongue depressor, which helps with proper tongue placement, but should only be used by a certified therapist.