Stuttering in Young Children
Have you noticed lately that your child is having speech problems and starting to stutter? This can be a source of concern for most parents and it’s natural that you want your child to develop well and be the best he can possibly be.
Stuttering is described as repeating or prolonging pronunciation of a word or sentence. You might find your child saying “s s s story” or “g g g give me – uh – give me that”. Let me start by telling you that stuttering appears to be a normal phase that some children go through between the ages of 2 and 5. During this phase, your child is going through a big language leap and his thoughts may be “going too fast for his speech” which is why he might have difficulty forming his sentences. He might know what he wants to say, he just has difficulty saying it. The good news is that only about 5% of children have a true stuttering problem. Most children outgrow stuttering and develop normal speech skills.
It’s normal that children might stutter or have difficulty forming words or sentences when they are excited, upset or angry so try to notice if your child only stutters in certain situations or in general. Of course, it’s always good to keep an eye out for atypical development especially if you feel there may be other underlying causes for concern.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are some factors that may increase the risk of stuttering such as:
- Having family members who stutter as there appears to be a genetic factor associated with stuttering.
- Children who experience developmental delays or who are experiencing other forms of speech problems are more likely to stutter.
- Boys are more likely to stutter than girls.
- Experiencing a stressful environment or high parental expectations can add pressure on the child and worsen stuttering.
Most children should outgrow typical stuttering within 3-6 months. If your child’s difficulty in speech appears to be getting worse or lasts longer than a few months, it’s important to consult your pediatrician or speech and language pathologist. This kind of prolonged stuttering can have an affect on your child’s self esteem and his interactions with others such as friends or teachers in preschool. Early intervention is important and very effective in helping young children improve speech.
According to Mayo Clinic you should seek help from a specialist if stuttering:
- Continues more than 6 months.
- Becomes worse or more frequent.
- Is accompanied with tense or tight facial expressions.
- Is accompanied with other facial or body movements.
- Starts affecting your child’s social interactions or school performance.
- Causes your child emotional problems where your child avoids situations or interactions that require him to talk.
- Continues beyond age 5 or if you notice stuttering when your child begins reading aloud in school.
Besides monitoring the stuttering to see if it’s part of her typical development or not, it’s important to consider how people interact around your child when she does stutter. Stuttering can have an effect on an emotional level as well and your child may shy away from interacting with others or being in situations that require him to speak. The way we respond is important to a child.
There are some things you can do to help your child feel more at ease while speaking:
- Give your child a few minutes each day where he has your full attention in a relaxed environment.
- Try talking a bit slower to her if you or others are usually fast talkers. No need to make him feel self conscience about his way of speaking. He’ll most likely respond in the same manner you speak to him depending on whether it’s fast or slow.
- Show your child you are interested in what he has to say and that you are listening to encourage him to feel at ease and take his time.
- Don’t’ complete your child’s sentences for him. Try to give him enough time to express himself.
- Take a moment between answering a question and saying a new sentence. This will show your child that there’ s no need to feel rushed.
If your child starts stuttering don’t panic, it may be a normal developmental phase that almost all children experience to some degree. If your child’s stuttering required professional assistance be positive and supportive of your child. Improving his speech skills through therapy sessions is usually quite successful but make sure you also focus on the emotional side of supporting your child through stuttering. Most importantly don’t blame yourself! To our current knowledge stuttering is absolutely not caused by the parents.
I hope this article has been able to give you some useful information on stuttering in young children and help guide you on the right path.
Jailan Heidar is an Egyptian parent educator currently living in The Netherlands. She has a MSc. in Child and Family Studies from Leiden University. She specializes in providing parenting support to parents of children from 0-5 years through her website EarlyYearsParenting.