Best ways to help your child who stutters. If you’ve been noticing your child has a hard time speaking fluently, or getting “stuck” on words, they may be stuttering. This can be extremely frustrating for kids and parents alike. In this video and article, we are sharing our “baker’s dozen” best tips how to help your child who is stuttering.
What is stuttering (a.k.a., stammering or disfluency)?
Stuttering affects the fluency or flow of speech. For some, it begins in childhood and, in some cases, lasts throughout life. This disorder is characterized by disruptions in the production of speech sounds, also called “disfluencies.” Most people produce brief disfluencies from time-to-time. For instance, some words are repeated and others are preceded by “um” or “uh.” Disfluencies may not necessarily a problem; however, they can stop the flow communication when a person produces too many of them.
Why does my child stutter – what are the causes?
The exact cause of stuttering is unknown, but the current thinking is that there are four factors that may contribute to why your child might stutter.
- Genetic Factors. About 60% of people who stutter have another family member who stutters. More on genetics below.
- Child Development. Children with other speech language delays or developmental delays are more likely to stutter. And developmental stuttering might arise from developmental triggers at specific ages or grammar changes.
- Neurophysiology. Recent neurological research has shown that people who stutter actually process speech and language differently than those who do not stutter.
- Family Dynamics. In some family dynamic situations, having high expectations of their children when it comes to their communication, and applying pressure, may aggravate a child’s tendency to stutter.
Genetics may be the primary factor in why your child stutters.
Recent studies suggest that genetics plays a role in the disorder. It is thought that many, if not most, individuals who stutter inherit traits that put them at risk to develop stuttering. The exact nature of these traits is presently unclear. Whatever the traits are, they obviously impair the individual’s ability to string together the various muscle movements that are necessary to produce sentences fluently.
Not everyone who is predisposed to stutter will develop the disorder. For many, certain life events are thought to “trigger” fluency difficulty.
Child development triggers may be why your child has a stutter.
One of the triggers for developmental stuttering may be the development of grammar skills. Between the ages of 2 and 5 years, children learn many of the grammatical rules of language. These rules allow children to change immature messages (“Mommy dog”) into longer sentences that require coordination to produce fluently (“Mommy the dog is outside”). A child who is predisposed to stutter may have no difficulty speaking fluently when sentences are only one or two words long. However, when the child starts trying to produce longer, more complex sentences, he or she may find himself or herself not quite up to the challenge-and they may begin to stutter or display non-fluent results.
After stuttering has started, other factors may cause more disfluencies, or aggravate the challenges. For example, a child who is easily frustrated may be more likely to tighten or tense speech muscles when disfluencies occur. Such tension may increase how long a disfluency lasts. Listeners’ responses to stuttering (e.g., teasing) can aggravate fluency difficulties as well. People who stutter vary widely in how they react to the disfluencies in their speech. Some appear to be minimally concerned. Others-especially those who have encountered negative reactions from listeners-may develop emotional responses to stuttering that hinder speech production further. Examples of these emotions include shame, embarrassment, and anxiety.
Why it is important to act quickly to help your child who stutters.
Have you been told “your child will grow out of it.” What has been your reaction to this? Have you felt frustrated and unheard?
Just because a percentage of children will grow out of some speech problems like stuttering, that doesn’t prevent you from taking action to intervene on your child’s behalf, and help them now. We see many children who are being deeply and emotionally impacted by speech disorders that can be helped, like those suffering from stuttering.
Why stuttering impacts more than speech.
When communication difficulties occur across a number of activities at home, school, or work, some people may limit their participation in certain activities. Such “participation restrictions” often occur because the person is concerned about how others might react to disfluent speech. Or worse, has experienced negative reactions from others.
In most cases, stuttering has an impact on at least some daily activities. The specific activities that a person finds challenging to perform vary across individuals. For some people, communication difficulties only happen during specific activities, for example, talking on the phone, or in front of large groups.
Some people may attempt to hide their disfluent speech from others by rearranging the words in their sentence (circumlocution), pretending to forget what they wanted to say, or declining to speak. Other people may find that they are excluded from participating in certain activities because of stuttering. Clearly, the impact of stuttering on daily life can be affected by how the person and others react to the disorder.
12 Tips to Help Your Child Who Stutters.
(Well…our “baker’s dozen” with one or two extra!)
When talking with people who stutter, the best thing to do is give them the time they need to say what they want to say. Try not to finish sentences or fill in words for them. Doing so only increases the person’s sense of time pressure. For kids who stutter, this is even more important. See our top 12-ish tips below:
Get on your child’s level to create a comfortable environment.
