• Sun. Nov 28th, 2021

How parents can actually help a child with a stammer

Oct 22, 2021

Today, October 22, is World Stammering Day.

The fact stammering is so rarely depicted in TV and beyond can make the condition seem less common than it actually is, or harder to address.

According to the British Stammering Association, otherwise known as STAMMA, about 8% of children will stammer for at least part of their lives.

For the majority of these children, stammering will pass over time, but about 25% continue stammering into adulthood.

So how can parents help a child who stammers – whether it’s a short-term struggle or something more lifelong?

Kirsten Howells, STAMMA’s helpline support manager and programme lead, tells Metro.co.uk: ‘We know that children and adults who stammer have to deal with their own response to the sensation of feeling “stuck” and being unable to say what you’re trying to say, but also with unhelpful responses from others.

‘Unhelpful responses can lead to some people who stammer feeling anxious in certain social situations, as they worry about how others may react to moments of stammering or give them the space to get involved in the conversation.

‘Stammering isn’t bad, it’s just different.’

Stammering facts

  • Stammering normally starts in early childhood, affecting 8% of children, most of whom will go on to talk fluently.
  • It appears to be passed down in families, possibly affecting more men than women.
  • It will affect 1-3% of the adult population. Academics believe it affects 1% of the population; STAMMA’s polling shows 3% of the UK adult population believe they have a stammer.
  • Some people find ways around not being heard to stammer, which can be physically and mentally exhausting – others can’t.
  • Therapy can help, especially in childhood, but there isn’t a cure.
  • Stammering is unpredictable, from sentence to sentence and across a lifetime, everyone is different.
  • Stammering has nothing to do with intellect. Many brilliant communicators stammer, such as Lewis Carroll, Winston Churchill, Henry James, Thomas Carlyle, Peter Straub, John Updike, Owen Sheers, David Mitchell.

The key for parents is helping kids to ‘enjoy talking whether they stammer or not’.

‘This way, they are creating the right environment for stammering to pass over time in many children, but also developing robust and confident communication skills for those who may continue to stammer into adulthood,’ Kirsten adds.

The charity offers online support groups for parents of children who stammer, all with the aim of building their confidence in handling it.

If you have a child who stammers and are unsure of how to help, these are the things Kirsten suggests.

Self-educate

Kirsten says it’s important to educate yourself as a first step.

Seek support for yourself so that you know more about stammering and can feel more comfortable hearing your child stammer,’ she tells us.

If you can work towards feeling comfortable with it, your child is more likely to feel comfortable with their voice, whether it’s stammery or not.

Also extend this education to other adults in your child’s life, so they can also have a positive influence.

Don’t be afraid to talk about stammering

Know that it’s ok to talk about stammering,’ Kirsten says.

Making it a taboo subject doesn’t help anyone, and can inadvertently lead to your child feeling ashamed of their voice and the way they talk.

If you’re not sure if your child is aware of the stammering, you can just say something like, “that sounded like a difficult word” and see how they respond.

Boost confidence

The importance is to focus owhat your child is saying rather than how they are saying it.

Remember, your child can be a great, interesting communicator AND stammer,’ Kirsten says.

Avoid giving your child advice such as “slow down” or “take a deep breath”.

Such advice is often well-intentioned, but can put further pressure on a child, lead to your child trying to hide their stammering from you, and even take the joy out of talking with you.

Professional help

If you or your child are worried about stammering, consider seeking professional support from a Speech & Language Therapist (SLT).

Kirsten says: ‘That way, any advice given can be tailored specifically for you and your child.

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