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4 Kids’ Oral Motor Exercises for Muscle Weakness

Feb 14, 2022 Parents asked: "My son started to babble like he wants to have a conversation with me. I noticed he doesn't use his tongue. What kind of kids' oral motor exercises should I do?"

Are you starting to think that your child has trouble speaking? Ok, stay calm. If you see your child not using a part of their mouth that they need to use, especially at around 2–3 years old, you need to get them evaluated by a speech pathologist to rule out any type of oral-motor disorder. Articulation issues are just one sign that help may be necessary.

The good news here is that a child who is babbling is attempting to communicate. Babbling is a precursor for language, so if your child is doing that, they are on the track to communicating more through words.

What is an Oral-Motor Disorder? 

Oral motor disorders can fall into three main categories:

  1. Oral or verbal apraxia: the inability for the mouth to do what the brain tells it to do due to motor planning difficulties;
  2. Dysarthria: the inability to eat safely or speak clearly due to muscle weakness or sluggishness;
  3. Delay in the development of musculature for eating.

Causes of Oral-Motor Disorders

Oral motor disorders can be caused by incorrect motor programming of the muscles of the mouth – the brain sends a message to the mouth muscles, but the muscles either don’t receive or misinterpret the message.

Then the muscles don’t move or move in the wrong way, making it difficult to manage food in the mouth and to produce intelligible speech.

Some children may have difficulty remembering the movements, which then makes it difficult to make the sounds automatic.

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Low muscle tone of the lips, tongue, or jaw can be another cause. I don’t know the details about the child in question, but if your child is showing issues with movement of certain parts of their mouth, watch them eating, as well.

If it’s a true issue, they will have difficulty moving food around in their mouths. They may also have issues drinking from straws if they have lip or tongue weaknesses. 

Get Evaluated for Speech Therapy 

If you suspect an oral motor disorder, your pediatrician can refer you to a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who can properly diagnose your child.

The therapist will interview you to see what you are noticing at home, but will also perform an assessment on your child.

This assessment may include the following: 

  • Checking for signs of weakness or low muscle tone in the lips, jaw, and tongue.
  • Seeing how well the child can coordinate mouth movements by having her imitate non-speech actions such as moving the tongue from side to side, smiling, frowning, and puckering the lips.
  • Evaluating the coordination and sequencing of muscle movements for speech while the child performs tasks such as the diadochokinetic rate, in which the child repeats strings of sounds such as puh-tuh-kuh as fast as possible.
  • Testing the child’s skills in “real-life” situations, such as licking a lollipop, and comparing this to skills in “pretend” situations, such as pretending to lick a lollipop.

If therapy is recommended, the therapist will instruct you on what movements and exercises you can do based on your child’s weakness.

4 oral-motor exercises for speech clarity to try at home

Here are four toddler activities that include articulation and other speech exercises:

  1. Blowing bubbles. This is for lip and cheek weakness, but it’s fun and kids will play with bubbles without even knowing it’s therapy.
  2. Using straws to drink. This works on every aspect of a child’s mouth. Children should be using straw cups by 1 year of age.
  3. Making funny faces. Have your child look in a mirror and imitate funny faces. Again, these faces will depend on what weakness your child is displaying. Also practicing chewing exercises for toddlers will help!
  4. Lollipops. Yes, they can be used in therapy. Your therapist will have your child lick the lollipop or different candies using their tongues in different positions so that the tongue gains strength. Doing tongue exercises for speech therapy is very important.

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The author’s views are entirely his or her own and may not necessarily reflect the views of Blub Blub Inc. All content provided on this website is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for independent professional medical judgement, advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.

Comments (16)
  • I am concerned for two children who miss several sounds when speaking and are not heard or understood as a consequence. How can I rectify that? Thank you

    • Hi. Thank you for your question. In order to fully answer your question, I need to know:
      1. How old are your children?
      2. What sounds are they deleting?
      3. Is it in the beginning, middle, or end of the word?

      That will help me to give you tips/strategies to assist them better! You can send your answers to ask-a-therapist@speechblubs.com!

      Thank you! Stacie Bennett, SLP

  • Hi my son is 2 years and 3 months. He deletes F, Th sounds in beginning and end of words. He is in speech therapy but they are not working on his oral weakness. What can I do?

    • Hi Courtney. Can you please provide more information? You said they aren’t working on his oral weakness. Does he have an oral motor disorder or is it issues with phonology (deleting sounds)? They are very different! An oral motor weakness won’t cause a child to delete sounds – it will; however, make the sounds come out differently than they should. I always tell parents that they need to keep an open line of communication with their therapist. If you have questions, you should ask – that’s what they are there for. If they aren’t communicating clearly, then you have every right to ask them to explain more.