When practicing speech therapy at home, make sure your child is comfortable. Try to use a quiet room with minimal distractions. Sit on the floor with your child, or at a table where you can be more at eye-level.
Be consistent, but also be flexible.
It is important to be consistent with speech therapy. Try to practice speech exercises at the same time each day and be patient when your child makes mistakes. Consistency is key when it comes to helping your child who stutters.
It is also important to be flexible when practicing speech therapy at home. if you are working on speech exercises and your child starts getting distracted or loses interest, take a break from speech therapy for awhile before continuing. This will help keep your child motivated and engaged.
Be patient, and remove the pressure to “do it right.”
Try to remove the pressure for them to perform or to answer questions quickly. Speech therapy can be a long and challenging process, but it is important to be patient. Remember that your child is working hard and making progress, even if it may not seem like it at times.
Talk about topics that interest your child.
Encourage your child to speak about topics that are interesting to them. They’ll be more verbal and more engaged.
Let them work through their message.
If your child does happen to encounter a moment when they have stuttering occur, don’t interrupt them. Allow them to work through their message so that they can finish their sentence
Praise the content of what they are saying.
Try not to react negatively or show impatience when they do have a stuttering moment occur. And really praise them for the content of their message.
From Cheri Gipson, SLP: “Oftentimes when I have students who experience a moment of stuttering, and you can tell that they are working really hard to get their message out and they are very aware of their stuttering, I will say to them, ‘wow, thank you for working so hard to share that with me.’ “
Be a role model for slower and fluent speech.
As you see and listen to Cheri in the video (link above), she makes a point to be speaking a bit more slowly and deliberately than when speaking to a friend on the phone, for example. If you model smooth, slower, more deliberate speech to your child at a slightly slower rate, it will then encourage them to use the same type of speech fluency.
Offer your child your full and complete attention.
Pay full attention to your child when they speak. It’s super easy to let your attention wander, or be only partially listening, trying to multitask and do something else. But realize when you do this, you are losing the ability to actively listen to your child.
Speak in an unhurried way.
Similar to being a model for fluent and deliberate speech, be sure to interact with your child in an “unhurried” way to reduce the pressure for your child to speak.
Ask a single question at a time.
Refrain from asking your child a bunch of questions in a “rapid-fire” type of environment. This will create more pressure and inhibit your child. We really want to allow them to speak more freely and share their thoughts in a way that they don’t feel pressured.
Use your facial expressions and body language to encourage your child.
Use your facial expressions and other body language to show your child you are actively listening. So for example, when you are actively listening to someone you might lean slightly forward and make eye contact. You might also be nodding your head or shaking your head, saying hmm, yeah, a-ha, giving them positive affirmations that you are listening to them.
Get the family involved and focus on taking turns.
Help the other members of your family to work together. For example, learning how to take turns talking and listening, perhaps at family meals.
From Cheri Gipson, SLP: “I do have four kids so our family meals can sometimes be kind of hectic. So I did this, and when they were quite young, I really made sure that
each child had an opportunity to share what they wanted to say without interruption. And sometimes they would have a long story to share, and their siblings would want to interrupt. But I would be consistent and I would say ‘no, we need to let them finish.’
So I highly recommend trying this with other members of your family.”
Best tip for helping your child who might be stuttering is to be positive, accepting and supportive.
It is critical for a child who stutters to feel accepted and supported by the important adults in their life. Remaining positive to their effort, their message and their progress is very important. Praise your child for their efforts and remind them of how proud you are of them for their independent thinking, their ideas and their efforts at speaking more clearly.
Seek help if you need it, from Better Speech
If you feel like you are struggling to help your child on your own, it is important to seek professional help. speech therapists can provide more specialized help and guidance when it comes to speech therapy for children who stutter. they can also provide additional resources and support, such as those we offer at Better Speech:
Speech Therapy for Children who Struggle with Stuttering
Speech Therapy for Adults who Struggle with Stuttering
Identifying stuttering in an individual’s speech would seem like an easy task. Disfluencies often are obvious and can be disruptive to a person’s communication. Listeners can usually detect when a person is stuttering. At the same time, however, stuttering can affect more than just a person’s observable speech. Some characteristics of stuttered speech are not as easy for listeners to detect. As a result, diagnosing stuttering requires the skills of a certified speech-language pathologist (SLP).
If you have questions about why your child stutters and how you can help your child who may be stuttering, feel free to book a free consultation with us at Better Speech. We can help answer your questions, and talk about how you can work on speech therapy at home, get some parent coaching or enroll in a program like ours, which is customized to your needs, provides practices and exercises to accelerate progress and celebrates those goals and milestones.