Difficulty producing the "S" sound is a typical parental concern. It is not uncommon for children to use interdental placement (i.e. tongue between the front teeth) to produce the "s" and "z" sounds. The question many parents have is "How do I get my child to make the "s" sound correctly?"
Today I will share with you my the very simple tried and true cues I have used over the years for children who appear to be typically developing in all other areas of development, (cognition, communication and articulation with the exception of "s" and "z" production). Note: If your child has multiple sound substitutions and does not demonstrate the ability to model correct productions of sounds please contact a licensed speech-language pathologist for more assistance.
3 simple steps to producing the "s" sound
1. Determine if your child is a "Tipper" or "Dipper":
We can produce the "s" sound two ways. The first is by raising our tongue tip up to the alveolar ridge (i.e. the "bump" on the roof of our mouth immediately behind our top front two teeth) and expelling the air. This is called the "Tipper" technique. The other way we can produce "s" is by dipping our tongue tip down immediately behind our bottom two front teeth and expelling air. This is known as the "dipper" technique.
So I have the child attempt the production of "s" with their teeth closed and ask them where their tongue is touching: "the bump on the roof of their mouth or just behind their bottom two front teeth". Once I know which way the child can imitate the sound in isolation I move the to next step.
2. Explain the placement of articulators:
Then I explain how one's articulators in their mouth should be to produce the "s" sound based on if they are a tipper or dipper.
Our teeth are closed, lips are open and retracted slightly (small smile), tongue tip is barely touching our "bump on the roof of our mouth" and the air "slides" out of our mouth.
Our teeth are closed, lips are open and retracted slightly (small smile), tongue tip is barely touching just behind the bottom two front teeth and the air "slides" out of our mouth.
We practice this several times using a mirror and ultimately when the child can explain to me what their mouths are doing, then I know they can control their articulators and we can move on to the next step!
3. Keep the snake in the cage:
I explain that the "s" sound is the "snake sound" (making the "s" while moving my hand in a slithering motion). Our tonuge is the "snake". Our teeth make the cage. So it is our job to "keep our snake in the cage" (which means keeping our tongue behind our teeth) when we make the snake sound.
Then it's practice time. I like to start with "s" in the final word position (at the ends of words) and/or "s" blends (because most children are better at producing initial "s" in a blend then a singleton) and use our hand cue (slithering snake) while keeping our "snake in the cage" when we say the "s" sound in each word. Eventually after much practice I move the initial (singleton "s") and then medial "s".
Do you have other cues that work for you? Comment below!
NOTE: Once "s" is obtained, it is a quick easy jump to correct production of "z" by "turning on our voice when we make the "s" sound"!
Looking for some "s" words to practice? Check out these links below:
Mommy Speech Therapy worksheets page (scroll down to "S" and "S" blends and click to find links to initial, medial, final /s/ in words, sentences and stories!)
Adventures in Speech Pathology Articulation Game Boards (great website for gameboards to practice these sounds)
Enjoy and happy talking!