any pre-schoolers stutter at some point
in their first years of talking. It can start
suddenly or slowly and with varying levels
of severity, and it can also come and go,
affecting a child for a short time and then disappearing
completely for a time before re-appearing. However it
happens in your home, if you notice your child stuttering,
you’ll probably worry.
What exactly is stuttering?
Stuttering – or stammering, as it’s called in some parts
of the world – is a disruption of a person’s fluency when
they are talking. It sounds as if they are “stuck” on a
particular word, sound or phrase as they are talking.
Stuttering is characterised by the following different
forms/types of stutter:
Types of stutter Examples
• “
c-c-c-c-can I go now?” (part-
• “
the-the-the dog barked”
• “
I want – I want – I want a
drink” (phrases)
Sssssssam wants one too” (sound
drawn out)
period of silence, words
stuck’)__ BLUE truck”
eye blinking, deep irregular
breaths, facial grimaces or
twitching, limb movements
Overuse of fillers
in communication
Repetition of words such as ‘um’,
ah’, ‘and’, ‘but’.
What causes stuttering?
Despite it being such a common affliction, there are many
myths surrounding stuttering. First, whilst many people
believe that stuttering is a result of nervousness, shyness or
anxiety, this is not actually the case. Stuttering is a speech
disorder, the cause of which is unknown. Many people
who stutter have a genetically inherited predisposition
to stuttering, making it a physical condition. Situations
that produce anxiety often make speech more difficult for
everyone – whether or not they stutter. Of course, some
people who stutter are shy, but no more often than other
people. They can also be outgoing, friendly and talkative,
just like anyone else.
Another common misperception about stuttering is
that a child’s stuttering arises as a result of copying the
stuttered speech of other family members, especially
older siblings. However, the link here is genetic rather
than behavioural. Stuttering tends to run in families, so
it is common to find more than one member of a family
who stutters.
Some people mistakenly believe that stuttering is
caused by the way parents interact with their children.
This is simply not the case and research shows that parents
are actually the best people to help their children recover
from stuttering. As a result, parents play a key role in many
stuttering treatments.
A parent’s role
If your child is going to stutter, it is likely to happen before
the age of five, and most often occurs between the ages of
two and three years, when there is typically a big explosion
in your child’s language development.
If your child starts stuttering, make a note in a diary of
the date so you can easily track how long it persists. Whilst
many children who stutter will simply grow out of it, others
won’t and it will be important to know how long they’ve
been stuttering should treatment be required.
If your child has just started stuttering, and there’s
no family history of stuttering that required treatment or
persisted into adulthood, and your child seems unfazed by
their stuttering, it’s actually best to treat them as a normal
speaker. Try to give your child uninterrupted, relaxed
times to talk to you, with plenty of time for them to tell you
what they want.
If your child expresses an awareness of their stuttering,
you should acknowledge their difficulties and reassure
them that everyone has difficulty getting their words out
sometimes. You could also encourage them to:
Slow down
Start again
Take a deep breath
Think about what they want to say
But, note that it’s important to use these strategies
sparingly and to gauge your child’s reactions as you use
them. If your child displays any negative reactions to your
suggestions of slowing down, starting again, etc, then stop
and give them the time they need to get their message
across uninterrupted. There is nothing more frustrating to
anyone – child or adult – than having your communications
continually interrupted. You want your child to feel
empowered by their communication attempts, not inhibited.
Professional support
There is no precise time when you should seek professional
intervention for a child who is stuttering. Whilst research
shows that the majority of children who experience
stuttering recover naturally without intervention, there
are no clear findings on which children these will be.
Furthermore, if left untreated beyond the age of six years,
stuttering is likely to persist into adulthood.
Seek advice if:
The stuttering has continued for more than six months
continuously or intermittently).
The stuttering causes your child distress or a reluctance
to communicate verbally.
There is a family history of stuttering and treatment was
There is a family history of stuttering that has persisted
into adulthood.
Summer 2013