by Valerie Johnston, MS, CCC-SLP
There are many things parents can do to help their children who stutter speak more easily and fluently. The most important of these is to learn more about stuttering. A good place to start this learning process is with some of the booklets and DVDs by the Stuttering Foundation of America. To get information on my recommendations for different age levels, other resources and how to order, click here.
As you learn more about stuttering and fluency you will find out that, in general, there are things that make stuttering worse (negative influences) and things that make it better (positive influences). Although the negative influences are not the original cause of the stuttering, they can add significant communicative stress that intensify the problem and contribute to its development. Lists of both the positive and negative influences on stuttering are listed below. The suggestions on these lists come from a variety of sources. Some things may work for your child and others may not. Just observe your child’s speech and use the ones that work.
1. Convey to your child that you accept him for who he is, whether he stutters or not.
2. Respond what your child is saying, rather than how he is saying it.
3. Make stuttering a “no big deal” topic for discussion. For suggestions of ways to do this click here.
4. Talk about talking when you can’t listen. Let your child know that you’re interested in what he has to say. Tell him you’ll listen as soon as you’re through and then make sure you really do get back to him in a short period of time and listen to what he has to say without doing anything else.
5. As much as possible, establish a calm, relaxed atmosphere. Allow plenty of time to do things so that you don’t have to rush from one thing to another.
6. Speak with your child in a relaxed, unhurried way, pausing frequently. Slowing down and pausing more frequently must be a joint effort on the part of all family members. Telling your child to slow down and take his time will be of little value if everyone around him is speaking rapidly.
7. Speak in short simple sentences and use vocabulary that is appropriate for your child's age.
8. Make comments about what your child has said or done, rather than asking questions.
9. When you must ask questions, ask yes/no questions, two-choice questions, or limited scope questions, such as “What was the best thing that happened at school today?” instead of “What did you do at school today?”
10. Allow your child to finish his thoughts before you respond. It’s often easy to anticipate what he’s going to say and respond before he finishes. Let him finish, pause for a short time and then respond.
11. Model and encourage good turn taking while talking and during other activities. Count silently to 5 before responding to slow down the rate of turn taking. Doing this will decrease the number of interruptions and amount of verbal competition in your family, which are both negative influences.
12. Set aside a few minutes at a regular time each day when you can give your child your undivided attention. Let your child direct you in the activities and choose whether he talks or not. When you talk, use slow, easy speech with plenty of pauses. Allow and accept periods of silence.
13. Praise, compliment and thank your child frequently.
14. Let your child own the problem of stuttering. Allow him to handle his own speaking situations and show confidence in his ability to speak by not letting him avoid speaking situations.
15. Be an active part of your child’s therapy. Learn the tools, or techniques, your child uses to control his stuttering.
Things to Avoid (Negative Influences)
1. Sending negative signals about your child’s speech or reacting differently when he stutters.
2. Punishing or reprimanding your child for stuttering,
3. Making suggestions about what he should do in order to stop stuttering.
4. Scheduling too much of your child’s day in planned activities.
5. Having a rushed or hectic household or a household in which everyone speaks rapidly.
6. Interrupting your child and letting him interrupt others.
7. Speaking at the same time as your child.
8. Completing words or thoughts for your child.
9. Speaking rapidly to your child, or when around him.
10. Using long, complex sentences and vocabulary that are above your child’s age level when talking with him.
11. Having your child do “command performances”. For example, “Tell grandma what we did on our vacation”.
12. Asking frequent questions.
13. Asking multiple questions (one right after another) without allowing time for your child to respond.
14. Using a rapid rate of turn taking.
15. Having your child compete with others for turns in conversations or other activities.
You may feel overwhelmed after reading these lists, but you’re probably already doing a lot of the things you should be doing. If you focus on doing more of the positive things, you really won’t have to worry about many of the negative things since the two lists are basically mutually exclusive.
One last suggestion, if your child has stuttered for three months or longer, contact a speech-language pathologist (SLP) who has experience working with children who stutter to discuss your concerns about your child’s speech. You can get a list of the SLPs in your area who have this experience from the Stuttering Foundation of America.
If you have questions or need more information you can contact me at:
Speech & Language Center, Inc.
Fort Worth, TX