Is my child stuttering?
Updated: Sep 2, 2019
When people find out I'm a speech-language pathologist, there are a few questions I get ALL. THE. TIME. Which is totally okay because I love talking to parents about their concerns and sharing all the things I've learned throughout the years. This is one of those re-occurring questions....
Is my child stuttering?
They tell me...
My child is repeating a lot of words or sounds!
My child is saying "um" over and over and over!
They seem to get stuck on a word or not be able to move past it
Your child might sound something like this
(my daughter, 3 weeks shy of her 3rd birthday).
So, what would you think? Would this worry you as a parent?
My daughter has been doing this A LOT lately. It often takes her a looooooong time to get out something she wants to say. And usually, she doesn't even get it out because she is often interrupted by big sister or brother. With three kids, its hard to hold mom or dad's attention and they all start talking over each other at times to just try to get a word in!
Sound familiar?... or am I the only one with children who like attention?
If I was not an SLP, I genuinely might start to worry. One of the main reasons I would be concerned is that my older children are staring to innocently laugh at her. Not to maliciously tease her, but they think its cute and silly, and we all end up laughing at her before she is able to tell us what she's trying to say. It's hard to know how to handle that situation or how to address her speech with her siblings.
So many parents of young children want to know:
Is this type of speech normal?
How do I respond or teach others to respond to them when this happens?
If it's not normal, what do I do about it?
Hang on...here we go!
What you need to know is that there is "normal" stuttering (or what we professionals term "disfluencies") which are not really true "stuttering." And there are certain types of disfluencies and behaviors that would lead us to believe the child is experiencing real "stuttering."
occasionally repeating syllables or words like "and, and, and" or "l-l-l-like" or whole phrases like "I want the, I want the, I want the cookie"
using frequent or repeated filler words, like “uh,” “er,” “um.”
happens between ages 1 1/2 and 5 years, and they tend to come and go
This type of normal "stuttering" is usually a sign that a child is learning to use language in new ways, I call them "language spurts," just like a growth spurt happens. If the dysfluencies disappear for several weeks, then return, the child may just be going through another stage of learning.
My daughter in the video is experiencing all of this. She is about to turn 3 and is experiencing a growth in her vocabulary and language skills. She was repeating whole words and phrases and using lots of filler words (um) to hold her place in the conversation. So, I am not going to worry about her fluency (stuttering) at this time. There are; however, things I can do to help her in this language spurt and ensure that she feels comfortable and confident with her talking!
How do I respond or teach others to respond when this happens?
This is IMPORTANT.
Research shows that certain environmental factors, although not considered a cause of stuttering, may exacerbate disfluencies. So it is best to know how to respond to your children to ensure an environment to facilitate smoother speech. (Anderson, Pellowski, Conture, & Kelly, 2003).
I have often gotten the feedback that parents are concerned with the way the child's grandparent, caregiver or another person in their life is responding.
I have legitimately had parents tell me that another person (a grandparent, an aunt, a teacher) told the young child:
"JUST SPIT IT OUT!"
"THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU WANT TO SAY BEFORE YOU TALK"
or (the most common)
"JUST SLOW DOWN!!! "
FYI - those are not helpful responses! (and if you have said these things to your child, no shame, now you know!)
How we respond to kids who are having disfluent speech - does not cause stuttering - but can either aid smoother speech or increase disfluent speech, so this is important!!
If you don't know how to bring up the subject with a family member or teacher send them over to this blog and let them hear it from me 😉 You can also download this handout which outlines the tips I'll share below. You can kindly ask that all adults in your child's life utilize these strategies when speaking with them during a time they are "stuttering."
So what can you do as a parent? Take a BREATH.
You, mom/dad/grandparent, focus on your speech and behavior more than you focus on the child's.
Here are the strategies you can use when talking to your child: Remember the acronym, BREATH
I use "BREATH" because its most important as a parent to "take a breath," try not to respond with frustration or annoyance, and keep calm as your child tries to speak to you.
