Parents of School-Aged Children Who Stutter: What to Do and What to Avoid
“Stuttering is a neurodevelopmental variation that leads to a unique forward execution of speech sounds produced in the context of language and social interaction” – Naomi Rogers PhD, CCC-SLP
Caring for your child is the most remarkable and important job you have. Children who stutter are often faced with a range of negative emotions. Persons Who Stutter will often refer to stuttering as a loss of control over their speech. A child may not understand why it is happening, or even how often they are stuttering during any part of their daily life.
As they grow older, they may begin to feel shame or guilt about not speaking like “normal” children, resulting in a child’s attempts to hide their dysfluencies. A child may be putting a lot of effort into sounding ‘fluent’, but they may still experiencing that range of negative emotions toward speaking and communication. Caregivers can begin addressing these feelings from a young age, which can have positive outcomes in children, including resilience, confidence, and self-advocacy. It is NEVER too late to address this with a child.
Caregivers may experience their own feelings about their child’s stuttering: anxiety, guilt, irritation, wanting to pretend it is not happening or will go away soon, embarrassment, sadness, anger, or frustration. You are not alone in these feelings. It is incredibly difficult to watch a child experience any difficulty or challenge. Research has shown that when child has negative associations with their speech/stuttering/communication, it results in more effortful speech/stuttering and a negative self-view of communication overall.
Create a Safe Space
Your home should be a safe place for speaking. Encourage your child to speak as often as they want, whether they are stuttering or not stuttering. Communication should be a positive experience. If you’re frequently reminding your child that they are stuttering or that they should try to be more fluent, you may make them feel less comfortable about talking due to limited ‘control’ of stuttering. This could initiate the vicious cycle involved in the fear and shame of stuttering.
Ensure that all family members are reacting positively to stuttering. Encourage turn-taking during communication and respecting the importance of listening. Maintain eye contact with your child while they are speaking, even if they look away from you.
Talk About Stuttering
Do not make stuttering a taboo subject with your child. Stuttering does stand out and is noticed, so it needs to also be talked about. Not talking about stuttering with your child could be interpreted by him or her that stuttering is something they should feel wrong or shameful about.
Trust your gut when talking to your children about stuttering. Tell your child that they should always share what they have to say, no matter if they stutter while they say it. If your child is very aware of their stuttering and it is a clear struggle for them, addressing it openly is extremely important. People often think their child is too young to understand, but this is often underestimating what a child is capable of. Even if your they cannot directly express their needs yet, your care about their feelings will have been communicated with them and this is important.
Have Realistic Expectations
Many caregivers believe once their child has begun speech therapy, their stuttering will quickly become something they can control on their own. Unfortunately, stuttering treatment is a process and takes TIME. Stuttering is integrated in behaviors, the brain, motor function, emotions, and personal reactions. Implementing any change within these higher-level functions takes time.
Early intervention can often alleviate stuttering altogether, however despite best efforts by everyone, stuttering does persist in some children into their teens and beyond. Although difficult, you must begin to consider stuttering as a chronic disorder. Your total love and acceptance are the MOST important things you can give your child to make them a successful communicator. Remember that speech therapy is a process. The goal is to make stuttering an easier experience for your child, a speech therapist and your child cannot make stuttering stop or just happen less frequently.
Things to DO:
• Encourage your child to speak as often as they want, whether they are stuttering or not stuttering.
• Be fully accepting of stuttering in your child’s speech.
• Talk to your child about stuttering and how it makes them feel.
• Make communication a positive experience.
• Ensure that all family members are reacting positively to stuttering. Encourage turn-taking during communication and respecting the importance of listening.
• Maintain eye-contact with your child while they are speaking/stuttering.
• Facilitate (if needed) with your child’s teacher about their stuttering.
• Praise communication in general, not just when there is no stuttering.
• Keep communication open about speech therapy.
• Seek stuttering organizations/communities and meet People Who Stutter.
Things to AVOID:
• Pointing out that your child is stuttering or that they should try to be more fluent. This may make them feel less comfortable about talking. This could initiate the vicious cycle involved in the fear and shame of stuttering.
• Assuming your child wants their word or sentence finished.
• Criticizing stuttering in any context.
• Limiting your child to life experiences due to worry they will stutter there (clubs, sports teams, extracurriculars).
• Shaming or bribing your child to stutter less.
• Teasing/making fun of struggle to communication.
• Encouraging your child to speak less to avoid stuttering.
• Forcing speech therapy upon your child when they are not ready.
For more information, please visit these reliable resources for information on stuttering in children: www.westutter.org www.friendswhostutter.org www.stutteringtreatment.org www.say.org www.stutteringtherapyresources.com
Ashley Cubberly, M.A. CCC-SLP
Caughter, S., & Crofts, V. (2018). Nurturing a resilient mindset in school-aged children who stutter. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 27(3S), 1111-1123. doi:10.1044/2018_ajslp-odc11-17-0189
Craig, A., Blumgart, E., & Tran, Y. (2011). Resilience and stuttering: Factors that protect people from the adversity of chronic stuttering. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 54(6), 1485-1496. doi:10.1044/1092-4388(2011/10-0304)
Kwong, E., Lu, T., & Grayson, G. (2021, January 20). The social side of stuttering. NPR. https://www.npr.org/2021/01/19/958423970/the-social-side-of-stuttering.
Plexico, L. W., Erath, S., Shores, H., & Burrus, E. (2019). Self-acceptance, resilience, coping and satisfaction of life in people who stutter. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 59, 52-63. doi:10.1016/j.jfludis.2018.10.004
National Stuttering Association. www.westutter.org. (2016). https://secure.westutter.org/np/clients/nsa/login.jsp.