What parents need to know about their child who stammers

Parents do not cause stammering

Years ago it was though that parents' behaviour caused the child to stammer. Now research proves that parents do not cause stammering and that this old fashioned view was wrong, although it may still be held by some uninformed people and cause parents considerable distress. However, we do know that parents play a vital role in helping their child by managing the speaking and listening environment in order to reduce the impact of the stammer.

Is my child anxious?

Children do not start stammering because they are more anxious and nervous than other children. They have the same spread of personality traits as children who do not stammer. However, fear of stammering can cause the child to worry and be anxious and that is why some people, even professionals, still wrongly believe that anxiety caused the stammering in the first place. However, there is a suggestion that children who stammer might have a tendency to be more sensitive generally than children who do not stammer.

Does intelligence have anything to do with stammering?

Children who stammer have the same spread of intelligence as the rest of the population unless the stammer is associated with other more complex needs, such as Down's syndrome. However, one study has found that non-verbal intelligence, while still within normal limits, was slightly lower among children who stammer than among a matched control group. This means that they might be slower at picking up the signals in the listener's body language than other children and parents need to be aware of this so that they can encourage their child's development of social skills.

Some children also may also find the teaching of reading through a phonics system alone more difficult as it involves on the spot repeating of letter sounds by the child in front of other children. A teacher should be aware that using visual methods as well could be helpful.

Does my child worry about his stammering?

This possibility is very distressing for parents to consider, as they naturally want their child to be happy. They may tend to project their own feelings about the stammer and believe that the child feels as worried as they do. However, this is not always the case when a child is quite young. If parents watch their child's behaviour they may see that in many situations he is not really concerned about the stammer and seems unaware that his speech is different to any one else's. When this is the case, parents and teachers should accept the child's speech without comment.

When will my child start to be concerned about his speech?

Nobody can provide a definite answer to this question that applies to every child as children develop at different speeds and are totally individual in their attitude to their speech. As children progress at primary school, parents may find that their child becomes more obviously aware of his stammering speech but is not showing any anxiety about it. It is important to maintain his relaxed attitude by not commenting on his speech unless he shows anxiety in his behaviour with a gesture or shrug for example, or even in a comment Some younger children may forget how frustrated they felt about their speaking and will not worry about speaking next time.

However children do vary in their feelings about their speech and there is some evidence that those as young as four may be self-conscious about their stammering and even quite worried by it, while others who are considerably older may not show any anxiety at all, even if they are aware that their speech is different. Parents of some quite young children who go to primary school have told the BSA that the teacher has noticed that their child is not joining in talking sessions, which they believe to be connected with a fear of stammering. This sort of behaviour may indicate that a young child is already worried about speaking and parents need to be aware of this.

Certainly, as the child gets older it is much more likely that he will worry about his speaking and will need support from a therapist, his teacher and parents to manage this feeling of fear about his talking.

When you see that your child is struggling to speak, or reacting to his stammering by making a comment, or a gesture: 'Do not ignore his distress.' Give him support, as you would for any ordinary difficulty like a fall, and comment gently, 'Well done, that was a hard word for you.' A hug or an age appropriate sympathetic gesture might also be a good idea.

What do I tell him if I stammer?

Don't worry about your child hearing you stammer, as children do not copy stammering from another person in the long term. If you stammer it is important that you appear confident and relaxed when you are speaking. Your child can see that you are comfortable with your talking both with him and other adults and children. This will help him in turn to feel confident about talking regardless of whether he is stammering. You will also be better able to understand and support him when he wants to talk about his speech.

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