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If your child has difficulty speaking and tends to hesitate on or repeat certain syllables, words, or phrases, he/she may have a speech dysfluency or stuttering problem. However he simply may be going through a period of normal non-fluency that most children experience as they learn to speak. The normally non-fluent child occasionally repeats syllables or words once or twice, li-li-like this. Parents may notice hesitancies and the use of fillers such as uh, er, um.

These dysfluencies occur most often between ages two and five/six years, and they tend to come and go. They are usually signs that a child is learning to use language in new ways. If dysfluencies disappear for several weeks, then return, the child may just be going through another state of learning.

The child with milder stuttering repeats sounds more than twice, li-li-li-li-like this. Tension and struggle may be evident in the facial muscles, especially around the mouth. The pitch of the voice may rise with repetitions, and occasionally the child will experience a block ( no airflow or voice for several seconds.)

In more severe cases the child may stutter on more than 10% of his speech, stutters with considerable effort and tension, or avoids stuttering by changing words and using extra sounds to get started. Complete blocks of speech are more common than repetitions or prolongations and dysfluencies tend to be present in most speaking situations.


Some Stammering Facts

  • Approximately 1% of the population stammer.
  • In older children and adults more males stammer than females-the ratio is about 4:1.
  • Famous people in the past who stammer include Winston Churchill, Marilyn Monroe, King George VI etc.

What Causes Stammering

The short answer is we do not know. There have been numerous books, journal articles and research trying to identify the factors which start it—learning theories, linguistic theories, psychological theories and organic theories. But no one has arrived at a definitive answer.


Tips for talking with your child

  1. Speak with your child in an unhurried way, pausing frequently. Wait a few seconds after your child finishes speaking before you begin to speak. Your own slow, relaxed speech will be far more effective than any criticism or advice such as slow down or try it again slowly.
  2. Reduce the number of questions you ask your child. Children speak more freely if they are expressing their own ideas rather than answering an adult’s questions. Instead of asking questions, simply comment on what your child has said, thereby letting him know you heard him.
  3. Use your facial expressions and other body language to convey to your child that you are listening to the content of her message and not to how she’s talking.
  4. Set aside a few minutes at a regular time each day when you can give your undivided attention to your child. During this time, let the child choose what he would like to do. Let him direct you in activities and decide himself whether to talk or not. When you talk during this special time, use slow, calm, and relaxed speech, with plenty of pauses. This quiet, calm time can be a confidence-builder for younger children, letting them know that a parent enjoys their company. As the child gets older, it can be a time when the child feels comfortable talking about his feelings and experiences with a parent.
  5. Help all members of the family learn to take turns talking and listening. Children, especially those who stutter, find it much easier to talk when there are few interruptions and they have the listeners’ attention.
  6. Observe the way you interact with your child. Try to increase those times that give your child the message that you are listening to her and she has plenty of time to talk. Try to decrease criticisms, rapid speech patterns, interruptions, and questions.
  7. Above all, convey that you accept your child as he is. The most powerful force will be your support of him, whether he stutters or not.

When to Seek Advice

When is it normal non-fluency and when is it stammering? Lots of parents of young children ask themselves this question. A Speech and Language Therapist is trained to tell the difference between normal non-fluency and stammering. It’s best to seek advice if you notice any of the following:

  • Your child shows regular signs of struggle and tension in his efforts to get a word out.
  • If you notice your child trying to avoid saying certain words or substituting or inserting irrelevant or meaningless words/noises in his effort to say a word.
  • If you as a parent are very anxious about your child’s fluency.

Early intervention in fluency difficulties has been found to be highly effective. So if you are worried get in touch with a Speech and Language Therapist sooner rather than later.


Patricia O’Connor has over twenty years experience working in a variety of paediatric settings and is a member of the Irish Association of Speech and Language therapists. Phone 087 625 8810 or email poconnorpatricia@gmail.com for more information.