“Oh, you should just speak slowly,” “maybe it’s the anxiety getting to you”- children who stutter have heard these suggestions ad nauseam.
Do they help reduce their stutter? No. Does it make them become more conscious of their speech disfluency? Yes!
The truth is anxiety, fear, or shyness do not cause stammering. Children who stutter or stammer may do so more frequently when they have to talk in front of their classmates, new people or unfamiliar situations. However emotions do not precipitate stuttering.
Modern sciences have found multiple mutations on several chromosomes that correspond to stuttering. These mutations can be heritable, although the male population is more susceptible to stuttering than the female population. 60% of the people who stutter have a family history of stuttering.
So, is there anything you can do to help a child who stutters? Well, of course. You can, for instance, help your child practice stuttering exercises at home.
Before we start discussing the top stuttering exercises to help your child, let's understand the basics.
Why Is Stuttering Common Among Preschool-aged Children?
In the case of preschool-aged children who stutter (CWS), speech therapy, regular speech exercises and practice can reduce and may even eliminate stuttering. Stuttering is common in children between the ages of 2.5 years and 3 years, when they are acquiring their language skills at an incredible speed. Such stuttering is known as developmental stuttering, and it is common in children; it disappears on its own within a few months.
Many speech therapists recommend waiting and observing a child’s speech if s/he has been stuttering for significantly less than 6 months. If they have been stuttering for more than 6 to 12 months, parents of CWS should seek the help of a speech-language pathologist or speech therapist.
Who Is At A High Risk Of Stuttering?
Stuttering or stammering is quite common. According to experts, many children experience stuttering when learning a new language or expanding their vocabulary at a rapid pace. Children outgrow their stammering on their own in many cases, but it might become a lifelong condition for some. High risk factors include –
- A family history of stuttering.
- Incidence of stuttering for more than 12 months.
- The child is male. Girls recover faster. A girl who has been stuttering for more than 12 months is at a higher risk of persistent stuttering.
- A child who begins stuttering later (onset after 3.5 years of age) has higher chance of persistent stuttering.
Children on the autism spectrum have a high risk of developing stuttering at an early age. Other disorders and conditions that co-occur with stuttering include ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome (TS), hearing impairments, central auditory processing disorder, and cerebral palsy.
How Will You Know If Your Child Is Stuttering?
Developmental stuttering has a few signs that are hard to miss. These symptoms of stuttering include –
- Difficulty in starting a word, sentence, or phrase
- Repetition of a syllable, an entire word, or a particular sound
- Breaking of words or undue pausing, and missing syllables
- Prolongation of parts of words or entire words
- Adding sounds like “um” or “uh” at the beginning of the next word
Along with these signs, you can also notice the following –
- Twitching or trembling of the lips and/or jaw
- Tightening of facial muscles
- Clenching fists
- Rapid and abrupt blinking
- Jerking of the head
If a child experiences physical duress while trying to get the words out, it may signify a serious stammering problem. You may also notice their voice changing pitch and rising with each repetition.
These are the signs that you need to take proactive measures to help ease your child’s stuttering instead of waiting for it to ride itself out.
What Should You Do If You Notice Your Child Stuttering?
You should seek the help of a speech-language therapist. It might sound intimidating, but speech therapy for children can consist of quite a few simple stammering exercises at home moderated by their parents.
In many cases, the SLP takes an indirect approach and talks to the parents and other members of the family.. The stuttering treatment for kids aims at reducing the family’s concern and altering their family-child interactions.
What Are Some Exercises Parents Can Do With Children To Reduce Stuttering?
At Stamurai, we are always here, to help you understand speech therapy for stuttering and its implications. Here are some of the most common activities your SLP might ask you to do with your child –
1. Adopting a Slower Rate Of Speech With Pauses
A slower rate of speech has two purposes –
- It serves as a model for your child. S/he can learn what a more fluent and smoother way of speaking sounds like.
- It makes your child feel less rushed. They realize they can take more time to respond and be more fluent.
Here’s how we sound most of the time while holding a conversation with a fellow fluent adult – “hey, howryoutoday?”
