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Stuttering in Children

Question of the Week


Updated May 23, 2014

Happy mother and daughter sharing a phone conversation
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My three year old has begun stuttering, repeating many words and sounds. He is otherwise growing and developing normally and it doesn't seem to bother him. Is this normal?

Many toddlers and preschool age children stutter as they are learning to talk, and although many parents worry about it, most of these children will outgrow the stuttering and will have normal speech as they get older. Since most of these children don't stutter as adults, this normal stage of speech development is usually referred to as psuedostuttering or as a normal dysfluency.

As children learn to talk, they may repeat certain sounds, stumble on or mispronounce words, hesitate between words, substitute sounds for each other, and be unable to express some sounds. Children with a normal dysfluency usually have brief repetitions of certain sounds, syllables or short words. The stuttering usually comes and goes and is most noticeable when a child is excited, stressed or overly tired.

It is not usually known what causes some children to stutter, but it does seem to be genetic, and a child is more likely to stutter if a parent also stutters. Stuttering is also more likely occur in children who are under a lot of stress, for example, after starting a new day care, moving, birth of a new sibling, etc., and it is more common in boys.

Stuttering is usually not a concern, as long as it doesn't persist for more than five or six months or at least gradually improve during that time period. Until it does go away by itself, some steps you can take to help your child, include:

  • Not correcting or interrupting him when his is talking, and ask others to not correct him either.
  • Not asking him to repeat himself or tell him to slow down.
  • Don't make him practice saying certain words or sounds.
  • Be sure to talk to your child slowly and clearly and give him the time he needs to finish what he is trying to say.
  • Talk to your child a lot by discussing his day, narrating out loud the things you are doing and reading books.
  • Try to minimize stress or situations that make the stuttering worse.
If the stuttering is ignored, it will usually resolve without any intervention. Parents will need to be supportive though if the stuttering is bothering their child.

True stuttering is much less common than psuedostuttering. Unlike children with pseudostuttering, children with true stuttering are more likely to have long repetitions of some sounds, syllables or short words. While it may also come and go, true stuttering occurs more often than pseudostuttering and occurs more consistently. Children with true stuttering are also more likely to notice the stuttering and to be anxious or embarrassed by it and may develop a fear of speaking.

For children with pseudostuttering, if the stuttering does persist more than five or six months, or is making your child anxious or self-consciousness, then he may benefit from a speech evaluation and treatment with speech therapy. Children with true stuttering, especially if it is making them anxious or embarrassed, should be evaluated by a speech pathologist, who can begin speech therapy.

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