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Speaking is a very complex process! For some children, the neural pathways involved in speaking develop slightly differently and so the process of speaking does not always happen easily. When this happens, children may stammer.

Up to 8% of children will stammer at some point. 

  • Stammering most commonly starts between the ages of two and five years old as this is when children tend to experience a period of rapid language development. They may begin to use more complex vocabulary and longer sentences which places a higher ‘demand’ on their developing speech motor system.
  • Stammering, also known as stuttering or dysfluency, can present in different ways. You may hear your child using one, or all of them.
  1. You might hear repetitions of initial sounds (e.g. “l-l-look”) or whole words (e.g. “on, on, on”).
  2. Some sounds might be held on for longer, sounding stretched (e.g. “ffffffish” or “ssssssun”), this is known as prolongation.
  3. Sometimes sounds or words can get stuck altogether and no sound comes out even though the child is clearly attempting to speak, this is known as blocking.
  • Stammering may include additional features of struggle or tension such as extra body or facial movements or running out of breath whilst talking.
  • Stammering can vary over time and in different situations. You may notice your child stammer more often when they are excited, tired or upset, or if they are using more complex language.
  • Some children do not show any responses to their stammer, some are completely unaware that they are stammering Others may find it frustrating and may choose to ‘opt out’ of saying specific words, or talking altogether because for them, talking isn’t comfortable.
  • For most children who stammer, stammering will fade away naturally, usually within a year or so of it starting. For a smaller proportion of children, stammering will continue on into adulthood (around 3% of adults stammer). It is not easy to identify which children will continue to stammer but how to respond, in order for them to be comfortable with their talking, is the same either way.
  • Try not to focus on the stammer. Instead, be interested in what they have to say rather than how they are saying it.
  • Give them praise and support, comment on the great words they use, their expression, their communication in general. This will promote their confidence in communicating, regardless of their fluency of speech. 
  • Avoid saying things like, “slow down” or “take your time” as this will give your child even more to think about, adding to the demands of talking. If you feel like your child is rushing, it is more helpful to say ‘I’m listening’ or ‘You have time’. This way, you are not asking them to change, you are simply letting them know that they are being listened to.
  • There are other ways to show your child that you are listening, including maintaining natural and relaxed eye contact and getting down to their level.
  • Slow down your own rate of talking. This shows them that there is plenty of time and no need for either of you to rush.
  • Keep your language at the same level as your child’s, rather than using long and complex sentence. This helps your child to do the same. This in turn lowers the demands on their language formulation and therefore fluency.
  • Give them time to finish talking. As tempting as it may be, try to avoid interrupting them or finishing off their words for them. You may feel that this is helpful, but it can lead to frustration and may also increase your child’s feelings of urgency to speak quickly.
  • As worrying as it may be to see your child stammer, try not to let this show as this worry may transfer to your child. Keep your responses relaxed and calm.
  • Mind your language. Don’t talk about fluency in the context of being ‘bad’ or ‘good’ (e.g. ‘Their stammer has been really bad lately’ or ‘Their speech has been really good this week’) as this can lead to your child associating stammering with being negative and fluent speech as good. Instead, try to use terms such as ‘more’ or ‘less’.
  • Encourage speaking situations that could help make it easier for them to join in, e.g. singing, speaking with actions or in unison with others.
  • Reduce the number of open questions you ask. If they are having a difficult talking day, offer choices of response that help to reduce pressure on their talking e.g. “Would you like this one or that one?”.
  • Commenting rather than questioning is also a great way to reduce the demands on talking. Make a comment and allow time for your child to respond if they choose to. For example, ‘I had a busy day today. I wonder what you did’ rather than ‘What did you do at school today?’ or ‘I’ve found a blue car. Let’s see what other colours there are.’ rather than ‘What colour is it?’. It’s surprisingly difficult to avoid asking questions but also surprising how much conversation a comment can create.
  • Let them choose what they want to say, rather than putting them ‘on the spot’ e.g. “We had such a lovely day in the park yesterday, we went on the swing and the slide. Can you remember anything else?” instead of “Tell Mrs G what we did in the park yesterday!”
  • If your child appears unaware that they are stammering and is continuing to communicate happily, there is no need to draw their attention to it.
  • However, some children may express that they are finding talking difficult, or show us in the way they respond to stammering that they are aware this is happening (e.g. becoming upset, frustrated, avoiding talking). In this instance, it’s good to talk openly with your child about stammering. Reassure. Normalise. Praise. For example, ‘I can see that talking was a bit tricky then. It’s OK if talking feels hard/bumpy sometimes. Lots of children and grown ups feel that way too. I’m really glad you said that word though because it was a great word to use/that was a great story/I love to hear you talking.’ Talking about stammering can often be a relief and a reassurance to children and avoid any negative emotions developing in relation to talking.
  • Keep natural eye contact with the child/young person when s/he is talking, especially during moments of stammering.
  • Give him/her time to finish what s/he wants to say, without interrupting or finishing his/her sentences.
  • Slow your own speech down and use more pauses. This is the best way of helping the child/young person to feel unhurried. Don’t tell him/her to ‘slow down’, ‘take a breath’, or ‘think about what you’re saying’.  These will not help, and may make talking more difficult.
  • Reduce the number of direct questions that you ask. Too many questions, especially open questions that require more complex answers, can make it more difficult for a child/young person to be fluent. Try to simplify questions, where possible, by providing two choices. For example, change an open question, such as ‘What is the book about?’ to a simpler question, such as ‘Is the book about a lost dog or a burglar?’
  • Where possible, be flexible with activities that the child finds difficult, for example: raising hands for registration, instead of answering verbally; or reading aloud with another child, rather than alone. It is better to involve the whole class in any changes, rather than singling out the student who stammers.
  • Reinforce turn-taking rules. Although it is important to let children who stammer finish their sentences, it is also important that they understand and follow the same turn-taking rules as others. Therefore, these should be reinforced with the class as a whole.
  • Build confidence by praising the child for things they do well (not related to stammering). Point out what you noticed, and what was good about it, e.g. ’You explained that very well’
  • Ensure that all staff, including lunchtime staff, are aware of the child’s stammering and the best ways to help.

These websites are recommended by our Stammering Support Service for useful information about supporting people who stammer.

STAMMA (British Stammering Association) www.stamma.org

Action for Stammering Children: www.actionforstammeringchildren.org

Michael Palin Centre:

Bradford District Care NHS Foundation Trust:

  • bdcftelearning.co.uk ‘About Stammering’: This interactive, accessible e-learning course is available free for anyone supporting a young person who stammers. 

South Tees Paediatric Speech and Language Therapy:

Airedale Stammering Centre

Advice for Parents and Teachers of Young Children who Stammer – The Facts and How to Help:https://airedalestammeringtherapy.wordpress.com/2020/08/04/advice-for-parents-and-teachers-of-children-who-stammer-the-facts-and-how-to-help/

Contact Us

For more information or if you have any questions please contact andrea.arnold@nhs.net

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