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

  • My son have oral motor problem. I notice him when he is seeing in mirror. He just open his mouth wide and make sound “Aaaa”. I think its weak lip muscle … plz tell me some lip exercises. He can’t drink with straw before some time ago … But now trying it on

    • If you think this is a problem for your child, I would suggest seeking the professional help of a speech pathologist. They will be able to assist your child in forming the sounds correctly and determine if it truly is an oral motor deficit. Some exercises or activities you can do in the meantime include:
      1. Blowing bubbles
      2. Stick your tongue straight out and hold it for 3-5 seconds. Relax and repeat 5 times
      3. Pull your tongue back and touch the back part of your mouth (like saying /k/ sound) 5 times. Hold each attempt for 3-5 seconds
      4. Move your tongue from side to side. Some kids enjoy trying to reach a lollipop if you hold it at the corner of their mouths.
      5. Make them try and lick peanut butter off the top of their lips.Put your finger against your right cheek about 1″ to the side of the corner of your mouth.
      6. From the inside of the mouth, push your tongue against your cheek where your finger is touching. Push as hard as you can. Hold for 2-3 seconds.

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

  • What activities can I do at home for 2 year old child with cerebral palsy? She only says aa, am and umma (meaning mother) sometimes.

    • The first thing I would like to recommend to you would be to seek out an occupational therapist and a speech pathologist. They both will be able to assist you with activities to do as your child makes progress! I’m not sure of your child’s abilities, but I’m going to suggest some things for you to do that can be modified based on your child’s needs. Things that you can do at home, in the meantime, can include:

      1. Reading to your child – make sure to point to objects and, if she is able, have her point to things that you name.
      2. Narrate all of your actions to her – even the simplest things should be explained on her level so she is exposed to new vocabulary
      3. Simple arts and crafts are great to expose her to common language such as, colors, shapes, objects and places.

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

  • My 16 month old daughter was born prematurely at 29 weeks. She is currently g-tube fed and is offered 5 bottles a day by mouth. She drinks between 1-3 oz. of formula per feeding. She is highly orally defensive , has low oral tone, and does not transition well. Which sippy cup would you suggest for transition from a bottle?

    • When a child goes from the breast or bottle to a sippy cup, they tend to drink out of a traditional sippy cup as if it were a bottle. In other words, they tend to continue the infantile sucking pattern by protruding and placing their tongue under the hard sippy spout and suckling vs. a more mature sucking pattern in which the tongue retracts (pulls back) in the mouth and the lips contract (tighten) to support a straw or cup without the use of the tongue.

      Children should be encouraged to transition to an open mouth cup (regular cup), cup with a flexible straw (so that the straw compresses vs. a firm plastic spout), or a cup with a recessed lid to promote lip pursing (puckering) and pulling the tongue back to a more normal resting position. Some options for you might be:

      1. Munchkin Miracle 360 cup
      2. Nuby No-Spill Super Spout
      3. Avent My Little Sippy Cup
      4. OXO Tot Transitions Cup

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

  • I think my 2 year old toddler has some oral motor disorder. He is sucking his thumb since birth. He is eating quite frequently, and wants to keep snacking almost all the time. He sometimes bites me when he’s excited. Though these all may be normal for small kids his age, I’d still want to prevent any problems that may grow in the future.

    Could you suggest any activities we can try at home? I can stop his thumb sucking habit by putting on a thumb glove but should I intervene? Or is he still too young to be worried?

    • Thumb sucking may not be a sign of an oral motor disorder because that can be a way for him to comfort himself. Does he only suck his thumb when he’s sleeping or tired? For this habit, you just have to be consistent and maybe give him a blanket or a toy that he can use to comfort himself instead of using his thumb. The biting, is not normal. I would suggest that you have a behavior plan for this. For example, he goes into time-out for two minutes for biting. You want to make sure this habit is stopped for when he starts attending pre-school! He may be eating alot because he is growing. I wouldn’t be concerned about the food, unless he starts wants to eat things that aren’t typically eaten.

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

  • My daughter is having feeding issues but don’t have speech issues.
    She is taking long time to complete her food and stuffs the food in cheeks not swallowing food until its completely mush.Due to this , she is not gaining weight. Kindly advise me how to overcome this problem

    • I would suggest you take her to a speech-language pathologist for a feeding evaluation. It could be a behavioral issue, but it can also be an underlying oral-motor weakness if she isn’t swallowing.

      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

  • My child is turning 3 and receives speech therapy. He doesn’t seem to know to close his lips to make the consonant sounds. As a result, he will say only the vowels of words. We’re using the z vibe, chewy tubes, and triangle to elicit the p and b sounds to no avail because he will not close his lips on command. The m sound is coming out but choppy, ie. mmmm – ore for more. However he has said baa baa for a sheep and other consonant sounds in the past (not on command). He has only blown a bubble a few times. He still drools and does seem to be congested most of the time, especially during this allergy season. Apraxia of speech has not been determined yet. There’s just so many things in play it’s so difficult to figure out what to do for my son. Do you have any tips on what else I can try? Thanks in advance!

    • Hi. Does his therapist work on oral motor exercises? It sounds like he has lip weaknesses because of the drooling. That’s where I would start with him. This is a website that has some great oral motor exercise activities that you can do with him. In addition, please check out Speech Blub’s app. We have a bunch of different oral motor things you can try to strengthen his lip closure and movement.
      Stacie Bennett, M.S. CCC-SLP

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