When a child inadvertently swears due to pronunciation

A question from a super reader:

My just turned 4 year old son started (about 3 months ago) to say /sh/ instead of the /s/ sound. Saying “**it” instead of “sit” – UGH!

At first I thought it was just annoying….but now I realize it’s a terrible habit that he can’t stop.

When I’ve showed him in the mirror the difference between the sounds and how our tongue makes them – he tries really hard to keep his tongue in his mouth but still puts his tongue to his top row of teeth.

How else can I coach him to speak correctly?
I don’t want him to have a lisp or another speech problem that kids will terrorize him about…

Sorry, I had to laugh at your example. So the big question is, does he do this for all /s/ sounds, or only a few? Also, does he pucker his lips like he is telling someone to be quiet? If he does it for all /s/ sounds and he is not puckering his lips, then he may have a lateral lisp.

Have him try these:

“She took a shower near the bush.”
“She sells sea shells by the seashore.”

here are a few made up words to try:

A lateral lisp should definitely be addressed by a Speech Pathologist as he probably won’t “outgrow” it.

A /sh/ for /s/ substitution, on the other hand, can be worked on in front of a mirror. Have your child practice “s” words with you and watch each other’s lips. Make sure there is no lip rounding. Try smiling and making /s/ sounds.

Practice some minimal pairs making sure they sound very different and the child can hear and say the differences:


To see a great movie clip of the sound differences go here, then click on “fricatives”. Compare the /s, z/ with the row below that /sh, dg/.

And, in the privacy of your home, make sure he practices and masters: sit/**it !! 😉

Similar Posts


  1. This could very well be extremely helpful in the near future . . . EXTREMELY.

    I can just imagine . . . he way J “talks”–he’s so loud, that any error in pronunciation is sure to have my head spinning (and crowds gasping).

    Storing it in the vault . . .

  2. Great ideas! Although, I think I’d be thrilled if my boy swore at this point. At least it would be a word.

  3. I’m with Laski. I’ve stored this in my vault too. Heck, I’ll be re-reading your entire blog again before I know it!

  4. My brother used to say F*@k for truck. And trucks were his favorite.

  5. Or she could be taught to say chair until her motor mouth catches up with her brain. Barbara

  6. PS
    How do you pronounce the first word in the title of this post?

  7. Thanks Barbara! That is one of my most frequent typos….

  8. Good stuff…I love your posts like these!

  9. I love the example (my oldest used f*** for truck like another commenter mentioned!) and your response is fantastic. GREAT ideas for the future!

  10. Our speech pathologist said my 4 year old daughter has a lateral lisp but told me not to worry about it. Is there an age when I should start to worry? She has lots of trouble pronouncing ‘s’ in any part of a word (as in she can’t say it properly at all and substitues ‘b’ or ‘d’ instead. We all try not to laugh when she asks for ‘id keem on a dick’ – ice cream on a stick.)

Comments are closed.