How to Support Your Child Who Stutters

What causes stuttering?” 

“Can stuttering be cured?”

How can I help my child when they stutter?” 

Does speech therapy help?” 

If your child seems to be stuttering, questions like these may be running through your mind. You’re not alone–these are common things to wonder about.

When your child begins to stutter, it’s important to know whether speech therapy is needed and how to fully support your child in a way that promotes confidence, ease, and academic success. As their caregiver, you want to be in their corner–and there’s a lot you can do to help them!

The goal isn’t to “fix” a stutter

Never forget that your child is more than their stutter! They are an entire human being, with likes and dislikes, a unique personality, and their own dreams and passions. Try not to hyperfocus on your child’s speech. Don’t pressure them to speak a certain way. The goal is freedom of speech and to build their confidence to encourage self-love and acceptance.

The way you speak about your child’s stuttering is critical. Avoid using words like “bad,” “fix,” or “cure.” Stuttering is not something that needs to be “fixed” or “cured.” It is a diverse way of speaking. 

The way you speak about your child’s stuttering is critical.

As a speech-language pathologist, I know firsthand that stuttering is a misunderstood condition. Many of my clients have been taught to avoid stuttering at all costs. They may steer clear of certain social situations, not order what they want at a restaurant, or avoid an entire career because it requires a high amount of verbal communication. These are just a few examples of how stuttering can affect a person’s life.

The way we speak to our children shapes their beliefs, views, hopes, and dreams. Awareness and understanding can make a big difference. Parents are in an empowering position to be able to provide a safe and affirming space for their children who stutter.  

6 tips for talking with your child who stutters

It may be hard to do sometimes, but try to listen to what your child is saying instead of how they’re saying it. Follow these tips to support your child when you’re in conversation:

1 Be an active listener

Show your child that you’re fully listening to what they have to say. You can use eye contact, body language, head nods, and gestures. Be present and mindful in the interaction. For busy parents, it can be helpful to set aside a few minutes at the same time each day to give your child your undivided attention. 

2 Be patient

It may take your child a bit longer to say what they need to say. 

3 Avoid offering advice

Don’t tell your child to speak more slowly or suggest that they “take a deep breath.” 

4 Slow your pace

It can be helpful to model a slower overall rate of speech. Try to speak in an easy and relaxed way, pausing often. It can also be helpful for kids who stutter to experience a slower, more relaxed pace of life. It’s not always possible, but try to avoid rushing or hurrying your child when you can. 

5 Don’t interrupt

Children find it much easier to speak when there are fewer interruptions. Attempting to speak over others to make their voice heard will increase tension and make it harder for them to talk.

Model turn-taking with all members of your family so you can avoid talking over each other. The dinner table is a great place to practice this! 

6 Be inclusive

Treat your child just as you do your other children, or just as you would if they didn’t stutter. Do whatever you can to make your child feel comfortable and included. 

How does speech therapy help with a stutter?

As a society, it’s our duty to change our beliefs about stuttering. We can think about stuttering in terms of verbal diversity–different people have different ways of speaking–and not simply as a condition that needs to be “fixed.” 

It’s important to know that not every person who stutters wants to reduce their stutter. There is a critical need for holistic intervention for people who stutter, supporting each person’s individual experiences of communication. Speech therapy goals and treatment plans must be personalized to the child who stutters. 

Speech therapy can help both children and adults find their voice in different ways, providing:

  • Techniques to increase fluency, or ease of speech

  • Techniques to reduce tension while speaking

  • Counseling on thoughts, emotions, and beliefs about stuttering

  • Confidence-building so that you can advocate for yourself in all sorts of situations as a person who stutters

How do I know if my child needs speech therapy for stuttering?

If your child is struggling with getting their words out and is showing a significant amount of tension around speaking, it’s helpful to talk with a speech-language pathologist, also known as a speech therapist. They can evaluate your child and provide an individualized plan to help you help your child speak with ease and confidence.  

Speech therapists are educated, trained, and licensed to assess a person’s speech and formally diagnose or rule out a stutter. It’s important to note that none of us ever speaks with 100% fluent speech. We all repeat a word occasionally, or add an “um” or two while speaking. These are called non-stuttering-like disfluencies. Here are some examples:

  • Someone may occasionally interject filler words when they talk, such as “I, um, uh, well…”

  • They may repeat phrases, such as “I saw, I saw, I saw a cute puppy at the park.”

  • Or they may even make revisions to their sentence, such as, “Yesterday, I mean yesterday morning, or, um, yesterday afternoon, I saw a cute puppy at the park.”

Speech therapists know what to look for when listening to a person's speech to determine if they’re demonstrating stuttering-like disfluencies or non-stuttering-like disfluencies.

If you have concerns about your child’s speech, the best next step is to reach out to a licensed and trained speech therapist for a speech evaluation. 

Other common questions from parents of children who stutter

What causes stuttering? 

We know that stuttering is caused by a combination of factors related to development, language acquisition, environment, and brain structure and function. One finding is that there is a delayed auditory feedback (or increased time between auditory perception and speech) in people who stutter. There is also a genetic component to stuttering. This review of 28 studies stated that between 30% and 60% of people who stutter had a known family history of stuttering.   

Developmental stuttering usually begins between the ages of 2 and 6. Stuttering can also be acquired as an adult. In that case, it’s most often a result of a brain injury, stroke, or psychological trauma. 

Does stuttering reflect my child’s intelligence? 

This is a myth! There is no connection between stuttering and how smart a person is. In fact, people who stutter often have a higher level of social-emotional intelligence because of the life-changing experiences their stutter brings them. 

Will my child be able to have a successful career?  

Encourage your child to pursue any career they dream of! The idea that people who stutter can’t be successful is a limiting belief that comes from society. People who stutter can pursue the career of their choice and find great success. The stuttering community is filled with scientists, researchers, performers, comedians, doctors, speech therapists, teachers, and many more! Here is a small sampling of famous and accomplished people who stutter. 

Check out this article to learn more about stuttering misconceptions and how you can support people who stutter. And visit these sites for additional information:

National Stuttering Association

The Stuttering Foundation

FRIENDS: The National Association of Young People Who Stutter

SAY: The Stuttering Association for the Young

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