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Speak Clearly to Kids with a Stammer

by Patricia Koh, Founder-Director

My two-year-old son can speak in proper sentences and has a fairly wide vocabulary. He enjoys talking to my husband and I, and we have no problems understanding him. For the past two months, however, he often stammers when he begins a conversation or sentence.

For example, his “orange” is “or…or…or… orange”. This often causes him to be frustrated and impatient. However, once a conversation is underway, he doesn’t stammer anymore. What causes stammering, and how can I help him overcome his problem?

According to researchers, 5 per cent of children under five will experience non-fluent speech whilst learning to speak. This is especially common in children between two and five years old. Boys are also four times more likely to stammer than girls. Stammering in young children is episodic and tends to fluctuate. The exact cause is not yet known, but it is likely that a few factors are involved. For example, it could depend on whom he is speaking to, the level of confidence he had at that moment and the language he uses.

Early intervention and referral reduce the need for expensive therapy later in the child's life. There are many positive steps you can take to help your son through this stage of 'non-fluency' in speech:

  • Try listening to what he is saying rather than how he is saying it. We sometimes pay more attention to the child when he is not fluent than when he is, thus making him lose confidence in trying to communicate.
  • Be patient and give your son time to grow up.
  • Make a conscious effort to speak clearly and fluently as we can be good speech models for our children.
  • Read to your child to help him think in complete sentences. Remember not to point at the words one at a time or stop half-way whilst reading the story to test his ability to read words. The anxiety at being tested and having to sound words out phonetically can add unnecessary pressure and cause him to be 'non-fluent'.
  • Make every learning experience pleasurable. The more fun, the easier it is to learn.
  • Plan activities that involve doing things with your child without having to focus on speech.
  • Spend time building on the happy times spent together, even if the moments are brief. The more secure your child is, the more in control he feels.
  • Keep to a structured routine. Young children feel more secure if they can anticipate the day's activities. Too much excitement or irregular happenings can lead to a breakdown in fluency.

In any case, your child is just turning two and is beginning to explore the beauty and power of language. Language is more often 'caught' than 'taught', so immerse your child in a natural speaking environment and focus less on the sounds or rules of the English language. Simple action rhymes and songs are great exposure for him to say it right the first time, so difficult ‘tongue-twisters' or poems that are not age appropriate are to be avoided.

Most importantly, be less of a teacher and more of a parent and have fun bonding and interacting with each other.

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