A child who stutters can bring out the worst in parents. Too much worrying and too many attempts to fix their child's "problem" often leave everyone frustrated and anxious.
Some parents might feel like the stuttering could be controlled with the right behavior. "Relax!" parents urge. "Slow down, take a deep breath, take your time."
Although there's nothing inherently bad about those suggestions, they won't do much to help a child with a speech problem. In fact, it's usually the parents who need to be reminded to slow down and give the child time to outgrow what may well be a temporary speech pattern.
No child's speech develops smoothly. Fully 25 percent of children go through a stage of disfluency (any break in normal speech patterns) severe enough to concern their parents. But not all disfluencies result in permanent stutters. Only 1 percent of the U.S. population (still 3 million people in all) stutter?four times as many males as females.
When your child's speech development is disrupted by a disfluency, the best approach is to wait and see if it will resolve itself. If your child gets stuck on certain sounds or words, be patient and wait for him to finish what he's saying. Resist the desire to prompt him to relax, slow down or start over. Don't finish his words or sentences. Simply stay relaxed yourself, maintain eye contact and look interested in what he's saying. Respond just as you would have responded had his pronunciation been perfect.
Train other family members, friends and daycare providers to respond in the same way. It's important for a child not to become tense or alarmed about a speech irregularity. Stress caused by overanxious care givers can result in prolonging the problem?perhaps even contributing to a permanent stutter.
There are other ways you can help a child with speech irregularities:
- Listen attentively.
- Avoid interruptions.
- Be alert for signs of stress.
- Slow down day-to-day activities.
- Spend more time in relaxed conversation.
- Cuddle up and read stories.
- Accept your child for who he is.
In general, if your child's disfluency is consistent and lasts longer than a couple of months, it's a good idea to seek the advice of a speech therapist or speech-language pathologist. A specialist who is trained to recognize a potential stuttering problem can help you work out an appropriate program of treatment.
Your child's speech development follows an intrinsic timetable and there's little you can do to hurry it along without the risk of greater "disruption. The best course of action you can take is to learn to be relaxed, accepting and supportive.
Author, speaker, mother of 11
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