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Teach Your Kids to Speak Clearly

Help Your Child To Speak Clearly Without the use of fillers

"The other day, I like went to the mall and um, I got like this really cool shirt. It had like these um, um, red designs on it."

Have you ever heard your child use um or like frequently in a sentence? Chances are, you have! And if you're like many parents, you probably wonder why they do it and when they will stop.

As a speech and language pathologist, one of my challenges working with school-aged children is omitting the use of fillers um and like. I frequently hear these dreaded words when I am talking with students in the classroom. To adults, fillers can sound like fingernails on a chalkboard.

Children use fillers to take up space while they're trying to organize their thoughts to express an idea, for example, "It means, um..." They also use the filler like to give examples when they are describing something: "It's like when..."

Amazingly, it is very difficult for some children to fluently express their thoughts without the use of fillers. You can test your child's dependency on ums and likes by asking him or her to describe something. Chances are, you will hear a filler.

Fillers are "trash words" -- if you don't use them when you write, then you don't need them when you talk. Throw them in the trash!

The over-use of fillers can make the listener think that the talker doesn't know what he or she is talking about. Using a silent pause, rather than a filler sounds more articulate and knowledgeable. Imagine if the President of the United States spoke this way: "Fellow Americans, it's um, like very important that we like..." Would anybody take him seriously?

Surprisingly, children become aware of the over-use of fillers rather quickly. Some children I've worked with have counted how many times they used um or like during the day. One class of students reported that they used 365 fillers in one day. That is a lot of fingernails on the chalkboard!

The children in that classroom made a goal to reduce the number of fillers they used. For them, all it took was for someone to make them aware of the habit in order for them to take practical steps to break it.

What else can you do to help your children reduce the use of fillers?

  • Listen to your own speech. Are you using ums and likes frequently? Try to reduce your use of fillers. (This may sound easy, but it can be a difficult habit to break). Remember, you're the best role model for your children.
  • Play a game. "Let's see who can use less trash words." Kids love games and competitions and it's a great way to kick the trash word habit. If you find yourself using too many trash words, make it a family challenge!
  • Try some homework: Have your children describe their classroom vocabulary and spelling words or retell stories without the use of fillers. "Tell me what this word means. Remember, no ums or likes."
  • Reward your children. Positive reinforcement is much stronger then negative comments. "Wow, you did a great job describing that word. I only heard one um!" and "Nice try, I know it's hard to stop using trash words."

Improving your children's ability to intelligently express themselves is a team effort. Parents, teachers and children need to work together to accomplish this goal. Effective communication is a skill that will stay with your children and help them to be successful later on in life. So, let's take the trash out -- and recycle it for the future!

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