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Stop Saying "Um"

It's like fingernails across a chalkboard: Every time your 10-year-old opens his mouth, he peppers his talk with "um," "uh," and other annoying fillers. Why does he, like, do that? Because it's common among preteens, who, as they try out more sophisticated ways to communicate, use words like "um," "like," and "you know" while they figure out what to say next, says Joan Detz, author of Can You Say a Few Words? They also pick it up from other kids, of course.

There's nothing wrong with an occasional "um" or "you know," but if your child's speech is so overrun with such words that he's hard to understand, you'll want to help him cut down on them. That way, he'll express himself more confidently to teachers and other grown-ups, who'll be more likely to take what he says seriously. To help right speech wrongs:

Watch your own "ums." Kids pick up bad speech patterns from other kids--but your child could also be taking his cues from you. Let him hear you speak with clarity, confidence, and enthusiasm, and he'll more likely speak the same way.

Practice, practice, practice. set a timer for one minute and ask him to tell you about his day, using as few crutch words as possible until the timer goes off. Tell him "Great job!" if he uses few or no fillers; try expanding the time as he improves.

Let him say it again. When you hear crutch words, wait until your child stops speaking, then gently ask him to start over, without the "ums." Explain that you'll understand him better. It'll help him focus on his thoughts and choose the right words.

Be his echo. Kids don't hear what they're saying wrong, so repeat it back. say "Did you say 'Mom, I, um, want to, like, go to Paul's house?'" This will help him become more aware of his speech.