How to prepare your child for speaking and listening activities in school

Help to develop your child's confidence and skill in speaking and listening

We know that when children start at primary school it is very helpful if they are used to talking in one to one or group situations. Pre-schools work hard to develop these skills and you can help at home by setting these standards for speaking and listening so that he is used to what the school will require from him.

Teach him to value speaking and listening

Talk regularly with your child and always try to be near enough to him to establish normal eye contact. Insist that if he wants to talk with you, he stops what he is doing and comes over to speak to you. It is best to avoid shouting across the room, or through the house, unless absolutely necessary, so that he learns that speaking and listening are important events and understands that he needs to concentrate when doing so. By concentrating on his talking, the demands on him will be lowered and he should feel more relaxed. He might also talk more fluently, or at least talk without being upset by his stammering.

Help your child feel good about himself and his talking. Always listen attentively and keep normal eye contact and expect him to show he is listening by looking at you. Compliment him when he has explained something to you. 'Well, that was interesting.' Use his name or family nickname frequently to reinforce his sense of identity as someone who is special to you. Keep normal eye contact as you speak.

Show him that it is what he says that is important not how he says it

If your child makes a mistake with a word when talking do not criticise him, just repeat the word, as it should be said in your comment back to him, so he hears the correct version. When it is his turn to speak, give him time to finish what he is saying without interrupting. Do not finish off words or sentences for him.

Slowing down your own speech when you talk to your child will make it easier for him to follow what you are saying and help him feel less rushed. This can be more helpful then telling a child to slow down, start again or take a deep breath.

Concentrate on what your child is saying, rather than how he says it. This helps you to avoid common reactions like tensing when your child stammers, or even looking away for a split second. If your child senses that you feel worried about his speech he may start to feel that he has something wrong with him and begin to worry about speaking situations. Even very young children can react in this way so the stammer might become more pronounced, or in some instances the child might try to avoid talking.

If he seems be tense and shows signs of distress as he struggles to speak just react calmly to the difficulty as you might with any other with a comment that acknowledges his efforts and yet does not appear to him to show you are worried about his speech. 'That was a bit hard for you, you did really well there', acknowledges and compliments him at the same time. With all children a hug or another age appropriate gesture might add to the reassurance.

Teach him the importance of body language in communication

We know that the listener notices this, just as much, if not more than the content of the speaking. You will be doing your child a great favour if you encourage him to show interest when he is listening with good normal eye contact, as we know that a stammer often causes people to avoid looking at the listener as they talk. As your child gets older if he always looks away when he is talking and/or listening it can give the wrong impression. At a younger age he can be helped to overcome that tendency.


Encourage all family members to respect each other's speaking, taking their turn to speak and avoiding the interruption of other speakers. This is important; especially if a child is stammering, as his right to have his say must be supported, so that his confidence is not undermined. A child who knows his talking is appreciated will feel more positively about his speech and be better equipped to cope with school oral work.

Using visual materials to help him cope with change

All children can worry about new experiences but we do know that children who stammer may be more sensitive than the norm. They are more likely to become anxious about changes in their lives to a worrying degree for a parent. While it is helpful to talk about these events such as changing schools and give reassurance, sometimes a child might be helped by drawing pictures of important moments in an event as he sees them. There is considerable evidence for example that children are helped when they are going through a stressful time, such as starting a new school, if they have made a visual timetable of what is happening in a day and interested parents can view this approach at Talking Point.

Key family members

These should all follow your lead in supporting your child as the BSA recommends.

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