by Valerie Johnston, MS, CCC-SLP
There are many things parents can do to help a child who stutters speak more fluently, but one of the most important things is to make stuttering a no big deal topic for discussion. Most children, especially older children, know that they are having trouble talking. When their parents don’t acknowledge this and avoid talking about it, many children become convinced that stuttering is something so terrible that it can’t even be discussed. This has been referred to as the conspiracy of silence and it creates shame and guilt, along with a lot of other negative emotions.
With young children, making stuttering a topic for open discussion means that you respond to any negative emotion that your child shows when talking. You know your child better than anyone else, so do and say what feels right to you. As an example, when your child sighs in frustration after he’s had a particularly difficult time getting a word out, you could hug or touch him and say something like, “Talking can be hard sometimes, can’t it?” This helps your child know that you understand and care. Think about how you would respond if your child came to you upset and crying because he fell down and scraped his knee. You wouldn’t just ignore it – you’d respond by comforting him and then taking care of his knee. It’s important to do the same with stuttering. However, it’s equally important that you don’t label the behavior (unless your child already has) and that you don’t make suggestions for how he can change the way he talks; simply respond to the emotion your child is conveying. This lets your child know that you’re there to support him and it opens up the channels of communication for later discussions of the problem.
With older children, you can talk more directly, in a matter of fact way, about stuttering (or whatever label your child uses). This manner of discussing stuttering places no blame and is very similar to discussing any other topic. The discussions you and your child have could focus on many different aspects of stuttering; for example, your child’s feelings and level of concern about his speech or what he does to try and make talking easier. It is important that you discuss topics that your child feels are important and that you are supportive of him and try to understand his point of view. Try to avoid direct questions and use commenting to begin these discussions (“I’ve noticed that you’ve had more trouble talking lately” or “You seem to be talking easier today”). If your child begins a discussion, follow his lead. When your child does not want to discuss his speech, respect his wishes and try again later. What is important is that you let your child know that stuttering is no big deal and that you’ll be there when he wants to talk about it.
By opening up the lines of communication and discussing stuttering in a matter of fact way with your child you can play a significant role in minimizing the negative emotions, such as shame and guilt, that often accompany stuttering. And, not having these negative emotions will make it much easier for your child to learn to control his stuttering and become an effective communicator.
If you have questions or need more information you can contact me at:
Speech & Language Center, Inc.
Fort Worth, TX