About stuttering in children
Stuttering is a speech problem that makes it hard for children to speak smoothly.
Children mostly stutter at the start of sentences, but stutters can also happen throughout sentences.
Children might also do nonverbal things when they stutter. For example, they might blink their eyes, grimace, tense their face or clench their fists.
There are 3 main types of stuttering. Children might have one or more of these types.
This is when a sound, part of a word, whole word or phrase is repeated. For example:
- ‘A a a and I want that one.’
- ‘An an and I want that one.’
- ‘And and and I want that one.’
- ‘And I, and I, and I want that one.’
This is when a sound is stretched out – for example, ‘Aaaaaaaaaaand I want that one’.
This is when a child tries to speak, and no sound comes out.
When stuttering in children starts
Stuttering in children most commonly starts at 2-4 years. This is when children are starting to combine words and make longer sentences.
Some children don’t start stuttering until later in childhood.
Stuttering can start suddenly. For example, a child might wake up one day with a stutter. It can also develop gradually over time.
Stuttering: how much and how often children do it
How much and how often children stutter varies a lot. Some children stutter only occasionally throughout the day. Other children might stutter on almost every word they say.
Stuttering can also change a lot from day to day, week to week, or month to month. Sometimes a child stops stuttering completely for days, weeks or months, and then they start stuttering again.
Parents say that particular situations can make their children’s stuttering better or worse. For example, if a child is excited, tired or angry, they might stutter more.
Effects of stuttering
Preschoolers might not be aware of their stuttering, and stuttering won’t affect their development. Preschoolers who stutter can have the same social skills as non-stuttering children. Your child isn’t more likely to be shy or withdrawn compared with children their age who don’t stutter.
But if stuttering continues into primary school, it can become a problem. If your child stutters, they might feel frustrated or embarrassed because of the way other children react to the way they speak. Your child might avoid talking or change what they want to say to avoid stuttering. They might not want to join in with classroom discussions.
Primary school-age children are less likely to be thought of as leaders by their peers and more likely to be bullied compared with children who don’t stutter.
Teenagers who stutter can develop stress or anxiety because of their stuttering. They might feel self-conscious, have lower self-esteem or find some situations challenging – for example, speaking in public or starting an intimate relationship.
What to do about stuttering in children
If you notice that your child has a stutter, it’s important to seek professional help.
Start by contacting a speech pathologist. The speech pathologist will assess your child’s stuttering and work out a plan to manage it.
Some children will grow out of stuttering on their own, but there’s currently no way to know which children will do this. It’s always best to consult a speech pathologist rather than to assume your child’s stuttering will go away by itself.
Stuttering treatment for children: the Lidcombe Program
The Lidcombe Program is a widely used and effective treatment for stuttering in Australia. It’s very good at reducing how much a child stutters, and it can stop stuttering altogether.
The Lidcombe Program works best with children younger than 6 years, although it can be used with older primary school-age children too.
The Lidcombe Program is a therapy you and your child do at home in everyday situations. It involves giving your child positive feedback when they speak without stuttering.
You and your child also visit a speech pathologist once a week. At these visits the speech pathologist teaches you how to do the treatment effectively.
Treatment takes different amounts of time, depending on how severe a child’s stuttering is. Your speech pathologist will work with you on finding ways to make the Lidcombe Program part of your everyday life, so you get the best possible outcome for your child.
Causes of stuttering in children
We don’t really know why stuttering happens.
It might be because there’s an error or delay in the message that a child’s brain sends to the muscles of their mouth when they need to speak. This error or delay makes it difficult for the child to coordinate their mouth muscles when they’re talking, which results in stuttering.
Stuttering runs in families. This means that stuttering might involve genes that are passed on to children from one or both parents. A child is more likely to stutter if other people in their family stutter or have stuttered. But it doesn’t mean that a child who has a family history of stuttering will definitely stutter.
Stuttering isn’t caused by anxiety or stress. But stuttering can cause stress and anxiety, particularly for teenagers.
A child can’t catch stuttering from somebody else. And a child who stutters can’t control it.