I received an e-mail today from a mother who is concerned about her 2 1/2 year old daughter who has started stuttering in the last week. She asked "is this something to be worried about or just watch it and see?"
This is a common question from parents with preschool aged children, and is typically most frequent between 18 months and five years of age. Stuttering at this age is called disfluency or pseudo stuttering and is quite common as children learn to speak and develop more complex speech patterns.
In many cases the stuttering occurs out of the blue, and may last for several weeks, and resolve, but may return off and on during the preschool years as a child is learning more and more language. In a preschooler who is stuttering the parents usually note that the child repeats an initial sound such as l-li-like or s-st-star or may have frequent pauses with "um" and "er". It is not uncommon to see this happen when a child is excited, or anxious or tired.
They may stumble or words or sounds and after a good night's rest you may see an improvement. They often don't seem to realize that they are even stuttering as their brains and mouth try to keep up with one another. Remember they have a lot to say!
The best medicine for stuttering is for a parent to reassure their child that it is okay to slow down as sometimes it is hard to make the words correctly. A hug from Mom or Dad while they are reassuring their child is also helpful. Practice slow and relaxed speech when you are talking to your child and try not to rush them when they are talking, even if the stuttering is bothering you. When your child asks you a question, pause before answering to also model behaviors with speaking. Reading aloud with your child in a slow and normal manner is also beneficial (I remember nights of trying to rush through those early books to try and get everyone in bed!).
The best person to emulate is Mr. Rogers, think of how relaxed he always was when speaking. He never seemed as if he was hurrying for anything! In most cases a child's stuttering will not last more than weeks to several months and will resolve on its own.
If you think the problem is increasing in severity or is causing stress and anxiety for your child it may be time for a discussion with your pediatrician.
Do you have any tips? Feel free to share them with us!