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Stammering in Children: What You Need to Know

Stammering in Children


Children who stammer have difficulties communicating with others and often feel less confident in social situations. If your child, or a student in your class, speaks with a stammer, you may wonder what to do.

It can be worrying to hear your child or your student stuttering as they struggle to get their words out. However, stammering is a reasonably common speech problem in childhood affecting approximately 5 to 10 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 5, with more males displaying the disorder than females by roughly four to one ratio.

While stammering can be frustrating and embarrassing, it’s not a sign of mental illness or intellectual disability. With treatment and practice, many children who stutter can speak fluently.

This article will provide helpful information about stammering in children, including what causes it, how to assist your child, and when to seek professional help.

What is stammering?

Stammering is a speech disorder that affects a person's speech fluency. A stammer, also called a stutter or childhood-onset fluency disorder, includes repetitions, prolongations, or interruptions that disrupt the normal flow of speech.

A person or child who stutters knows what they intend to say. They can form thoughts that they wish to communicate fully. However, sounds, syllables, or words become repeated or prolonged as they speak. Or they may exhibit involuntary silent pauses or blocks in speech.

What are the symptoms of stammering?

Stammering involves involuntary interruptions in speech, making it difficult for people who stammer to communicate their ideas effectively. The symptoms of stammering can vary from person to person, and they may be more severe when a person is under stress or feeling tired or excited.

The specific signs and symptoms of stammering include the following behaviors.

  • Difficulty beginning a thought or sentence
  • Repetitions of sounds, syllables, or words
  • Prolongations within a word
  • Brief pauses between sounds or syllables
  • Additions of unnecessary words or sounds, such as “um”

The following actions may accompany stammering.

  • Tension in the face, neck, and shoulders
  • Rapid eye blinking or blinking that’s more forceful than usual
  • Tightening or tremors of the lips and jaw
  • Head jerks and facial tics
  • Frequent swallowing or clearing of the throat
  • Breathing that’s faster or more shallow than average

How does stammering impact a child's life?

This limited ability to communicate effectively often creates anxiety in social situations or when talking on the phone. However, most people with a stutter can speak clearly to themselves and can sing without stammering.

What causes stammering in children?

There are several possible explanations for why some children may start to stutter, including genetic, physical, developmental, and psychological or emotional factors.

Is stuttering Genetic?

Yes, there is significant and overwhelming evidence that stuttering runs in families. More than half the cases of stuttering can be related to genetic factors. However, the severity of this speech disorder can vary among family members.

Physical factors

Stammering may be partly due to a problem with the way the tongue and muscles of the mouth work together when producing speech. This theory is supported by the fact that stammering often runs in families, suggesting there may be a genetic component to the condition.

Developmental factors

Children with developmental delays or other speech and language processing disorders tend to be more at risk for stuttering. A recent study has found a link that indicates that ADHD may cause stuttering.

Psychological or Emotional factors

Stammering may also be linked to psychological factors such as anxiety or stress. Children who are under pressure with high expectations at school or home may be more likely to start stammering. Some children may begin to stutter after experiencing a traumatic event such as the death of a loved one.

When should you see a speech therapist for stammering?

It may be worth seeking out treatment from a speech therapist if a child is having difficulty speaking. Factors such as the age of the child and how their stuttering is impacting their quality of life can help determine when it’s time to seek a diagnosis and assistance from a speech therapist.

At what age should a child stop stuttering?

The answer to this question is not clear cut, as every child is different. Some experts say that children usually stop stuttering around the age of five or six, while others say that it can continue into adolescence or even adulthood.

How do you treat stammering in children?

When treatment is required, the most important thing is to find an approach that works for your child. Methods to treat stammering include the following therapies and technology.

  • Speech therapy can help children learn to control their breathing and improve their fluency. This approach helps children learn to speak in a slow, rhythmic pattern and use easy-to-say words and phrases.
  • Electronic devices can encourage children to slow down their speech, and to focus on the correct pronunciation of words. There are a number of different types of electronic devices that can be used to treat stammering in children.
  • Cognitive behavioral therapy helps children change the way they think about stammering and their speech. It helps children to identify and change the negative thoughts and behaviors that contribute to their stammering.

What can parents and teachers do to help their child who stammers?

There are many things that teachers and parents can do to help a child who stammers. Here are a few examples:

  • Encourage the child to slow down and take breaks when speaking
  • Model slow and relaxed speech for the child
  • Help the child to relax and reduce any anxiety they may feel about speaking
  • Listen attentively when the child is speaking
  • Avoid reacting negatively to the child's stuttering
  • Refer the child to a speech therapist for further help

More Resources to Help with Speech Skills

Upbility provides resources to help children with speech and language difficulties. Plus, it provides support for other areas, including special education, learning disabilities, behavior, and language. If you're a speech therapist, psychologist, special needs teacher, or parent, search our online collection of valuable materials. Contact us to learn more about our products or if you have any questions.


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