About five in every hundred children stammer for a time while learning to talk.
You may notice that sometimes your child stammers and other times speaks fluently. You might be able to see a pattern or identify what helps your child speak more fluently. Below are some tips to help parents and carers at home, and teachers at school, to help your child's natural fluency.
Tips for parents and carers
You will already be doing a lot that helps your child, so we would recommend try doing a little bit more of what you are already doing that seems to help.
- Slow down your own rate of talking: use pauses, rather than telling your child to slow down or take a deep breath. This helps to create a calm and relaxed atmosphere for speaking as well as allowing thinking time.
- Listen carefully to what your child is saying: concentrate on what they're saying, not how they're saying it.
- Let your child finish their sentences in their own time: try not to finish their words or sentences for them.
- Balance comments with questions: asking questions can mean a child feels under pressure to respond. When asking questions, make sure you ask one question at time, giving them time to respond.
- Show your child you are listening: turn to face them and give them natural eye contact.
- Give positive encouragement or praise to your child (not necessarily just about their speech): this can help build confidence. Praise them for the things that they do well, eg listening, taking a turn, helpful with tidying, etc.
- Have one-on-one time: aim for five minutes every day, with your child, where they aren’t competing for attention with tasks or other family members.
- Encourage turn taking within conversations: let everyone get a turn to talk.
- Use neutral words when talking with your child or with others about their stammer: The British Stammering Association emphasise the importance of trying not to describe a child’s stammer in terms of ‘good’ and ‘bad’. For example "Your speech has been really good today" or "Her stammering's been really bad this week". This can make a child or young person feel negatively when they stammer or that what they are doing is bad. Instead, use the terms ‘more’ or ‘less’ to describe changes in stammering. This enables the stammer to be acknowledged without judgement eg "She's been stammering much more this week", or "He's been stammering less today".
Tips for teachers
School staff are vital in supporting a child or young person who stammers.
- Reduce time pressures to speak quickly: give the child or young person who stammers time to think about what they are saying. Young people who stammer can find being put on the spot or under pressure hard. Create an environment where all children are encouraged to give themselves thinking time before answering a question.
- Let the child or young person finish their sentence in their own time: don’t finish the words or sentences for them.
- Slow down your own rate of talking and use pauses: this helps to create a calm and relaxed atmosphere for speaking as well as allowing thinking time.
- Balance comments with questions: when asking questions, make sure you ask one question at time, giving them time to respond before asking another. Asking questions can mean a child feels under pressure to respond.
- Listen carefully to the child or young person: concentrate on what they're saying, not how they're saying it.
- Show the child or young person you are listening: turn to face them and make natural eye contact. Try not to look away from the child or young person if they're having difficulty talking.
- Give positive encouragement or praise to the child or young person (not necessarily just about their speech): this can help build confidence. Praise them for the things that they have done well, eg good listening, taking a turn, helpful with tidying, etc.
- For some, answering the register can be difficult: consider providing alternative ways to answer the register if needed (eg raising your hand).
- Raise awareness amongst all staff about supporting a child’s fluency: this includes cover/supply teachers, assistants, etc. .
If you have concerns about a child’s or young person’s speech or fluency, it is important to get advice from your local Speech and Language Therapy team. Please also take a look at our advice on stammering.