I think my child has a stutter - how can I help them?

We all stutter.

It might be when we are nervous, when we give a speech, get angry, excited, face something that scares us or just when we have lots to say. You may have heard the term ‘dysfluency’. Speech and Language therapists refer to a stutter using this term as it describes a speech pattern where the fluency of the speaker is interrupted. A certain level of dysfluency is normal for adults and for children. In fact, children go through a phase of development where they will have more dysfluencies than at other times.  From the time your child starts to put words together, you may notice some of these dysfluencies or some ‘bumpy speech’.

Some typical ‘bumps’ that you might notice in the early years are:

Sound repetitions e.g. ‘p,p, please’ Syllable repetitions e.g. ‘ca, ca caterpillar’ word repetitions e.g. ‘I, I’ Phrase repetitions e.g. ‘I think, I think, I think…….’

As with adults, when children are tired, the speech bumps described above may increase. If you notice any of the above when your child talks, stay calm and wait for them to finish what they want to say. The chances are that is just a phase that will pass. Becoming anxious or worried about it can cause children to over think it and become self-conscious when they speak.

What else can I do to when my child stutters?

Talk about talking! If your child is aware that they difficulty talking sometimes, it can be useful to talk to them about this in the same way you would discuss any other difficulty. For example, you might say ‘don’t worry, everyone finds somethings hard now and then’ or ‘ talking can be tricky sometimes, its ok’ It can help to talk about it with your child but be sure to use language they will understand and can relate to their speech e.g. bumpy or smooth speech.

Let them know it is not a problem and that we all have ‘bumps’ sometimes. 

Slow down your own speech This can provide a good model for your child. If they copy your slow rate of talking, they are more likely to have control over their speaking and have more periods of fluency. Think about a car driving fast and the potential for it to lose control if it hits a bump. Now if that car goes slowly, it can control its movements more and things become smoother.

This also works better than asking your child to slow down their speech. This can be hard to do and may instigate a feeling of failure.

Set aside some ‘special time’ If possible, setting aside some time each day to focus and talk 1.1 in a hectic and busy world can do the world of good. Make sure you minimize interruptions, reduce background noise and spend 10-15 minutes having a pressure free conversation, taking turns and listening to what each other has to say. If life is hectic and this isn’t possible every day, don’t worry, but do this when you have the opportunity throughout the week.

Reduce questions Commenting and listening rather than asking lots of questions is another great way to take the pressure off.

When should I refer to a speech and language therapist?

If you are overly worried or anxious about your child’s speech, it is always a good idea to contact your speech and language therapist. It may be that some tips and reassurance will help to put your mind at rest.

Below are a few other things to watch out for: Evidence suggests that therapy is more effective before the age of 5 years, So as always, if in doubt, it is always worth asking a speech and language therapist for advice.

  • If your child’s speech has bumps that seem much more regular than once in every ten sentences
  • repeating words or syllables much more than just once or twice in a sentence e.g. ‘ mu, mu, mu, mu, mu, mummy’
  • If they are becoming more aware of their own difficulties with fluency
  • Have physical reactions, maybe an eye movement or tension in their body when they stutter
  • Have a stutter that is persistent e.g. doesn’t last a few days then go away and come back.

Written by Carolyn Fox, Children's Speech and Language Therapist

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