Many children, especially those between the ages of two and five, experience at least a short period of stuttering. These children may outgrow their stuttering phase, meaning that it won’t persist to adulthood. However, there are some children who will continue to stutter, and may benefit from early intervention, such as speech therapy services. It is recommended that parents consult with a speech-language pathologist in order to assess the need for therapy. Spark Talk Speech Therapy’s speech-language pathologist, Karen Morgan, is certified to treat stuttering in children up to the age of five, and can help parents access public therapy for older children.
Some children who have difficulty speaking may feel more self-conscious about communicating with their friends, teachers, and family members than their peers. This can cause increased anxiety, behavioural issues, and troubles in school. There are a few things parents can do to help their child feel better about their stutter, which will help the child feel more at ease communicating.
Don’t Interrupt, Offer Suggestions, Or Finish Their Sentences
Children with a stutter can feel exceptionally frustrated when communicating with others. When parents and caregivers interrupt or try to complete their sentences for them, it adds to that feeling of frustration, and can make the child feel as though their thoughts aren’t as important. Instead, get down to their physical level, face-to-face, to show you are listening. Avoid discouraging statements like, “slow down” or “think before you speak”. Chances are, the child has had plenty of time to consider what he or she wants to say, and is already feeling a bit anxious about trying to express that thought. Instead, slow your own speech down and be sure your body language sends the message that there is no need to rush. Children tend to match the speech rate of their conversation partner, so by modelling this behaviour you can encourage them to mimic your speech pattern.
Don’t Treat Them Differently
This is especially true if parents or caregivers are responsible for multiple children. Children always compare their treatment to that of others, and will notice if one child is treated differently than others. Parents and caregivers should maintain the same body language, tone, and responses regardless of who is speaking. Another tip is to avoid getting impatient with the child, as it will only make the child feel worse, and may have the unintended effect of causing the other children to respond the same way.
Do Reduce Communication Pressure
The pressure to communicate along with the anxiety of having a stutter can, in some cases, make children feel worse about their challenges and make it even harder for them to get their message across. Reduce the pressure on the child by indicating, through your own speech patterns and body language, that there is no rush, and that you will patiently wait for them to communicate. This can help the child feel more at ease, and can reduce the impact their stutter has. You can also try to reduce direct questions and try commenting instead (e.g., instead of “What kind of truck is that?”, try “Wow, that’s a big truck!”).
Do Impose Conversational Turn Taking
In cases where there are multiple children in the same area, especially in multi-sibling households, interruption is bound to occur – frequently. This can increase communication pressure for a child who has a stutter, because he or she must speak quite quickly or lost their turn to have their say. To combat this parents and caregivers of children with stutters can impose conversational turn taking. While one person speaks, all others stop and listen. This helps to reduce communication pressure. If the children involved find it hard to wait their turn, try implementing a gesture that your child can use to indicate that he or she has something to say, so they know that they will get their turn to speak.
Do Inspire Confidence
Children need confidence in order to learn new skills, and to overcome language difficulties. The best way to inspire confidence is to ensure that the child feels respected. This means listening to what he or she has to say, and to allow them the time and space to get the message across. By ensuring that the child knows his or her attempts at communication are appreciated, and respected, parents and caregivers can help the child feel better about their stutter.
Do Speak With Others In Their Lives
This may mean communicating with the child’s teacher, childcare provider, friends, and other family members. Parents should advise these other individuals of the strategies that work well with the child, and to caution them against unintentionally making the child feel worse about his or her stutter.
Contact Spark Talk Speech Therapy for more information about helping a child with a stutter, and to see whether or not an assessment is the best step to take to help the child overcome their stutter.