As toddlers and preschoolers become more comfortable with speaking, they may also begin stuttering over their words. Fortunately, approximately 75% of children who show signs of stuttering will eventually outgrow the behavior.
Despite this, stuttering still raises concerns for parents. How do you know when these disfluencies are a normal part of development and when to be more concerned? We break it down for you below.
Stuttering vs Typical Speech Breaks
When young children are learning to talk between ages two and five, it’s not uncommon for them to have speech breaks. Many kids repeat words and phrases, use filler words and interjections, or hesitate before speaking — especially if they feel tired, excited, or rushed to speak. These speech habits don’t seriously impede a child’s flow of talking and won’t cause them distress while talking.
Stuttering is a little different. Children who stutter repeat sounds or syllables as opposed to whole phrases or words. They may also prolong the syllables like they’re stuck on the sound. A stutter could also cause vocal blocks. Secondary behaviors like tapping, blinking, head nodding, or throat clearing often go along with stuttering. Most importantly, a child who stutters usually shows signs of frustration, struggling, or even embarrassment when speaking.
Risk Factors of Persistent Stuttering Behavior
There are some risk factors for stuttering:
- Family history — If someone in your family stutters, your child is more likely to stutter.
- Age — The older a child begins to stutter, the more likely it will persist.
- Gender — Boys are three to four times more likely to stutter than girls.
- Other speech and language disorders — Kids who already have issues with speech are more likely to stutter.
How to Help Your Child with Stuttering
If your kid has a stutter, there’s a lot you can do to help them out. Here are four ways parents can support their stuttering child:
Take the pressure off communication
When talking to your child, don’t interrupt or tell them to start over if they start stuttering. Phrases like “Slow down,” “Take your time,” or “Take a deep breath” might seem helpful, but they can actually make your child more self-conscious.
Be open and honest with your kid
Talk about your child’s speech without judgement, and in a positive way. You can tell them it’s normal and okay to have “bumpy speech,” and you can even share your own experiences with speech issues, if applicable. Be patient, and don’t bring up your child’s stuttering until they seem aware of it.
Model good conversation habits
Speak calmly, slowly, and clearly when talking to your kid. If you mess up a sentence or word, don’t get frustrated or apologize. Instead, simply go back and say it again correctly.
Don’t treat your child differently
While you should extend more patience, calmness, and candor towards your stuttering child, avoid acting like they’re different from anyone else. Instead, treat them like any other child and instruct others to do the same.
When to Seek Professional Help
Parents are usually best at noticing when their kid’s speech behavior is typical or non-typical. If you observe your child tensing, grimacing, or struggling while talking — or if your child avoids situations where they need to talk or say certain words — you can consult with a doctor. Also, if your child brings up their speech issues unprovoked, it’s time to seek professional help.
Some kids will outgrow stuttering, but not always. Treatment early on can significantly reduce stuttering and even eliminate it entirely! Schedule an appointment with a doctor at Kid’s Health to learn more....