How to Help a Child Who Stutters - UnityPoint Health

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How to Help a Child Who Stutters

Allowing quiet play can help a child who struggles with stuttering.

About 25 percent of children go through some sort of stuttering between the ages of 2 and 4. Julie Gasway, speech language pathologist, UnityPoint Health, says this is called developmental stuttering. It can be frustrating for both kids and adults, but Gasway arms us with knowledge to discover what causes stuttering, how to help a child who stutters and when it’s time to seek professional help.

Why Do People Stutter?

Gasway says there are three main factors that determine what causes stuttering in children.

  • Genetics. Three-fourths of children who stutter are boys. It’s a male-inherited trait.
  • Sensitive temperament. Some research points to a sensitive temperament as a contributing factor to stuttering.
  • Mismatched skills. Another theory is there’s a mismatch between the child’s motor skills and language skills.

Gasway explains a little more about mismatched skills. Check it out in the video below.

What is Stuttering and Are There Different Types of Stuttering?

Gasway says stuttering is a speech disorder that may involve the repetition of whole words, parts of words, phrases or sounds. It also may involve prolongations. Gasway gives an example of different types of stuttering in this clip.

How Common is Stuttering in Children?

While 25 percent of children go through some sort of stuttering during toddler years, don’t stress. Gasway says the majority (about 75 percent) of toddlers stuttering will spontaneously recover without any professional help. If the stuttering does not improve, you’ll likely notice the speech disorder becoming more severe. Gasway says if you notice stuttering for a time frame of at least six months, it’s time for an evaluation. It’s typical for the average preliminary evaluation to take up to two hours. Gasway says there’s lot of play involved to make sure every child is comfortable during the assessment.

How Can You Help a Child Overcome Stuttering?

Gasway says it’s best to speak with a professional, but there are a few things you can do to help a child who stutters until the initial assessment with a speech therapist. Try these things at home:

  • Pay attention. Listen to what your child is saying, not how he or she is saying the words.
  • Create 1:1 time. This allows time with the child alone to chat, reducing stress. Sometimes, if children are having a tough day speaking, it’s a great idea to do nonverbal activities, such as playing outside, building or doing artwork.
  • Let the child lead the conversation. That means reducing the questions you ask and avoiding questions such as, “What did you do today?” or “Who did you play with?” Also, don’t request information such as “Tell grandma about your birthday party.” Instead, allow the child to tell and talk when it happens naturally.
  • Allow pause time. After the child asks you a question, pause a few seconds to show your child you are processing the question. This is role modeling, so your child can learn there is no reason to rush to speak.
  • Eliminate interruptions. Demonstrate good listening at home, and take turns talking. Some children stutter more when they are trying to get a parent’s attention by interrupting. Parents can model waiting until it’s their turn to talk.

Gasway gives us a good example about how to play with a child who stutters during 1:1 time here.


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