While talking to your child, you might want to talk like this “Heey, How aare yoou today?”
You can also add more pauses to your speech to make it slower, but sound more natural. So, instead of your usual rushed speech, try to…taallk…more like…this. The…slight pauses…throughout your speech…will make you…sound more…relaxed…and calm.
You can also try to stretch the first word of every sentence “aaaaas you play or converse with your child.” Adding the extra stretch to the first word will show your child how to ease into a word and embrace fluency naturally in conversations.
2. Introducing Syllable-Timed Speech
Syllable-timed speech (STS) technique can reduce your child’s stuttering by almost 96% in around 12 months. However, it only works if you practice it with your child every day!
Here’s how you can include syllable-timed speech in your daily conversations with your child –
Speak. like. this. Each. per. iod. rep. re. sents. a. break. in. the. syll. a. bles. of. the. words. in. a. sent. ence.
Children under the age of 6-years can reduce their stuttering by 96% if they practice syllable timed speech for 10 minutes, 4-6 times per day for 12 months.
It might be difficult for you to syllable-time your speech in daily conversations. You can master it easily before you try it with your child by tapping your leg for each syllable.
You can learn more about STS from this video
If you feel weird speaking with syllable-timed speech at first, it’s completely understandable. Keep your voice normal and speak at a normal speed. Simply think of it as adding “finite limits around each syllable” during your daily conversations.
3. Trying Reduced Demands
A child who stutters, finds it difficult to start a conversation spontaneously. All we need you to do is dial down the demands around speaking.
Research on child psychology shows that asking too many questions can make your child feel stressed or anxious, which can worsen his or her stuttering. So let them share their emotions, knowledge and experiences spontaneously.
Allow your child to take the lead on what they want to discuss, play or watch. Do not finish their sentences or guess what they’re trying to say. Give them the time to finish their own sentences.
Instead of asking them questions, make close-ended comments. For example, instead of asking “hey, what are you playing there?” you can say, “I see you are playing Minecraft.”
Learning comes naturally to children and there’s little reason to believe that not asking enough questions will set his or her learning process back.
4 Adopting New Verbal Responses
Verbal responses are like giving your child feedback on their speech. Since children’s brains have high plasticity (ability to learn new things), they can learn to speak fluently even when you don’t teach your child complex speech therapy techniques.
Here are the five verbal responses you can use while talking to your child –
When they are fluent –
Make sure to praise them. Say “that was great buddy”, “hey, no bumps” and “I’m loving your smooth speech man.”
You can ask them to evaluate their own speech like “do you think that was better than before”, “was that smooth.”
Acknowledge their smooth speech by saying “That was really smooth,” and “smooth again.”
When they are having a bad day or stuttering, you can –
Acknowledge their stutter by saying something like, “that got stuck there a little” or “that was a difficult word.”
You can ask for self-correction. “Can you say that again for me?”
However, not every child reacts positively to comments on their stutter or self-correction. If your child reacts negatively, simply drop it.
Stick to positive verbal responses only. Make sure you give them at least 5 positive responses for every 1 comment on their bumpy speech.
5 Increasing Listening Time
Children who stutter have trouble expressing themselves. Having a family member lend a listening ear can make a significant difference in the child's attitude towards his or her own speech. Be sure to dedicate some "listening time" each day for your child.
It can be after play school when they have a lot to share about their experiences, or right before the child heads out for their playtime. Quality listening time lets your child know that you “are there” for him or her although you should intentionally make sure not to make suggestions or give instructions, especially on their speech during this time!
Attentive playtime with the child can show significant improvement in a child’s speech. For example, mirroring a child’s expression during the playtime with vocal cues, like sounds of disappointment when the child’s face shows the same emotions can build confidence in the child, in the long run.
You should let your child lead you during the interactive playtime which should also be unstructured, spontaneous, and enjoyable for your child.
Wrapping It Up
When your child is showing symptoms of stuttering which includes repetitions, prolongations, and blocks, you should immediately consult a reputed speech therapist. A professional will take into account your child’s predisposition towards stuttering, the severity and suggest stuttering treatment(s) accordingly.
