Parents and other caregivers often receive many mixed messages about how to discuss stuttering with their children. And most children who stutter are probably aware of the fact that talking is sometimes hard. The question then becomes, what do you tell your child about stuttering?
Acknowledging your child's stuttering
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 your child 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:
- “When kids are learning to put words together, sometimes talking is really hard. It seemed like that was a tough word to get out. Sometimes I get stuck too.”
- “I’m glad that you talk to me even when it’s hard because I really like to hear what you have to say, and everybody has trouble talking sometimes."
- “My ears aren’t working too good today and I really want to hear what you have to say, can you tell me that again.” (If you couldn’t understand him because of the stuttering).
Controlling non-verbal cues
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.
Talking to your child about stuttering
If you were going to bring your child to the pediatrician because he appears to have allergies, you might tell him that you are taking him to the doctor because it seems that he 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 his sneezing.
In the same way, you can tell your child that you are taking him to go and talk to the doctor because it seems that sometimes talking is hard for him. But since lots of kids have trouble talking when they are learning to talk more, you want to ask the doctor what he thinks. If your child asks what he will have to do, you can tell him he will probably be playing and naming pictures. Let your child know that you and his father 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 your child’s stuttering as a normal part of development, similar to other difficulties he faces, you provide a context with which to discuss the speech evaluation.
Kevin Eldridge, Ph.D., CCC-SLP