Hearing your child stutter and be unable to get out a clear sentence without stuttering can be a worry for parents. But what is stuttering, why does it occur and what can you do to help your child?
Stuttering, or stammering as it’s also known, is speech that is interrupted by stoppages and disruption in fluency. The stoppages sometimes take the form of repetitions of words, sounds or syllables, or sometimes complete silence, where the next word just won’t come out.
It’s not known exactly what causes stuttering, but experts suggest a number of factors may be involved. One of these factors is genetics, as children of parents or other family members who stutter, are more likely to stutter themselves. It’s also four times more common in boys than girls.
If you’re concerned about your child’s speech, it’s important to get a proper diagnosis by an expert. Your GP should be able to refer you to a speech therapist, who can offer advise on what the problem is and how to treat your child. Although there’s no single cure for stuttering, there are a number of ways that it can be treated, plus useful techniques that parents can employ at home to help their child.
How Are Children Affected by Stuttering?
Stuttering affects children to varying degrees, with some being worse affected than others. As well as affecting children’s ability to talk and communicate properly, it can also have a huge impact on them psychologically. They may have lower self esteem than other children, have low levels of self confidence or dislike social situations for fear of embarrassing themselves.
In the under 5’s, stuttering commonly occurs between the ages of two and four years old, with 5% of this age group affected. But for some children it is simply a developmental stage and they grow out of it. In the 5-16 age group, about 109,000 children are affected. Coping with stuttering at school can be hard, especially when their classmates don’t understand. But help is at hand from speech therapists and many can work wonders before and during the time a child is at school.
Some people assume that people who stutter are less intelligent than their peers, but this is a huge myth. Stuttering simply means that someone is unable to fluently get all their words out – it’s by no means a reflection on intelligence.
Useful Tips for Parents
As a parent, there are useful things you can do to help your child at home. Some top tips for dealing with a stuttering child include:
- Slowing down your own speech, so your child feels less rushed.
- Slow down your replies to your child – maybe have a short pause before launching into an answer.
- Look at your child as they speak and show you’re interested in what they’re saying. Make sure you keep eye contact going, even if their speech is slow.
- Don’t madly question your child, like when they come home from school and you’re keen to know what they’ve done during the day. Too many questions can put pressure on a child, so instead give them time to answer everything thoroughly, without having to rush.
- Make sure your child gets a good nights sleep, as stuttering can be made worse by lack of sleep.
- Don’t treat a child who stutters differently to his/her siblings. If he misbehaves, give the same punishment that you’d give to other children.
- Remember to praise your child when (s)he achieves things and let them know that you love them.
Despite not always being able to communicate effectively when talking, the good news is that stutters can usually cope perfectly with singing – like pop star, Gareth Gates. Many parents encourage this singing ability, as it can give their children a much needed boost of confidence.
Stuttering can be a real worry for parents, but there is help available if you need it. If you’re worried about a young child, it’s certainly worth keeping in mind that many cases of stuttering do fade as a child grows older.