Learn more about stuttering from our contributing speech-language pathologist, Becky Bowen!
Read this sentence out loud:
My my brother told Mom that uh, he, um wants a g-green car.
Anyone who has spent time with a child under five has probably heard this type of speech before and has fought the urge to say, “Just spit it out!”
Most children under the age of 5 will demonstrate some mild disruptions in the flow of their speech, without ever developing a stuttering problem. These disruptions are called disfluencies. Think of a baby learning to walk: First steps are hesitant, tentative, with a lot of stumbling, stopping, and restarting. Children go from staying where you put them to sprinting (usually away from you when your hands are full) in a few short years. Learning this complex and essential skill takes a lot of practice.
In the same way, children go from communicating through cries and gestures to speaking in lengthy complex sentences all before the age of 5. Thinking of what you want to say, finding the right words, translating those words into speech sounds and waiting for your brain to tell your lips, tongue and voice box to move in precisely the right way to make those sounds is incredibly complex.
It’s no wonder that children’s speech isn’t smooth all the time. This “bumpy speech” that comes and goes can often indicate that the child is experiencing a leap in language learning.
What do disfluencies sound like?
There are three ways to describe difficulties with the flow of speech:
Repetitions – When your child repeats the same sound, syllable or word. e.g. My na-na-name is Emma.
Prolongations – When a sound is stretched out. e.g. I waaaaaaaaaaaaaant a bite.
Blocks – When no breath or sounds come out for several seconds. The child may appear “frozen.”
When should I worry?
Only five percent of children will go on to develop a true stuttering problem. Most children outgrow these disfluencies by kindergarten. But, if you notice or hear any of the following, consider an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist, who can determine if there is a problem.
Multiple repetitions – Repeating sounds, syllables or words more than twice. e.g. I g,g,g,g,g, guess so.
Prolongations – Stretching out a sound in a word. This is not usually seen in typical disfluency.
Pitch change – A change in the pitch or loudness of a child’s voice during a repetition or prolongation.
Tension – Visible contractions in the lips, cheeks, eyes, neck or body when child is trying to get a word out.
Avoidance – When a child avoids certain words by talking around them (e.g. saying “Dad’s dad” instead of “Grandpa” because he often stutters on the letter G) or, in some cases, avoiding speaking altogether.
How do I handle it?
Look the child in the eye – Maintain eye contact with your child until they are able to finish their sentence. Looking down or away may make them feel like you’re uncomfortable or embarrassed by their speech.
Let her talk – Allowing your child to finish without interrupting shows them that you’re interested in what they have to say, even if they have difficulty saying it.
Acknowledge the stutter – It’s OK to name the elephant in the room. Acknowledging that the child sometimes has bumpy speech and that it’s OK can reduce anxiety about it for both you and your child. So, the next time you take a phone call in the middle of kid-chaos in the background and you say “I, um, uh, have to c-call you back,” point out that even your speech isn’t always perfectly smooth.
Model slow, easy speech – Telling children to repeat what they say without stuttering or slowing down when they talk is generally ineffective, especially in younger children. What does help is changing the way that you talk to model slow, calm and tension-free speech. After hearing this model for a short while, kids will begin to imitate it themselves.
Get help – perfectly smooth speech 100 percent of the time is not realistic for young children while they are learning language skills. But, if you’re noticing “bumps” more than 10 percent of the time and/or notice any of the warning signs above, an evaluation by a speech-language pathologist can help determine if it’s a stuttering problem or simply a normal phase of development.
If you’re looking for additional resources, check out http://www.stutteringhelp.org/.
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Latest posts by Rebecca Bowen (see all)
- THE ULTIMATE SENSORY EXPERIENCE FOR KIDS - March 18, 2016
- STUTTERING: WHEN TO WORRY AND HOW TO HELP - November 8, 2015
- SOCIAL SKILLS: 5 TIPS TO HELP SHY KIDS MAKE FRIENDS - September 30, 2015