Stuttering is common when children are learning to talk. As a parent, this can be a stressful time full of questions. It’s difficult to know what is normal and what isn’t.
Stuttering usually first appears between the ages of 18 months and 5 years. Between 75-80% of all children who begin stuttering will stop within 12 to 24 months without speech therapy. If your child has been stuttering longer than 6 months, they may be less likely to outgrow it on their own.
While the cause of stuttering is unknown, studies suggest that genetics play a role in the disorder. Almost half of children who stutter have a family member who stutters. Other factors can also play a role in a child’s fluency:
Ability to move their mouth when speaking
Reactions to their environment
Emotional or physical state
Topic, length and complexity of the message the child is trying to convey
Girls are more likely than boys to outgrow stuttering. It is estimated that boys are three to four times more likely to stutter than girls. With some children, the stuttering may appear to go away for several weeks, only to start again for no apparent reason. This is usually a sign that a child is learning to use language in new ways. Preschoolers may show little or no awareness of their speech difficulty. Children in elementary school and beyond become increasingly more aware of their speech difficulty and how others react.
Tips for Speaking with Children Who Stutter
Watch what you say: Don’t make remarks like “slow down,” “take a breath,” or “relax.” These comments can feel demeaning.
Let them speak: Don’t finish sentences or fill in words for them. Doing so only increases pressure on the child.
Give them time: Maintain natural eye contact and give them the time they need to say what they want to say.
Mind your body language: Let them know by your manner that you are listening to what they say, not how they say it.
Phone patience: Be aware that children who stutter usually have more trouble controlling their speech on the telephone.
Tips for Families of Young Children Who Stutter
Reduce the pace: Speak with your child in an unhurried way, pausing frequently. Wait a few seconds after your child finishes before you begin to speak. Your own relaxed speech will be more effective than any advice.
Listen fully: Increase the times that you give your child your undivided attention.
Ask questions: Resist asking questions one after the other. Sometimes it is more helpful to comment on what your child has said and wait.
Take turns: Help members of the family take turns talking and listening. Children find it much easier to talk when there are fewer interruptions.
Build confidence: Use descriptive praise to build confidence. For example, “I like the way you picked up your toys. You’re so helpful,” instead of, “That’s great!” Praise strengths unrelated to talking, as well, such as athletic and academic skills.
Normal rules apply: Discipline the child who stutters just as you would if he/she didn’t stutter.
Diagnosing stuttering requires the skills of a certified speech-language pathologist. If you have concerns that your child may be stuttering contact your doctor to get a referral for an evaluation. Once Nationwide Children’s Hospital has the referral for an evaluation and your child qualifies for outpatient speech services, an appointment will be scheduled with one of our speech-language pathologists.
Andrea M. Boerger, MEd, CCC-SLP is a speech-language pathologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital working in the Outpatient Speech Therapy Department. She received her undergraduate degree from Bowling Green State University and her master’s degree in speech-language pathology from North Carolina Central University in Durham, North Carolina.
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