When to Worry About Stuttering
Sue Hubbard, M.D.
I received an e-mail today from a mother concerned about her 2-1/2-year-old daughter, who has started stuttering. "Is this something to be worried about or just watch it and see?" she asks. This is a timely question, with so much attention being lavished on the hit movie "The King's Speech."
Parents with preschool-aged children often ask the same question, typically when their children are between 18 months and 5 years old. Stuttering at this age is called disfluency, or pseudo stuttering, and is quite common as children learn to speak and develop more complex speech patterns. In many cases, the stuttering occurs out of the blue, lasts for several weeks, then resolves, only to return off and on during the preschool years as the child learns more and more language.
In a preschooler who's stuttering, the parents usually note that the child repeats an initial sound, such as l-li-like or s-st-star, or may have frequent pauses with "um" and "er". It's not uncommon to see this happen when a child is excited, anxious, or tired. They may stumble over words or sounds, but improve after a good night's rest. They often don't even seem to realize they're stuttering, as their brains and mouths try to keep up with each other. Remember, kids have a lot to say!
The best medicine for stuttering is for a parent to reassure their child that it's OK to slow down, as sometimes it's hard to form words correctly. A hug from Mom or Dad while reassuring the child is also helpful. Practice slow, relaxed speech when talking to your child, and try not to rush the child when he/she is talking, even if the stuttering bothers you.
When your child asks a question, pause before answering to also model speaking behavior. Reading aloud with your child in a slow and normal manner is also beneficial (I remember nights of trying to rush through those early books to get everyone in bed!). The best person to emulate is Mr. Rogers; think of how relaxed he always was when speaking. He never seemed as if he was hurrying.
In most cases, a child's stuttering will last only weeks to several months and resolve on its own. If you think the problem is increasing in severity or causing stress and anxiety for your child, it may be time to talk with your pediatrician.
Available at Amazon.com:
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