Human speech is one of the most complex processes. It is made even harder when disfluencies arise. Stuttering is a speech disorder characterized by an increase in the number and frequency of occurrence of these disfluencies. It requires attention and professional care. (Read- Know Stuttering)
In children, stuttering most commonly occurs during the preschool years. The occurrence is not uncommon during the developmental years of 2 to 5 years. While most children outgrow this in less than a year, a few show persistence of the stutter. The persistence is a cause for concern and requires treatment through speech therapy by a Speech-Language Pathologist (SLP).
While the SLP works with your child to manage stuttering, you have to understand that you too (parent/ caregiver) become an important member of the team. Most stuttering management strategies have been structured to integrate the family into the intervention. You may work with several structured techniques as suggested by your professional. However, there are also a few simple things that you can try. Read below.
Slow down the speech
Speaking slowly will facilitate information processing for your child. Try modeling smooth, fluent ways of speaking and take more time. The child should not feel rushed.
Have regular conversations with your child daily. Make them feel that they are a significant part of the conversation. Give brief pauses in between speaking, so your child knows that he/she can take the time to process and talk.
It is the most important of all! Your child needs to feel he/ she can be listened to. Pay attention to what they have to say and do not interrupt. Do not try and guess what they are about to say or finish their sentence. Allow them to complete a thought.
Let them take the lead
Reducing demands on speech for the child can increase fluency. Your child will feel a reduced burden when you allow him/ her to take lead on what to say/ talk about. They also begin feeling in charge.
Straight forward questions in simple languages can work best. Ask questions that do not require very elaborate answers or complex thinking (ask closed set questions – like a simple yes/ no or this/that)
Break down a long or complex word into syllables. Help them identify the ways to say it in a flow and smoothly. You can even demonstrate and have the child repeat after you.
Consistent and positive feedback
Be mindful about commenting and correcting. Find a genuine and special way to reinforce your child’s attempts at fluent speech. When you provide feedback, it helps them evaluate their own speech and they make attempts to speak more fluently. Negative comments can destroy their confidence and lead to anticipatory behaviors, avoidance, and escapism.
Confidence & Desensitization
Anyone with stuttering can be worried about how others perceive and judge them. In preschoolers, the chances of developing this tension/ fear increase when the parent or significant caregiver begins to over-correct or constantly criticize. While you acknowledge the stutter, make them feel that they are not alone and that it does not define them. Look into your child’s eyes when they talk and do not break it off when they have bumps in their speech. It makes them feel more comfortable and validated.
You can try these few things to facilitate the stuttering management. When you are in doubt, consulting with a SLP is your best option. They will provide you with information on what aspects to work on and how to do so. You also have to be mindful about the fact that therapy is a process and not a trick that works overnight. Consistency and trust are key factors in determining the prognosis and therapy outcomes.