As a parent, it can be very upsetting and saddening to hear your little one stutter and struggle to complete a sentence. What might relax you is the knowledge that stuttering is quite common among the 2 to 5 year age groups. This is considered as a part of learning new words and using them in sentences. Stuttering may happen sporadically or it may happen continuously for weeks or months – but in most cases, your child will outgrow this on his own without any intervention. In most cases. Unfortunately, for some children, stuttering becomes a life-long condition.
Read on to understand more about stuttering and how to help your child cope.
Is My Child Stuttering?
If you observe that your child does not speak in a flow, and there are frequent interruptions, it may indicate stuttering. Stuttering is different from occasional stammering or stumbling of words that is quite common in toddlers.
If your child is really stuttering, you will notice that he repeats the same syllable or sound of a word repeatedly (“d-d-d-d-dance” or “dig dig dig digger”, prolongs one sound of word in high pitch (“tr-aaaaaaaaah-uck”) or struggles to get words out of his mouth. You will also notice vocal and facial tension. Your child might also look strained, with clenched fists, due to the tension in forming words correctly.
What Are The Signs Of Stuttering?
Most children start to stutter around their 2nd birthday as they begin to learn many new words and try making sentences. This is quite common amongst children in the age group of 2 to 5 years, when language development is at its peak. Most of these stuttering episodes are sporadic and quite natural. It might disappear in few weeks, months or years on its own.
However, look for the following signs to determine if stuttering will be serious problem for your child:
The frequency and intensity of stuttering continues to increase
Strain and struggle in child’s facial muscles as he speaks
High pitch voice along with stuttering
The child avoiding speaking all together for fear of stuttering
What Are The Different Kinds Of Stuttering?
There are three kinds of stuttering:
Repetitions: When your child repeats a syllable in a word, a part of a word or the word itself multiple times, it is called “repetitions”. E.g.: “Th Th Th There is a car” or “The the the the there is a car” or “There there there there is a car”
Prolongations: When your child extends the sound of one syllable in a word, it is called “prolongation”. E.g.: “There is a caaaaaaaaaaaaaar”
Blocks: When your child opens his mouth to speak, but no sound comes out, that is called getting a “block”
What Causes Stuttering In Children?
We do not really know what causes stuttering. The general medical opinion is that some anomaly in the brain is meddling with the timing and the rhythm of your child’s speech. Some also say that stuttering is caused by your child’s difficulty in coordinating speech muscles due to some external stimuli. In any case, we have enough evidence to conclude that stuttering doesn’t indicate bad parenting or an underlying emotional problem. Stressful home environment can worsen stuttering, yes. But it cannot cause stuttering.
That said, certain factors place some children at a high probability of stuttering. These are:
Family history of stuttering
Gender (boys are four times more likely to stutter than girls)
Age (if your child started stuttering before 3.5 years, he is more likely to outgrow it on his own)
Development issues (children with other language problems)
Neurophysiology (deviation in the way brain is wired and language is processed)
Seeking Child Stuttering Therapy
If your child stutters only when he has some extreme feelings – like sadness, anger, discomfort or fright, then you can follow a wait-and-watch approach. You need not rush to the doctor yet as your child is more likely to outgrow this condition on his own. However, if the stuttering has not improved in 6 months, or has worsened, then get professional help. His doctor might suggest a therapist or specialist who will evaluate your child’s situation and determine if the stuttering is a normal part of growth or something to be worried about. Depending on this finding, the therapist might recommend you to take your child to a speech therapist.
What Can I Do To Help My Stuttering Child?
While the child’s speech therapist works with your child at his clinic, there are plenty of things you can do at home (and plenty of things you should not do!) to help your child cope up with his stuttering:
When your child is speaking, remain patient and wait for him to finish. Do not complete his sentences for him
Talk to your child slowly in a relaxed tone. Encourage other family members also to talk to the child in an unhurried way
Set aside some time everyday where you do nothing but listen to your child speak. No distractions, no multi-tasking – spend this time exclusively to encourage your child to speak
Do not ever look or sound irritated and impatient with your child’s stuttering. Understand that your child is doing his best to speak fluently and your attitude should be a positive reinforcement for him
Do not correct his sentences. Do not ask him to repeat the sentence. Do not interrupt him. All these will only make him more self-conscious. However, just repeat after him in a slow relaxed tone (smile if you can!) so that he knows you understood his speech
Give him time. If you appear stressed for time, then he will be forced to complete his sentences faster and this will only make the stuttering worse
Spend some time everyday reading simple stories or rhymes to him. Repeat the same story every day for some time so that your child can remember and reproduce the story in his own words. Encourage him to do this!
Appreciate his efforts. Assure him that talking can be tough at times for everyone. Tell him you are proud of his efforts. Let him know it is OK
Maintain eye contact at all times when he is speaking to you. This will reassure him you are with him
Be patient. Do not put pressure on your child to interact with other family members and friends. This will only make him more conscious and tensed. At the same time, engage him in activities that does not result in stuttering so that your child does not feel left out as well
If your child loses his “fear of stuttering”, then the job is half done! Always show patience, acceptance and encouragement. With positive attitude, your child can get over his stuttering.
Famous Personalities Who Stutter
Here is a list of some famous personalities who stutter but did not let that stop them from leading a successful life and career:
King George VI (remember the Oscar winning movie King’s Speech?)
And few closer home, like Hrithik Roshan and E. M. S. Namboodiripad (ex-CM, Kerala)