Accurately pronouncing the "SH" sound can be a struggle for many children as they develop their speech skills. It's a common error that speech therapists encounter on their caseload.

In this post, we're going to cover some important details about this critical sound and provide some tips to practice. Let’s get started!

What Age Should Children Say the "SH" Sound?

There is a wide age range in which the “SH” sound can be acquired in a child’s speech development. Typically between the ages of 3.5 years - 7 years you should begin to hear correct productions of “SH.”

However, if you notice your child struggling to accurately produce this sound, you shouldn't wait until age 7 to begin practicing. If a child is having difficulty with the “SH” sound by the time they go to kindergarten, it's wise to begin working on their production and possibly seek professional help. There are two main reasons for this. The earlier a children receives intervention for correcting the "SH" sounds, the more progress they're likely to make. Additionally, around this age children may become more self-conscious about their speech errors as they begin to socialize with peers and compare their speech.

If the “SH” errors are impacting your child’s ability to be easily understood, this is another sign you should begin targeting the sound. Speech intelligibility is important not only for social purposes, but also for emergency situations. If your child was in an emergency situation and needed to communicate with someone who is not familiar with how they speak, you want to make sure they're able to clearly express their needs and be understand by that person.

It is simply a good idea to remediate errors as soon as your child is ready. Speech errors can become a harder habit to break as a child gets older.  If your child is able to imitate a correct “SH” sound from you, then this is a very good sign they are ready to learn how to say it in words.

Common Errors of “SH” Production

There are a couple of "SH" sound errors that are very commonly produced. For example, a child may produce a /s/ sound instead of “SH,” saying "Sy" instead of "Shy."  

Another error is a distortion of the “SH” sound. A child may have incorrect tongue placement, or keep the mouth slightly too far open. If there is any difference in placement of the tongue, or the teeth are not close to touching, you will hear a distortion in the production. There can be several different distortions of “SH.” It just depends how the child has approximated the pronunciation. It will sound like a very clear error no matter how they're incorrectly placing their tongue.

How to Produce the “SH” Sound

In order to say a correct “SH” sound, how the tongue is positioned in the mouth is extremely important. The tongue should be in a neutral position in the mouth - level, and not too high or too low. The sides of the back of the tongue should touch the insides of the top back molars. This is a good way to determine if the tongue is at the right level. The tongue tip should point towards the front teeth, and sit just slightly behind the two front teeth.

Once the tongue is in this position, round the lips and blow air over the tongue. This is what makes the “SH” sound! Try it yourself.

For a quick tip, try saying “eeeeeee.” Then, bring your lips into a rounded position, keeping your voice on. You should automatically produce a “SH” sound just by changing the lip position. It should sound like “eeeeeeessshhhhhh.” How cool is that? The reason this works is because the “eeeee” helps get your tongue in the correct position. The rounded lips take care of the rest.

Tips to Improve the “SH” Sound

If your child is having a hard time producing the “SH” sound, follow the tips below to help them out. Some of these may be more impactful for certain children, so it's best to practice them all and see what best elicits a correct "SH."  

Identify “SH” Words in Everyday Speech

A child has to be able to identify correct “SH” words in order to change their productions. So make it a point to point out words with “SH” in everyday speech. You should also make it a point to trying using these words routinely in your daily conversations, and have your child point them out every time they hear one.  

Have fun and make it a game! See who can identify the most “SH” words in a day.

Identify Correct Vs. Incorrect Productions

Here is another simple but very effective game you can play with your child to improve their “SH” sounds. Say the “SH” sound for your child correctly and incorrectly - then have your child identify and spot the difference.

Keep tabs on this to monitor their accuracy. You will want to make sure your child is 100% accurate in their ability to discriminate between correct and incorrect productions before beginning actual practice of the sounds.

Practicing Productions

Use these tips to target actual “SH” sound productions with your child:

  • To start, make sure your child understands the correct placement of the articulators (lips, teeth, tongue). Review the correct placement described above, and see the helpful video below for more practice.
  • Once your child understands the correct placement, start by practicing the “SH” sound in isolation - this means just the “SH” sound by itself, and not in words. Have your child imitate your productions after you. It can help many children to have a direct model. Over time, try to fade your modeling and allow your child to say the “SH” sound on their own.
  • When your child can produce the “SH” sound in isolation easily, it is then time to move on to syllable level. You will continue practicing in very structured contexts. The typical order of progression a speech therapist would follow in treatment includes: isolation level, syllable level, word level, phrase level, sentence level, conversation level.

Activity Ideas

To keep your child engaged in practice you have to keep things new and exciting! What’s great about speech practice is that almost any activity can be used to improve speech and language skills.

First, decide on an activity that your child loves. Maybe they love arts and crafts, are very active and love playing outside, or they’re competitive and love a fun board game. Whatever it may be, find a way to work in some practice of the “SH” sound into this activity. You can do this by having your child practice a few productions in between each of their turns.

If you would like some more ideas for ways to keep practice new and exciting, check this blog post out here!

Keep Practice Consistent

Make sure that you target these speech goals at least a few times a week. Progress happens faster when practice is consistent. The time spent investing in your child’s communication skills will get them on the road to clearer and more confident speech!