by Trisha Thapar, M.S., CCC-SLP
Most speech-language pathologists will agree that when working with young children who stutter, parent/caregiver involvement is highly important and can make all the difference. As a parent/caregiver, being involved in your child’s treatment can help him feel supported outside of therapy sessions. Here are some ways to support your child –
- Encourage all attempts to communicate, regardless of how whether the child used smooth or bumpy speech. Saying things like “thank you for sharing that” or “thank you for telling me” lets the child know that you heard his message, and that your primary focus was on what he said rather than how he said it.
- Model slow speech instead of asking the child to slow down. Modeling slow speech allows the child to mirror your slower pace, while also allowing more time for the child to process what you said and formulate his response.
- Set aside time to practice fluency strategies, but don’t push the child to practice fluent speech ALL the time. Let your child have time in the day to speak however he wants to, to be disfluent if he chooses, to stutter confidently and unabashedly. Think about how exhausting it must be to constantly think not only about what you’re saying but also about how you say it! It would be like if you had to speak in a different accent all the time! In order for the child to continue enjoying talking and communicating, it’s important to have time set aside every day where speech is not one of the concerns the child needs to manage.
- Promote positive self-perception and prevent negative self-perception. If a child is constantly being reminded of undesirable qualities, such as bumpiness, in his speech, he may develop negative thoughts and perceptions of his speech. This can make him want to speak less, and can impact his social, personal, and academic relationships. It is therefore crucial that parents and caregivers help promote positive thoughts and prevent negative thoughts and perceptions about a child’s speech. Instead of simply pointing out their bumpy speech, say, “I noticed how even though you got stuck on that word, you kept trying and you got it out!”
- Be mindful of the external factors in the child’s life and the effects they may have on his speech. For example, when the child is tired or ill, his body’s resources are more focused on his physical well-being and less on his speech. This may mean that he stutters more when fatigued or ill, and that’s okay! The same applies to when the child feels highly emotional, being very sad, excited, angry, or frustrated. Children are also more likely to stutter when coping with a big change in routine. We must be aware of what the child as a whole is working on and prioritize the fluency of his speech accordingly.
I recently had a mom ask me if it was okay to not work on practicing fluency-shaping strategies so much while her son was transitioning to a new school. In my clinical judgment, that is completely fine! I believe that while this child copes with this huge change in his life, it’s more important to encourage his attempts to speak to new people, help him cultivate new friendships, and model slow and relaxed speech to allow more time for him to process his thoughts and language.