How to help the child who stammers

Teasing and bullying

All early years settings and schools are directed by the Department for Education (DfE) and their local authority to have robust policies to deal with these problems. Much work and effort by the DfE has gone into supporting anti-bullying strategies and the issue is continually on the agenda for all educational communities.

Ofsted now inspects school policy and practice on bullying and there are many materials available to pre-schools to inform their own practice. All staff are obliged to be aware of the setting’s policy on bullying and their obligations under it. A template of an anti-bullying policy can be downloaded from the right hand side of this page.

Negative perceptions of children who stammer

It is one of the major regrets of the many practitioners involved in supporting anti-bullying strategies that for many children bullying is still an issue that blights their school life even if only for a short time. This is often the case with children who stammer, as they report that they have been imitated, taunted and laughed at, to the amusement of the audience of children around them, and sometimes have become the target of more serious long term teasing or bullying, as their vulnerability is exposed. Surveys of adults who stammer about their school experiences show that a majority of them did experience bullying and feel that it has affected progress in their education and personal life.

The fact that stammering is often portrayed in the media as funny obviously does not help. Some very recent research evidence supports concern that children who stammer may be more likely to be teased or bullied. A survey of 75 children, aged between the ages of 9 and 11, demonstrated that they held negative perceptions of children who stammer.

Furthermore even more research quoted on the BSA website has shown that children who stammer are 43% less likely to be popular with their peer group in the classroom, which suggests again that they are more likely to be bullied than children who do not stammer. Even young children who stammer may become more anxious if they feel that other children dislike them, they feel more vulnerable, their stammer may become more severe in social groups with other children and they are more likely to be targeted.

Internet and telephone bullying

In the Early Years staff need to be aware of the importance of the new technologies for the young child as at a comparatively young age children are learning about social media. A responsible attitude to the use of technology must be nurtured in the Early Years to equip the child to cope with the challenges it presents later on.

There is reason for concern as some older primary school children who stammer have resorted to the Internet to make friends and parents should carefully monitor this surfing. Now that many children have their own e-mail address they are very accessible to bullying by other children and in the worst case scenario can get drawn into websites where deliberate efforts are made by adults with dangerous agendas to groom them for further activities or contacts. Access to social networking sites also needs to be monitored as these have been used to publicly embarrass or harass children who use them.

Even young children may make contact by phone, and children who stammer often have problems with making calls themselves while being vulnerable to other children calling or texting them with possibly malicious intent. However, it seems that the popularity of text messaging, e-mailing and contacting social networking sites with friends has been very helpful to many older pupils who stammer as long as they are aware of how to manage this responsibly.

In the Early Years staff should work with children to lay the foundations for the responsible use of technology later on.

Assertiveness Training

This can help the child to confront the bully and explain how he feels, and this skill may be developed in the setting and in therapy as young children are taught strategies to express their feeling to the key adults and ask for help. A child who stammers needs to learn these skills and practise them in a supportive environment where he can always seek help from an adult. Then he is more likely to develop the confidence to use them successfully in situations where he feels harassed.