Parents do not cause stammering
Years ago it was though that parents' behaviour caused the child to stammer. Now research proves that parents do not cause stammering and that this old fashioned view was wrong, although it may still be held by some uninformed people and cause parents considerable distress. However, we do know that parents play a vital role in helping their child by managing the speaking and listening environment in order to reduce the impact of the stammer.
Is my child anxious?
Children do not start stammering because they are more anxious and nervous than other children. They have the same spread of personality traits as children who do not stammer. However, fear of stammering can cause the child to worry and be anxious and that is why some people, even professionals, still wrongly believe that anxiety caused the stammering in the first place. However, there is a suggestion that children who stammer might have a tendency to be more sensitive generally than children who do not stammer.
Does intelligence have anything to do with stammering?
Children who stammer have the same spread of intelligence as the rest of the population unless the stammer is associated with other more complex needs, such as Down's syndrome. However, one study has found that non-verbal intelligence, while still within normal limits, was slightly lower among children who stammer than among a matched control group. This means that they might be slower at picking up the signals in the listener's body language than other children and parents need to be aware of this.
Does my young child worry about his stammering?
This possibility is very distressing for parents to consider, as they naturally want their child to be happy. They may tend to project their own feelings about the stammer and believe that the child feels as worried as they do. However, this is unlikely. If they watch their child's behaviour they will see that in many situations their child is not really concerned about the stammer and seems unaware that his speech is different to any one else's.
However, a child's attitude to his stammering can change even at a young age, particularly if he is in contact with other children who have reacted to it in some way. Some very young children may become aware of their stammer and might comment on it at the time. They may describe it quite graphically as hard, bumpy and sometimes show clear distress or, by a gesture such as a shrug, show that they are frustrated by what is happening to their speech. Usually once the moment has passed the child will probably have forgotten how he felt and is unlikely to be worrying about how he will speak next time.
However children do vary in their feelings about their speech and there is some evidence that those as young as four may be self conscious about their stammering and even quite worried by it. Parents of pre-school children who attend a nursery have told the BSA that nursery staff observe that their child is not joining in talking sessions, which they believe to be connected with a fear of stammering. This sort of behaviour may indicate that the child is worried and parents need to be aware of this.
When you see that your child is struggling to speak, or reacting to his stammering by making a comment, or a gesture: 'Do not ignore his distress.' Give him support, as you would for any ordinary difficulty like a fall, and comment gently, 'Well done, that was a hard word for you.' A hug might also be a good idea.
What do I tell him if I stammer?
Don't worry about your child hearing you stammer, as children do not copy stammering from another person in the long term. If you stammer it is important that you appear confident and relaxed when you are speaking. Your child can see that you are comfortable with your talking both with him and other adults and children. This will help him in turn to feel confident about talking regardless of whether he is stammering. You will also be better able to understand and support him when he wants to talk about his speech.
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Text for this page: What parents need to know about their child who stammers
Text for this whole section: Does your young child stammer?