These stuttering exercises are commonly suggested by speech therapists. Practicing them at home can help your child attain more fluency and confidence while sharing their thoughts.
Frequesntly Asked Questions
Does the Drink-through-a-straw technique help a child who stutters?
For several decades different sources have advocated the drink through a straw technique as an exercise for stuttering in children. Sadly, there is no evidence that supports the claim. Currently, there is no published study that shows that drinking through a straw can reduce a child’s stuttering. However, there are several other stuttering exercises like the ones we have discussed above that you can teach your child at home.
Can the ‘Jaw technique’ help reduce stuttering in children?
The jaw-technique involves opening your mouth as wide as possible and lifting the tip of your tongue towards the roof of your mouth. This exercise may strengthen the jaw and tongue muscles, but it may not contribute to your child’s speech fluency! Fluent speech requires more than strong articulator muscles. Exercising jaw muscles won’t be enough to reduce stuttering in children.
Does parents’ lifestyle affect a child's stuttering?
When your child begins stuttering, it’s only normal to feel worried, helpless and, even, guilty. You may think that you have been too strict with your child or not spent enough time with them which has caused them to stutter. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Stuttering typically clusters in families and there are multiple genetic factors that contribute to the childhood-onset fluency disorder. Sometimes, stress from moving to a new neighborhood, joining a new school, and sudden changes at home like the birth of a new sibling may trigger stuttering in already predisposed children. However, it is highly unlikely that your lifestyle has caused your child’s stuttering.
Should family members avoid stuttering in front of a child who stutters?
Stuttering is a fluency disorder that sometimes clusters in families. This shows that stuttering has a hereditary (genetic) component. However, if you stutter, there is no guarantee that your child will stutter as well. If you are an adult who stutters, you should not feel the pressure to hide your stuttering in front of your child. Children cannot acquire speech disfluencies by watching or mimicking a family member who stutters. In fact, you should speak confidently without hiding your stutter to send the message that your child can speak without shame and embarrassment, even if they stutter.
How soon can your child learn to manage his stuttering with speech therapy exercises?
When a child begins to stutter, the parents should think about consulting a speech-language pathologist (SLP) as soon as possible. Early intervention improves the chances of the child overcoming stuttering. Early-onset stuttering may show up when the child is as young as 22 months. You can seek help from a speech therapist as soon as your child is around 3 years old if they are showing signs of stuttering. SLPs do not recommend speech exercises for very young, preschool-aged children since it hinders the natural development of language. There are no firm guidelines on the appropriate age for beginning stuttering therapy. SLPs typically recommend beginning it within the first 6 to 12 months after you notice the signs of stuttering. Indirect speech therapy like the Lidcombe Program is particularly effective in helping the parents apply verbal positive reinforcements that can help reduce stuttering in young children.
Can you treat a stuttering child at home?
It is indeed possible to guide your child and help them with stuttering exercises at home. However, it is advisable to seek the counsel of a speech-language pathologist (SLP) or speech therapist for assessing your child’s progress. Simply helping a child who stutters and teaching them the exercises isn’t enough. You should be able to quantify their improvement with every passing month. An SLP can teach you how to measure the severity and rate of stuttering, plan the exercise and activities for maximum positive results, and provide the updated information on stuttering therapy that your child may need.
How to help a stuttering child at home?
To help a stuttering child at home, begin by asking fewer questions. Always take time to listen to them and don’t finish their sentences. Try to speak to them slowly and don’t rush them when they are trying to respond to you. If your child is old enough to understand that their speech is different from that of their peers, learn about stuttering and tell them the facts. Educating your child about stuttering is one way to empower them.
Preschool stuttering – what can parents do?
Stuttering in preschoolers is more common than you think. If your preschool-aged child begins showing signs and symptoms of stuttering, you can help them by slowing the rate of your speech.Try to ask them fewer questions. When they talk to you, try to listen with undivided attention. If they are struggling with a word or phrase, don’t complete it for them. Instead, you can politely ask them to repeat it once for you. Always use positive reinforcement and refrain from scolding, criticizing, and comparing their speech with their peers. You should always consult a speech-language pathologist (SLP) when you notice your child stuttering.