Stuttering in school aged children
Learning to talk is exciting but stuttering– or pausing, repeating words or sounds ("can, can, can I", or "mu mu mu mummy") and stopping and starting speech - is often a pitstop along the way to talking fluently.
Stuttering, or stammering, is considered a problem and can be upsetting for parents and frustrating for the child. But if you think about it, it’s hardly surprising that some children stumble and get stuck on talking. Talking involves controlled movement and co-ordination of muscles, while the subtleties of conversation are even more demanding for children, requiring listening, understanding and creative thinking.
Most children may experience episodes of stuttering – sometimes called disfluency – in the years of rapid language development from the age of around two until formal schooling begins around the age of five. But once school begins, the stuttering child may feel even more pressure to communicate perfectly and face peer problems peer pressure or teasing
Definition of stuttering
When stop-start speech patterns interfere with talking or cause distress to either the speaker or the listener, then it could be said that stuttering has developed. However, there are many children who experience these problems with talking and go on to be perfectly fluent in their speech later on. It is impossible to tell for sure which children will pass through a stage of stuttering and which will not, so it is always best to do whatever we can to make speaking easier for the child.
To speak in fluent sentences children need to:
- know lots of words
- know how to put words together (grammar)
- think quickly of the 'right word' or correct sentence to say what they really mean
- listen and understand what others say
- learn how sounds are put together to form words.
They must also develop motor or mechanical skills so that they can copy the sounds that others use in order to be understood, co-ordinate all the muscles used for breathing and speaking as well as control the muscles to move quickly and smoothly from one sound to the next.
These abilities are affected by how the child feels as well as by the demands placed upon him. When the child feels happy and listened to then it's easier to speak well. When the child feels tired or unimportant then speaking can be difficult.
Listen and support your child’s speech by
- Listening attentively
- Responding kindly and uncritically
- Offering physical support when needed
- Helping the child to feel safe
- Being encouraging
- Helping others understand our child.
A stuttering child may feel even more pressure if they are required to:
- Speak to adults who talk very quickly
- Speak when they think they could be interrupted
- Speak to someone who is not really listening
- Speaking in a rush when you have a lot to say
What help will a stuttering child need?
Once a child has developed basic language and articulation skills, it is easier to deal with stuttering. Speech therapists are trained to deal with speaking issues and dysfluencies. By the time a child is going to school and stuttering, it is important not to put more pressure on him or add to his own stress.
Speaking disfluency in older children can easily be overcome with time, a relaxed approach and support for the child to change the way they connect sounds, syllables and words such as:
- starting words gently
- linking words together smoothly
- stretching out vowels
- pausing in the right places in a sentence.
Younger children may benefit from time with a speech pathologist who can devise a program for parents to work with their children to reduce stuttering. Parents can help by praising their child for smooth talking and stutter-free communications.
Find more about kids speech and language development:
- Speech and language development for pre-kinder children
- Speech and language development for 5-6 year olds
- Speech and language development for 7-8 year olds
- Speech and language development for 9-10 year olds
- Speech and language development for 11-12 year olds
- What is phonetics
- What is phonics
- What is phonemics
- How tongue twisters aid speech and language
- The importance of nursery rhymes
- Simple songs to boost speech and language
- Learning a second language
- All about syllables
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This article was written by Alex Brooks for Kidspot, New Zealand's leading education resource.