Now that you have made an appointment with a speech-language pathologist to determine how to help you and your child, what do you tell your child? Don’t feel bad if you are unsure of how to proceed. Parents and other caregivers receive many mixed messages about how to discuss stuttering with their children. Some speech language pathologists suggest that parents attend the initial evaluation without the child, to avoid bringing the problem to the child’s attention. Therapists with this view would suggest that they will be able to assess the child (when taken along on a later visit) without the child even knowing why he or she is there. The vast majority of speech language pathologists however, will want to see the child and her primary caregivers.
Having worked with many children who stutter, and watching two of my own children go through periods of significant speech difficulty, I will argue that your child is probably aware of the fact that talking is sometimes hard. And if she is not aware of her difficulty, she won’t be bothered during the evaluation. The question then becomes, what do you tell her?
When your child falls and scrapes her knee, you comfort her and explain that everyone falls sometimes. When she is having difficulty learning to write her name or tie her shoe, you encourage her and focus on how good she is doing and let her know that everyone has trouble when learning a new skill. If she is having trouble talking and you don’t comment on it, she probably is wondering why. When she is having significant difficulty getting a word out, you want to acknowledge the difficulty while at the same time communicating to your child that you care more about what she is saying than how she is saying it. You can say something like:
Just as important as the verbal communication with your child when you acknowledge her stuttering, is the non-verbal cues that you send. While your gut might be tied in knots listening to your child struggle, you need to make sure it doesn’t show. At all times your child must understand that what she is saying is much more important than how she is saying it. Once you establish this understanding, you can approach the topic of the evaluation.
If you were going to bring your child to the pediatrician because she appears to have allergies, you might tell her that you are going to the doctor because it seems that she is sneezing a lot. You want to go see a doctor to see if there is something you (as a parent) can do to help relieve her sneezing. In the same way, you can tell your child that you are going to go and talk to man or lady because it seems that sometimes talking is hard. But since lots of kids have trouble talking when they are learning to talk more, you want to ask the man or lady what they think. If they ask what they will have to do, you can tell them that they will probably be playing and naming pictures. Let them know that you and your spouse will also be evaluated to see if there are things you can do to be a better listener since the problem may be more with your ears than the child’s mouth.
By acknowledging our child’s stuttering as a normal part of development, similar to other difficulties she faces, you provide a context with which to discuss the speech evaluation.
Kevin Eldridge, Ph.D., CCC-SLP