Is your toddler or preschooler stuttering and you don’t know what to do? It can be difficult to decide when to contact a speech-language pathologist, especially if people are assuring you he will “grow out of it.” If you’re like me, waiting to see if that's true just isn’t an option. Luckily, there are things you can do at home right now that have been shown to improve fluent speech in preschoolers who stutter.
Children who stutter can be impacted by common stresses in their communicative interactions. This does not mean you or your family are doing anything wrong when you speak to your little guy! These stresses are a natural part of the way most adults and families interact: rapid rate of speech, quick back-and-forth exchanges, lots of questions being asked, interruptions, higher-level vocabulary, and inconsistent attention. For a child who is prone to stuttering, these normal family interactions may put communicative pressure on him when he speaks. But you can make these small adjustments to the way you communicate with your child, and will likely see improvements in his speech.
01. MODEL A SLOW, RELAXED WAY OF SPEAKING
Our children learn how to communicate from watching and listening to us! If you slow down your speaking rate, your child will frequently match his speaking rate to yours. Stuttering often occurs in young children at a time when language and vocabulary are increasing rapidly. As their developing motor skills try to keep up with their ever-expanding language, speech can be impacted. Show your child that it’s okay to take his time when he has something important to say!
02. INCREASE PAUSE TIME
Pay attention next time you’re in a conversation with an adult or someone in your family. Does the conversation go back and forth rapidly? Do you interrupt one another or respond instantly to questions? For a preschooler who is having difficulty with stuttering, this rapid-fire style of conversation can put pressure on him to get his words out quickly. When you speak with your child, try to pause between sentences and before responding. Even if it’s just for a second or two, inserting pauses in conversation will help your child understand that he has time to speak, which will take the pressure off.
03. USE FEWER OPEN-ENDED QUESTIONS
It’s natural for parents to ask their children frequent questions. For a child who is stuttering, lots of open-ended questions can put him on the spot and increase communicative pressure. Pay attention to how many questions you ask your child as you interact with him, and adjust by changing them into comments. If you are playing with your child and want to ask him a question about his favorite color, simply make a comment about your favorite instead: “I like the blue truck the best.” Your child will tell you which truck he likes, but without any of the pressure he may feel when asked a lot of questions.
04. USE CHILD-FRIENDLY VOCABULARY
This doesn’t mean baby talk! Your preschooler’s vocabulary is growing every day, and that is mainly because he learns new words from hearing you speak. When a family interacts and uses a lot of language that is difficult for a young child to understand, it may increase the pressure he feels when communicating. As you speak with your child, use vocabulary that he knows or that he can easily interpret.
05. CARVE OUT ONE-ON-ONE TIME FOR YOUR CHILD EACH DAY
In the hustle and bustle of everyday family life, it can be difficult to slow down and really spend one-on-one time with your child. Each day, set aside some time to be with your child in a natural way, and really listen to what he has to say. As you interact with your child, use all of the above strategies so that your child feels unhurried, and most importantly, listened to. Make sure he understands that what he says is important to you!
If you have questions about how to modify your communication interactions at home or your child has been stuttering for longer than 3-6 months, schedule a free phone consultation to see if there is more we can do!
Guitar, Barry. Stuttering: An Integrated Approach to its Nature and Treatment, 4th ed;, 2014, pp. 296-298.
Sawyer, Jean & Matteson, Colleen & Ou, Hua & Nagase, Takahisa. (2017). The Effects of Parent-Focused Slow Relaxed Speech Intervention on Articulation Rate, Response Time Latency, and Fluency in Preschool Children Who Stutter. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research. 60. 1-16. 10.1044/2016_JSLHR-S-16-0002.