Stuttering in Children

Many of us had gone through a stage during our childhood when our speech was uneven, characterised by start-and-stop manner of speaking. Usually, children are not aware that there is something wrong with such speech pattern. In due course, as children grow, speaking becomes easier and easier.

But many children suffer from speech problems, like severe stuttering. Considering its characteristics, stuttering can cause stress and can affect a child’s social relationships.

What is stuttering?

Many children, especially those aged between two and five, have difficulties in speaking smoothly. Many of them repeat the first word many times before they form a whole sentence.

Others even have a hard time completing a word. Others inject lots of “ands”, “uhs”, or “ums” while forming sentences. Some stop and start new sentences.

These are not considered stuttering. Basically, stuttering starts when a young child begins to show more obvious difficulties.

For instance, rather than repeating an entire word, many young children begin to repeat fragments of words. This occurs every few words. In some cases, even more often.

Stuttering further develops in the stage when a child becomes very self-conscious about the way he speaks.

He twitches his face in disappointment; he tries to move his mouth, but he cannot say a word.

A stuttering child may exclaim out words and sentences in a hurry. He may blurt it out in an uncommonly loud voice. Because they are ashamed, many stuttering children avoid talking as much as possible.

“Children with speech difficulties need to feel loved. You can help your child by making him comfortable with himself. It will surely help balance the inevitable loss of self-esteem and the self-consciousness caused by stuttering.”

Start to Care

o Many children have experienced stuttering during early childhood. Some of them outgrow the problem easily, while others have a more difficult time resolving it. Others suffer from severe stuttering as well:

o Many young children stutter in over half of the sentences. Some repeat each syllable more than four or five times. They also experience frequent “blockages”. This happens when they cannot produce a sound despite clear effort;

o Stuttering can go on for months. In this case, stuttering is not likely to resolve itself on its own. At this point, the stuttering child’s frustration and disappointment is probably rising;

o Children who have severe stuttering show negative emotional response, like self-deprecating statements, avoidance of speaking, turning red, and tense facial and neck muscles.

Stopping Stuttering

o Don’t look as if you’re conscious about your child’s speech difficulty. What you have to do is to listen carefully and try to understand what he is trying to say.

o Don’t tell your child to “speak clearly” or to “slow down”. The point is, speech should appear natural, not slower.

o Make a rule in the family stating that everyone must wait until the other person is finished speaking before saying anything. Your child will be pressured if he feels he must talk fast to be heard.

o Make a rule in the family that prohibits teasing about stuttering. Any bantering or mockery about stuttering will increase your child’s self-consciousness and will damage his self-esteem, making the problem worse.

o Have fun together. Plan fun activities that focus on language and speech. For example, playing with blocks, planting a garden, charades, or outdoor play. Know what really interests your child, and allow him to take the lead.

o Maintain a predictable and relaxed schedule, with ample time for sleep. This comfortable approach will make your child feel more secure. This will also help him handle developmental challenges, such as talking.

o Children with speech difficulties need to feel loved. You can help your child by making him comfortable with himself. It will surely help balance the loss of self-esteem and the self-consciousness caused by stuttering. If you focus too much on his speech difficulties, remember to reflect on your child’s other positive aspects.

Busting Myths on Stuttering

Myth # 1: Children who stutter are unintelligent.

Truth: There is completely no relation between stuttering and intelligence. In fact, many stuttering children are extremely intelligent. Some deliver very well in the classroom, while others have average intelligence. Others, however, perform quite poorly, when compared to average students.

Myth # 2: Stress or bad parenting causes stuttering.

Truth: No one really knows the causes of stuttering, though genetic factors appear to be involved. Stress usually stimulates stuttering for those who have a high tendency to stutter. This claim, however, lacks supporting evidence. Many doting and caring parents have raised children who stutter. Therefore, bad parenting is an unlikely cause of stuttering.

Myth # 3: Tell a child to “speak clearly”, “slow down,”, etc. will help stop stuttering.

Truth: On the contrary, telling your child these will only make him more self-conscious, which worsens the problem. There are more helpful responses than these. All you have to do is to listen to your child patiently. Model clear and slow speech yourself, and make out what he is trying to say.

Myth # 4: All children outgrow stuttering.

Truth: Although many children outgrow stuttering, it does not improve on its own all the time. If stuttering continues over six months or if there are other symptoms that manifest in your child, then you should seek professional help. Sooner, not later.

Myth # 5: Children can have a control over their stuttering. They only need to try.

Truth: The truth is, the more a child tries to control the muscles involved in speech, the more difficult and laborious speaking becomes. This will only worsen the problem.

Myth # 6: Ignoring stuttering completely is the best remedy.

Truth: While parents should not focus too much on their child’s stuttering, it certainly does not help if they pretend the problem does not exist at all. Stuttering children know the problem very well, and pretending that there is no problem suggests that the parents are uncomfortable in handling stuttering.

Myth # 7: Stuttering can be caused by listening to others stutter.

Truth: There is no basis for this claim at all. Stuttering is not caused by merely listening to others stutter, but by genetic and some other factors.