If your child stutters, it can be so frustrating for them to try to communicate, and difficult for you to watch them struggle to say what they’re thinking. You may wonder what’s causing your child to battle with stuttering.
“Stuttering is poorly understood,” said Tamara Zach, MD, a pediatric neurologist with Banner Children’s Specialists Neurology Clinic in Glendale. “It occurs in children who are still learning to speak, and some experts think children stutter when their language abilities don’t meet their verbal demands.”
Here’s what could put your child at higher risk of stuttering
Children are most likely to stutter between 2 and 6 years old. “That’s when they are attaining language skills,” Dr. Zach said. Boys are two to three times more likely to stutter than girls. Stuttering can run in families, so genetics also play a role.
Here’s when you should seek help for your child’s stuttering
Most children outgrow stuttering, but professional care can help. “Getting help earlier is better, especially if your child has other developmental difficulties,” Dr. Zach said. Talk to an expert if your child’s stuttering causes frustration or keeps them from speaking up in school or in social situations. Stuttering that lasts longer than six months could become a lifelong problem.
Even if it’s likely that your child will outgrow stuttering, treatment is still important. That’s because it can cause delays in learning and developing social skills. Younger children who have a hard time expressing themselves can become irritable and aggressive. “I have seen many kids start banging their heads due to speech delays,” Dr. Zach said. In older children, stuttering can lead to self-esteem issues, social phobias, anxiety and bullying.
Here’s how experts can treat stuttering
A therapist can help your child learn to minimize stuttering by teaching them to speak slowly and to regulate their breathing. Over time your child can move on from single-syllable words to longer words and sentences.
Sometimes, medications that treat epilepsy, depression and anxiety can be used in addition to therapy to help treat stuttering. They are typically only used short term.
Researchers are evaluating the changes that occur in the brain when people stutter and investigating whether electronic devices placed in the ear could help. They are also designing computer programs that can help a person who stutters identify speech patterns that cause stuttering and speech patterns that minimize it.
Here’s how parents can help
Therapists can teach parents strategies that can help their child overcome stuttering. “A combination of home practice and therapy works best,” Dr. Zach said. Parents can:
- Provide a relaxed and supportive home environment
- Take time to listen to the child and to focus on their message
- Speak slowly to their child
- Let the child talk without completing their sentences
- Help their child understand that they can communicate even when they are stuttering
- Be open and accepting
The bottom line
Stuttering in young children is common, and many children outgrow it. But treatment can help ease frustration and improve communication. If you would like to talk to a health care professional about your child’s stuttering, Banner Health can help.
Other useful articles
- Birth to 5 Years: Updates to Your Child’s Developmental Milestones
- Does My Child Need Speech Therapy?
- Tongue-Tie: What Is It and How Is It Treated?