What to do when a pre-schooler ‘stutters’

Listening to a child who is having trouble ‘getting their words out’ or who appears to be stuttering can be a distressing experience for adults. This post will help you understand that this non-fluency can be a natural part of a child’s development and will give you a few tips on how to support your child through this time.

Assessment by a Speech Pathologist is recommended to differentiate between true stuttering and normal non-fluency as the management approach can vary depending on the diagnosis.

Children often experience a normal non fluency stage between the ages of 2 ½ years and 4 ½ years.

4 signs of non-fluency

The symptoms can mirror true stuttering, when a child might repeat initial sounds of words or the entire word, prolong sounds in words or be unable to say anything at all.

  1. Repeating initial sounds of words – .t….t…t…top
  2. Repeating entire words – what what what what is for tea?
  3. Prolonging sounds – mmmmmmmum
  4. Blocking completely – being unable to “get anything out”

Most often, pre-school children are demonstrating these behaviours because they are experiencing a language explosion. They have many new words and ideas in their heads but are unable to organise their language to express themselves. This can be more prevalent in homes where multiple languages are spoken.

How to help a pre-school child who appears to be stuttering

Integrating the tips below into your daily interaction with the child will help them progress to fluent speech.

  1. Reduce all questions being asked of the child, e.g say: “I thought your shoes were under the bed – let’s go and find them” instead of “Where are your shoes?” This change can initially be difficult for adults but is invaluable for the children.
  2. Provide multi-choice options so the child does not have to retrieve the language themselves. e.g“I think we will go to the park or the swimming pool, but I can’t decide” instead of “What would you like to do today?”
  3. Not demand that the child retell experiences e.g. “Tell Grandma what happened at childcare today” becomes “Grandma would laugh if she knew that the sprinklers wet your teacher today”
  4. Give a running commentary as you progress through your day with your child without including questions e.g “Look at that big tree. It has beautiful leaves which have fallen off onto the ground.”

Parents often feed back to me that patiently following these tips, has resulted in much more enjoyable and calm interaction with their children generally.

It can take between a few weeks and several months for consistent fluency to emerge but it is worth persisting.

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  1. Alison Lee August 9, 2020 at 6:00 pm - Reply

    Thanks Trish. It is all about taking the demands off her speech. Glad to know this post has been useful for you. All the best.

  2. Trish August 9, 2020 at 12:46 pm - Reply

    Great advice. We have a little one who is quite articulate but does repeat one word at the start of a sentence. Definitely going to use these tips.

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