BE A GOOD LISTENER
REDUCE YOUR RATE OF SPEAKING
ASK LESS QUESTIONS
HAVE A SPECIAL ONE ON ONE TIME
BE A GOOD LISTENER- This means using eye contact, facing your child and looking at them when they are talking to you. It is so important to use good listening skills when your child is talking to you; especially if they are struggling to get words out, so that they know they are being heard. This helps them understand that they will not loose your attention and allows for slower, less hurried speech. Do not interrupt your child. Try to increase the amount of times you are fully listening to your child. This doesn't mean that you have to drop everything every time your child speaks (that is impossible!) but giving them your undivided attention more often than not is a good practice.
REDUCE YOUR RATE OF SPEAKING - In other words, slow down yourself. Your own easy, relaxed speech will be far more effective than any advice such as “slow down” or “try it again slowly." You can do this by waiting a few seconds before responding once your child is done talking or pausing to answer whenever your child asks you a question. I am a fast talker by nature. I have to consciously slow my speech at times with intentional pauses and waiting.
ENCOURAGE - Here at HRT, encouragement and positivity are some of our core values. I love seeing the light in a little one's eyes when they are praised. You as a parent have a lot of power to build your child and their confidence up by what you say. I do know that parents praise their kids a lot. We are very good at praising good behavior, academics and athletic abilities. However, I find that a lot of parents forget to encourage their child's talking or communication skills.
Here are some encouraging things I love to tell my little friends:
"I love the way you talk."
"Your voice makes me happy."
"You have such great ideas, I love listening to you."
"You really worked hard to get that out. Way to keep trying."
"Thank you for sharing that with me. I love hearing what you have to say"
Try this today with your child and tell me it doesn't make their face beam with pride!
With all the encouragement you give to your child, be specific and detailed, "I love the way you put your toys away" instead of "good job" or "I was so proud of you for playing with a new friend on the playground today" instead of "you're so nice."
ASK LESS QUESTIONS - I'll admit, this one is hard!!!! Asking questions is a normal part of talking with your child. What gets us into trouble is when we ask question after question to our child, as if we are drilling them for answers. Try to reduce the amount of questions you ask and instead focus on using comments instead. Respond to something they say with an "Oh!" and then wait, or say "I see..." and then wait for them to respond again.
TAKE TURNS - encourage good turn-taking skills with everyone in the family. Help other children and family members understand listening and talking happens in turns and that when one person is talking, the other people should be listening. Interruptions are never a good thing, but especially to a child learning to talk or having trouble getting words out, interruptions can exacerbate their frustration and decrease their motivation to talk.
HAVE A SPECIAL ONE ON ONE TIME - Set aside a time each day to give your child undivided attention and practice these strategies. Slowing down, asking less questions, not interrupting and using good listening skills may take practice. Use a special one on one time to practice these skills with your child and the more you practice, the more natural it will be to use these strategies in your normal interactions with your child. As little as 5 minutes a day can make a difference for your child.
(these tips are good for those kids who may have difficulty talking and to also encourage good communication skills with ALL children)
Okay, so I have outlined what normal dysfluencies look like and given you the BREATH strategies to help you talk with your child. Now lets talk about the kids that may be experiencing true stuttering and the risk factors for a stuttering disorder.
When do I worry about my child's possible stuttering?
A child who is showing signs of a true stutter may look/sound like:
repeating sounds (not words) more than twice, like "ma, ma, ma, ma, mommy"
mouth and facial muscles may show tension or the child may physically show a struggle getting the words out
holding out a sound longer than normal "mmmmmmmmommy"
the child might show a “block”— which is no airflow or voice for several seconds
disfluencies may come and go but are present more often than absent
There are also risk factors which may indicate your child is more at risk for stuttering. If your child shows any of these risk factors, you should consult a speech-language pathologist:
a family history of stuttering - even more so if the child has a parent, sibling or family member who still stutters
the child has shown disfluencies for 6-12 months or longer
disfluencies started after the age of 3 1/2
males are more at risk
advanced, delayed or disordered language skills
speech sound errors or trouble being understood
Seeing your child struggle to talk or get stuck can be hard or stressful. Stuttering can also be confusing and scary. You are not alone in these feelings, but there are strategies you can implement to help your child.
Hopefully this post has been helpful in letting you know that
most children show normal disfluencies as they go through language spurts
how to respond when they do and
what it looks like if your child may be showing signs of a true stuttering disorder.
Remember, take a BREATH, enjoy your child and consult us here at Honeycomb Road Therapy or another speech-language pathologist if you are still concerned.