Stuttering (also called stammering) is the term used to describe a difficulty in the timing and even flow of speech. When a child stutters you may notice:
- they repeat sounds or syllables – for example, such as saying “m-m-m-mine”
- make sounds longer – for example, “mmmmmine”
- repetition of a whole word – for example ‘on, on, on, on the table’
- a word gets stuck or doesn’t come out at all
- Muscle tension and or extra body movements may occur as the child attempts to get the word out. A child might stamp their foot, finger tap or move their head.
- Avoiding eye contact when stuttering occurs.
Stuttering is different for everyone, varies in severity and from situation to situation. A child might have periods of stuttering followed by times when they speak relatively fluently.
Some Facts About Stuttering
- 5% of children across all cultures of the world are affected by stuttering
- 1% of adults across all cultures of the world are affected by stuttering
- The incidence of stuttering is more common amongst boys. Approximately 4 boys for every 1 girl has a stutter.
- Parents generally report that stuttering typically started around the time their child started talking and their language skills were rapidly developing.
- Between the ages of 2 – 5 years children are learning lots of new words, beginning to use longer sentences, expressing new ideas and asking lots of questions. It is typically in this time period of age 2-5 years that stuttering first presents, that said it can start later.
- Stuttering is different from other childhood speech difficulties in that in can start gradually over time, or quite suddenly overnight – which can be quite concerning for parents.
What Can I Do to Help?
Here are some practical ideas to try at home to support your child who may be stuttering:
- Show your child that you are interested in what they say and not how they say it – if your child happens to stutter when they are telling you something, it’s important to focus on their message and not how they said it. Correcting your child’s speech or telling them to slow down is really disheartening for them when they are trying to tell you something exciting or important.
- Ask Fewer Questions Do you ever notice how many questions we ask our children in a day? ‘How was school?’ ‘What did you do?’ ‘Who was there?’ ‘Did you eat your lunch?’. For children who stutter, lots of questions can potentially be very stressful. When asked a question, children can feel under pressure to come up with a response quickly which can in turn make them stutter more! A clever way to reduce questions is to try using a comment instead – for example ‘You seem to have had a great day in school today’. A comment is an invitation to talk but doesn’t require the same immediate response.
- Take Turns to Talk as A Family. Family activities or mealtimes are a great opportunity to chat and catch up as a family. For a child who stutters sometimes the pressure of taking a turn in conversation or getting what they want to say out can be hard when competing with equally chatty siblings. I sometimes use ‘The Talking Stick’ at mealtimes to give everyone an opportunity to share their news without being interrupted. If you’re not holding the stick – it’s not your turn to talk!
- Slow Down Your Own Rate of Speech. It’s been shown time and time again that simply telling a child to slow down isn’t effective. We need to lead by example and slow down our own rate of speech, that our kids will then mirror. Slowing your own rate of speech also makes your child feel less under pressure, less hurried and gives them more time to think.
- Allow Your Child Time Family life is busy, in fact sometimes it’s crazy busy. Between pick ups and drop offs, mealtimes and homework, getting a minute can be a challenge. Sometimes it won’t always be possible to give your child the time you might like throughout the day. The key is to set aside a designated 5-10 minutes one to one time with your child in the day. A time that is quiet and calm, where no one is in a rush and there aren’t likely to be interruptions.
When should I see a speech and language therapist?
Approximately 5% of children will go through a stuttering phase as they develop language. The good news is, most children will return to speaking fluently without needing intervention. That said, one in five children are at risk of persistent stuttering. The research shows that early interventions as soon as possible after stuttering has begun have the best outcomes in therapy. For this reason, it is a good idea to make contact with your local speech and language therapist to get support and advice about your child’s speech sooner rather than later. A speech and language therapist will be able to complete an assessment to better understand your child’s difficulty and provide the necessary advice and intervention where needed.
This post was also published here on Family Friendly HQ