As a speech-language pathologist who works with preschool children who stutter, I often hear the same questions from parents: Is there anything I can do to improve my child’s chance of outgrowing stuttering?
Although stuttering is not caused by ways parents interact with their child, I can certainly recommend interaction strategies for SLPs to share with parents of their clients or students. Parents can incorporate these supports at the guidance of their SLP once their child starts showing signs of childhood-onset stuttering.
These five tips allow parents to support their child in facilitating confident verbal expression:
Increase the length of pauses between speaking turns. Children might feel pressure to get their words out before somebody else begins talking. Allowing for slightly longer pauses between conversational turns can decrease this perceived time pressure and may help reduce the demands on the child’s speech system associated with that pressure.
Reduce your own rate of speech. It’s common to hear parents and other adults tell children who stutter to “slow down.” While well-meant, this statement could make children feel even more frustrated because stuttering just isn’t that simple! However, it can help to model an unhurried manner of speaking.
Reduce the number of questions you ask in succession. When reading to or playing with your child, it’s easy to slip into the role of “teacher” and inadvertently pepper them with questions to test their knowledge. An alternative interaction style involves using a more even balance of comments and questions. This reduces the demand for rapid, accurate responses from the child.
Rather than constant questioning, try making statements beginning with “I think” or “I wonder” as a conversational prompt. As another approach, make comments that might prompt your child to share details spontaneously. For example, instead of asking, “What did you eat for snack?” you can say, “I had an apple for my snack.”
Follow the child’s lead in play. Following your child’s lead helps reduce the amount of verbal instructions and questioning during play. Allow the child to direct play and support them by using good eye contact and providing encouragement and praise to help boost confidence.
Decrease length and complexity of language. Children often imitate the grammar and vocabulary used by their parents. Reducing the complexity of your language—grammar, vocabulary, sentence length—when communicating with your child creates a less demanding speaking environment.
What tips do you offer parents who want to support their child’s confidence in verbal communication? Please share in the comment section below.
Alexander Whelan MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinician at The Stuttering Clinic at National Therapy Center and also blogs for The Stuttering Source. He is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Group 4, Fluency and Fluency Disorders. firstname.lastname@example.org