Quick Tips for Parents of Children Who Stutter
Suggestions for a Child who Stutters
1. Use easy, relaxed speech. Always speak to a child who stutters in an unhurried, relaxed way, pausing frequently. This calms the child and takes away the pressure to keep up. It also models the way we want the child to speak. Some families find placing visual cues in the house can help to remind the adults to model the desirable speech, since it can be unnatural at first.
2. Be highly consistent with routine and expectations. We often see an increase in stuttering and stuttering behaviors when an unexpected situation occurs and the child must use new language. Try to stay as consistent as possible, especially during structured time, like getting ready in the morning and getting ready for bed at night.
3. Make all transitions have no time pressure. Time pressure in the morning to get up, get dressed, eat, and get to school is an example of a lifestyle issue that places the child under time pressure. Time pressure can result in more stuttering. Being consistent with routine and expectations can help, but life often throws unexpected changes at us. Give advanced warnings for all transitions, such as telling the child “I am going to set a timer for 5 minutes. When you hear the alarm, we will clean up our toys and go find our shoes.” This will eliminate the need for rushing when it comes time to transition.
4. Refrain from asking questions as much as possible. When we ask a child a question, we generally expect a certain response from them. This creates a demand for speech that can lead to stuttering. Instead, we can comment and allow the child to respond on their own time. For example, instead of asking a child “What is your favorite animal?” we can instead comment “I see you really like playing with the horse in the farm. I bet that’s your favorite animal.” This allows the child to either confirm that the horse is their favorite animal or deny and tell you another animal that is their favorite. We can gather the same information without pressuring the child with a question.
Now you may be asking, what if I need to ask my child a question? In that case, we can phrase the question in the form of a choice or to require a one-word response. For example, instead of “What do you want for dinner?” we can ask “Spaghetti or chicken for dinner?” to give them a choice or “Is spaghetti okay for dinner?” to require just a one-word response.
5. Do not demand speech. Just like with a question, try to avoid telling the child to say a certain word or phrase. For example, if an adult does something for our child, more often than not, we respond with, “Tell him/her ‘thank you.’” This puts the child on the spot and requires specific words to be said, which can lead to stuttering. Instead, model the expected response.
6. Refrain from giving advice. Phrases such as “slow down” or “think before you talk” brings attention to the disfluency. The child will get the notion that the listener does not approve when the child stutters. Therefore, this type of reinforcement perpetuates the “trying not to stutter,” and related tension. Instead, listen to the child and repeat or rephrase the stuttered phrase.
7. Be aware of your language around your child who stutters. The power of suggestion cannot be underestimated. When we verbally predict future problems (i.e., “I know you’ll stutter during that school play”) we can plant seeds of fear. If you badger your child with comments, such as “Remember to use your strategies! or “You have to use what you learned in speech therapy!” immediately after a moment of stuttering, you might first consider how the child may feel. You have good intentions, but the child may begin to perceive you as their biggest critic.
However, it can sometimes be appropriate to commend when your child is successful (i.e., “I like the way you said that,” “Your speech sounds really smooth,” “I like how you spoke up for yourself.”) The idea is to reinforce the desired behavior, effective speech, and let the disfluent speech pass without a verbal critique or nonverbal expression of impatience or frustration. Refrain from overdoing this and giving the impression that it is expected from the child.
8. Maintain supportive non-verbal language. Remember that communication is about 90% nonverbal, and your facial expressions can say a million words! Children can interpret many facial expressions at a very young age. Model a relaxed, patient, and supportive expression when your child is speaking, even during a severe stutter.
9. Make sure that all significant listeners are consistent with these strategies. This includes parents, teachers, babysitters, grandparents, siblings and others. Unfortunately, one person using punitive reinforcement can undermine the rest. Get everyone in your child’s circle of care on the same page.
10. My child is the best speaker in the world! This is the mantra parents should have in the back of their heads every time they listen to their child speak. This idea should be reflected in the language they use when communicating with the child and the facial expressions reflected when listening to the child.
To see an example of a preschooler who stutters click here
-Kelly Shay, M.A. CCC-SLP
Created through the research of Tim Mackesey, CCC-SLP’s How Parents Can Help a Child Who Stutters and Kristin A. Chmela, M.A.’s Working with Preschoolers Who Stutter: Successful Intervention Strategies.