Children who stammer have a tough time expressing themselves properly. Learn ways to help your offspring speak fluently.

All of us have experienced moments when we have had trouble speaking. You know, when we use “um” or “uh” to give our thoughts a little time to catch up to what we are saying?

Everybody knows what it feels like to stumble over their words. However, for a child who stutters, expressing themselves verbally can be a real struggle. Stuttering is a disorder that involves the fluency of speech. Children who stutter have a hard time speaking smoothly.

Someone who stutters generally repeats sounds, syllables and/or words. They could also stretch sounds out or have brief periods of tense stoppages in the airflow of their speech. These stops can result in silences or interruptions in sentences, which makes it difficult for the person to express themselves properly.

A child who stutters will probably say “ba-ba-banana” instead of simply saying the word “banana”. They might also say “sss-salt” when they are trying to say “salt”.

Stuttering is often accompanied by things like eye blinking, grimacing or other movements like making faces or clenching fists.

A child who stutters might feel frustrated by the way in which other children react to their stuttering. If your child stutters, they might try to avoid talking in front of others. They could even change what they had originally wanted to say in order to hide their interrupted flow of speech.

A child who stutters might not want to say anything during classroom conversations... Children who stutter are generally not thought of as leaders by other children and they are also more likely to be teased or bullied.

Stuttering in pre-school might not cause that many issues as many children are still developing language skills. However, if your child still stutters in Primary school, it can affect them in various ways.

A child who stutters might not want to say anything during classroom conversations. Moreover, children who stutter are generally not thought of as leaders by other children and they are also more likely to be teased or bullied.

What causes stuttering?

We still don’t know why some people stutter. However, many theories exist about possible causes.

It might be due to an error or a delay in the message that is sent from the brain to the muscles that are used for speech. Consequently, the muscles won’t coordinate as they should and this results in stuttering.

There is often a family history of stuttering, meaning that a child who has family members who stutter is more likely to stutter. However, it doesn’t mean that a child with a family history of stuttering will necessarily stutter.

Boys are affected by stuttering more often than girls and, interestingly, brain imaging studies indicate that there are differences in the brains of those who stutter. However, stuttering is by no means an indication of intelligence.

It’s also extremely important that parents understand that stuttering is not the result of poor parenting. Many people think that children stutter because they are nervous or anxious. But is that really the case?

Does anxiety cause stuttering?

Stuttering is not caused by anxiety. However, stuttering can lead to nervousness and anxiety. Teenagers who stutter, for instance, could feel self-conscious and have low self-esteem which can make it hard for them to make friends or speak up in public.

 

How do I know if my child has a stuttering problem?

Stuttering usually begins during the preschool years, before the age of 5. This is also a crucial period for language development as kids are acquiring new words.

Children also learn to speak longer sentences during this important stage. That’s why it is essential to figure out if your child’s stuttering is part of a normal phase or if it’s the beginning of a speech and language development problem.

Look out for these signs if you’re not sure whether your child has a stuttering problem:

* Frequently repeats syllables, words or phrases in conversation.

* Difficulty starting a word, along with periods of abnormal silences.

* Lengthy sound expressions.

* Tense speech behaviours like fist-clenching.

* A frustrated or embarrassed appearance.

* Avoiding words or sounds.

Children who stutter can develop serious social and emotional problems because of their stuttering, which is why it’s vital to seek early treatment.

Ways to manage stuttering in young children

The good news is, spontaneous recovery can occur during the first six months of the onset of stuttering. However, if this persists past the six-month period, it is unlikely that stuttering will resolve with time. It would be wise to see a speech language pathologist. They will assess your child’s speech and decide whether it’s best to start treatment for stuttering immediately to prevent secondary features (such as facial grimaces) and frustration (if any) from developing.

Stuttering is treatable and early intervention usually provides the best outcome. Most kids who receive treatment for stuttering achieve high success rates with behavioural treatment approaches.

Show your child that you are more interested in what they are trying to say and not how they are saying it… Build up your child’s confidence by praising their strengths in sports, or their artistic talents and helpfulness.

The Lidcombe Program of Early Stuttering Intervention is based on this approach. This programme essentially involves praising the child when they speak clearly and correctly and only noticing the stuttering occasionally.

Other effective approaches include the following:

Delayed auditory feedback A device that enables a user to speak into a microphone and then hear their voice in the headphones a fraction later;

* Time-outs A simple procedure where the person pauses (takes a ”time-out”) immediately after they stutter; and

* Masking The sound of white noise playing on headphones fools the brain into thinking that the vocal folds are vibrating. The person’s vocal folds then relax and start vibrating, helping them to speak fluently. 

Parents plays a key role in language fluency treatments. Ideally, parents should work with the speech therapist to ensure that the positive outcomes from the treatment process can continue at home.

What parents can do if their child stutters

Here are guidelines to boost your child’s ability to speak fluently.

* Wait and listen Don’t complete words or sentences for your child. Instead, allow them to complete what they have to say on their own. It is also important for you to give your offspring enough time to reply to something you said.

* Take turns Encourage all family members to take turns talking and listening, so they don’t interrupt each other. Children who stutter perform much better without interruptions and when they have your full attention.

Boost their confidence Show your child that you are more interested in what they are trying to say and not how they are saying it.  For example, “Great sharing about your amazing zoo adventure!” rather than “That was unclear”. Build up your child’s confidence by praising their strengths in sports, or their artistic talents and helpfulness.

Stuttering presents many challenges for the child, as well as the people with whom they interact on a daily basis. You might be wondering if your child’s stuttering will eventually fade.

Chances are, your youngster won’t stutter for the rest of their life. With the right guidance from a speech therapist, your child will learn to speak more smoothly that is less tense, and they will gain greater confidence in their speaking skills.

Dr Lisa Lim Su Li is the clinical director and senior speech language pathologist at The Speech Practice

Photos: iStock

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