While you are waiting for your child to see a speech and language therapist, there are some ways you can help him with his talking. You may find some of them easy, others will need practice. If for some reason a therapist is not available or you are not able to take him to see one, these ideas will help you to support your child's speaking and will not make his stammering worse.
Talking with your child.
Slowing down your own speech when you talk to your child will make it easier for him to follow what you are saying and help him feel less rushed. This can be more helpful then telling a child to slow down, start again or take a deep breath.
Whenever you talk to your child, always try to be near enough to him to establish normal eye contact. Insist that if he wants to talk with you, he stops what he is doing and comes over to speak to you. It is best to avoid shouting across the room, or through the house, unless absolutely necessary, so that your child learns that speaking and listening are important events and understands that he needs to concentrate when doing so. By concentrating on his talking, the demands on him will be lowered and he should feel more relaxed. He might also talk more fluently, or at least talk without being upset by his stammering. Use his name frequently to reinforce his sense of identity as someone who is special to you. Keep normal eye contact as you speak and expect him to show he is listening by looking at you.
Speak in the same sort of sentences your child does - keep them short and simple but sometimes speak in sentences slightly longer than his to help build up his vocabulary. For instance if he looks at a picture and says that's a car, you could repeat his word and add an adjective such as red. When he is used to that you could introduce a word for size, such as big or small and gently introduce him to noticing details about what he sees. 'That is a big red car.'
Concentrate on what your child is saying, rather than how he says it. This helps you to avoid common reactions like tensing when your child stammers, or even looking away for a split second. If your child senses that you feel worried about his speech he may start to feel that he has something wrong with him and begin to worry about speaking situations. Even very young children can react in this way so the stammer might become more pronounced, or in some instances the child might try to avoid talking.
If you do feel very anxious about your child’s stammering then contact the BSA:Helpline so that you can talk about your fears with someone who understands.
Try to avoid showing anxiety or irritation when your child's speech is not fluent as he is likely to react to your feelings of tension and become more worried about his speech.
Asking your child to do something
When you have to ask your child to do something, attract his attention and ensure he is concentrating. Look at him and break down into sections the actions you want him to carry out. This is called 'chunking' your talking. Pause between the 'chunks', always addressing the child by his name, looking in his direction so that he is encouraged to look at you. In general it is always best to expect your child to look at you when talking, so that you do not speak until you have his complete attention This might mean saying something like this,
'John, please stop playing with your toys now.' (Pause for 30 seconds at least) Then comment supportively, 'That's a good boy.'
Follow up with another simple instruction.
'Put each toy into the toy box please, John.' (Pause while he does that, offering ideas on how to do that if he is having difficulties, then complimenting him when it is completed).
'Please come over to Mummy now John, so we can talk about what we do next.'
If you always use this method when you give instructions to your child, you will be giving him time to concentrate on what he is doing. This capacity to concentrate is a very useful skill. Also, focussing on a task lowers the demands on his thinking as he is clear about what he has to do. If he wants to reply in any way, as the demands on him are lowered, he will be more likely to be able to calmly reply and may be more fluent when he does so. It might also help with having your instructions carried out without the tantrums that can occur at critical periods such as bed- times.
Questions and Answers
It may help to pause for one second before you answer him or ask a question. This slow, less hurried way of speaking gives your child time before answering.
Ask questions that require a yes or no answer if he is stammering severely.
Go on to more open questions if he seems ready to talk, not questions with simple yes or no answers. More open questions will help him to develop his vocabulary.
If you are busy doing something and cannot stop, tell your child that, although you are busy, you are still listening, or explain why you cannot stop, but will give him your full attention later.
Ways to improve your child's language
Any child benefits from encouragement in the family to develop his language skills, as language is the basic tool for learning. However, this particularly helps a child who stammers as the better his language skills the more likely he is to recover from stammering. We know that one of the reasons that girls tend to recover from stammering more than boys at the pre-school stage is that they usually have more developed language skills. At the very least good language skills will help your child to be more confident about himself. He will make better progress academically and be able to express his ideas even when stammering. Word and memory games can help with boring car journeys for example; learning new words when out and about can all be fun and extend a child's vocabulary.
Read to him to develop good listening skills and concentration and explain what is happening in the pictures so that he can join in as he wishes. Use a different voice for a character and encourage him to work out the personality of the character you are playing. For example speak in a loud angry voice if you are acting the part of a fierce character in a story. Explore with your child what he thinks about that character, perhaps to draw it and talk about it using words to describe the character's personality. This will help him to develop his skills of understanding non-verbal behaviours in other people and is helpful, as we know that children who continue to stammer can be slower to learn this skill than other children.
Library visits to choose books and join in storytelling activities with other children will all encourage pre-school children to improve their language.
Encourage him to join in with rhymes and singalong songs. They are a good way for children to learn the pace of language and the repetition reinforces the meaning of words. As he is unlikely to stammer when joining in with a rhyme or a song, this helps to build his confidence in hearing his own voice working fluently.
When you are busy on a task, if appropriate talk to him about what you are doing, so he is hearing language as you work. He will be absorbing the message that words can tell you interesting things that you want to know. He may copy the idea, perhaps by explaining what he is doing to another person or even a toy as he plays.
Show your pride in your child by praising his achievements both to him and other family members. If he wants to talk about his speech listen with interest and explain how all children are different and their parents love them as they are, so that he does not sense any anxiety about his speech. When he is talking and shows frustration as he struggles to speak, just react calmly to the difficulty as you might with any other with a comment that acknowledges his efforts and yet does not appear to him to show you are worried about his speech. 'That was a bit hard for you, you did really well there', acknowledges and compliments him at the same time. A hug might help too!
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