STUTTERING AND THE YOUNG CHILD
Most young children experience periods of normal disfluency, or stuttering-like behaviors, as they develop their speech and language skills. According the Stuttering Foundation of America, disfluencies most often occur between the ages of 2 to 5 years, and they tend to come and go. The child experiencing normal disfluencies will occasionally repeat syllables or words once or twice (ex. cu-cu-cup). In mild to more severe forms of stuttering, a child may repeat sounds more than twice (ex. cu-cu-cu-cu-cup), may prolong sounds, or may block sounds (no airflow or voice for several seconds). Effort to speak and tension, particularly in the facial muscles around the mouth, may be evident. The pitch of the voice may also rise during the stuttering episode. The child with more severe stuttering may avoid using certain words and may use extra sounds to get started. Contact a speech/language pathologist if you have concerns about your child’s disfluencies. Check out the Stuttering Foundation of America’s website for more information.
Tips for helping your disfluent child:
1. Do not ask your child to “slow down” or to “think about” what he is saying. In other words, do not draw your child’s attention to his stuttering, or try to explain to him how to speak without stuttering. This will often make the stuttering worse. Instead:
2. Use slow, calm, relaxed speech, with plenty of pauses, when speaking to your child.
3. Give your child your full attention when he is speaking to you. Set aside time each day to only listen to your child. Let him direct you in a play activity and do not pressure him to talk.
4. Try to avoid interrupting and asking your child too many questions during periods of stuttering. Instead, comment on what the child has said.
5. Try not to look annoyed or to be upset when your child is stuttering. Use facial expressions and body language to give him the message that you are more interested in what he is saying rather than how he is saying it.
6. Reassure your child if he becomes frustrated or upset with his stuttering. Telling a child that it is “okay to get stuck on words” or that you “know its hard to talk sometimes” may help, as well as a touch or hug.
7. Try to eliminate as much rush and stress from your child’s life as possible.
The Stuttering Foundation of America sums it up best: “Above all, convey that you accept your child as he is. Your own slower, more relaxed speech and the things you do to help build his confidence as a speaker are likely to increase his fluency and diminish his stuttering. The most powerful force, however, will be your support of him whether he stutters or not.”