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Here's Why Kids Are So Often Teased or Mimicked for the Way They Speak

Do you remember being a child and noticing a fellow classmate get teased for the way that they spoke — whether it was because of a regional accent, or because they had trouble pronouncing certain sounds like “r’s” and “l’s”?


If so, you may remember this type of teasing getting brushed off more easily than other types of teasing. It just didn't seem to raise the same red flags for adults as when Becky was made fun of for wearing the same shirt every day or Carlos was made fun of for his glasses. But like other types of teasing, comments about their speech or accent can have a major impact on a child’s self-confidence.


“We all have accents to some extent, and they’re something we can all potentially experience,” says Ellen Braaten, Ph.D., co-director of the Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds at Massachusetts General Hospital. “So when it comes to regional accents, it’s one of those things that I think is a little bit easier to poke fun at, because in some ways, we know it can be ourselves. But it can still hurt, and it can still take the form of bullying.”


Children who actually experience speech sound disorders often are the target of bullying, adds Braaten. 


“Kids with speech disorders do tend to be a target a bullying much more than kids without speech disorders, because speech is how we communicate of course,” she says. “In fact, children who stutter are 61% more likely to be the target of bullying, and two-thirds of kids with even simple communication disorders report they were bullied or teased when they were young.”


Those communication disorders can involve trouble articulating certain sounds, like “r’s” and “l’s.” Signs your child may be feeling insecure about their speech include trouble concentrating, attaching intensely to objects like stuffed animals or blankets, acting very shy, or complaining about physical symptoms like belly aches and headaches.


To learn more from Braaten and other experts about how you can help your child feel more confident in their speech, and what to do if they're hearing comments or teasing about their speech, tune in for Episode 1 of In Plain Language, the new podcast about speech and language in kids.

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