Tough love – parenting a child who stammers
11th Oct 2019
Being the parent of a child who stammers can be tough. Seeing your child struggle to speak can be painful. But you are not alone. Up to 8% of children stammer for a time. For most, the stammering will resolve over time, whilst for others, the stammering may continue. Parents often worry if they have done something to cause the stammering. It is all too easy to assume that stammering is caused by the birth of a sibling, or a divorce or moving house, but this isn’t the case. If your child stammers, chances are that they have been predisposed to stammering since the day they were born and life upheavals have not caused the change in speech. In young children, stammering is primarily a neurological condition, and is often, but not always, hereditary.
But how can parents help? A few tips are listed below, and you’ll find much more information at https://stamma.org/get-support/parents.
Confident communication: Stammering is a way of talking. It’s not good or bad. Just different. One of the best things a parent can do to help their child who stammers is to regard stammering as a difference rather than as something that is ‘wrong’ or must be ‘fixed’. A hallmark of stammering is that it can vary from day to day, but by demonstrating that you are equally interested in what your child has to say regardless of how much or how little stammering is present, you place equal value on both fluent speech and stammered speech. It’s what your child says that matters. Valuing what is said over how it is said can foster communicative confidence and help keep your child chattering away through days with lots of stammering and days with no stammering.
And this is where the tough love comes in. It may be difficult for you to see your child struggle to speak. But you can be the best support for them by witnessing this struggle and continuing to encourage them to talk, to revel in their speech, to glory in their language, no matter what. Teach them that what they say matters. That their voice deserves to be heard, both when it is stammered and when it is fluent. Fluency does not determine worthiness.
Acknowledge stammering: This doesn’t mean that stammering cannot be mentioned or that your child’s struggles to speak should be ignored or become the elephant in the room. And it doesn’t mean you can’t comfort your child if they’re upset because they’re struggling to get a word out. Quite the opposite. It’s ok to comment occasionally, for example, “That was a difficult word, well done for sticking with it” or “I loved that you kept going and told me all about the party even when it was difficult to get some of the words out”. Such comments signal to your child that it’s ok to talk about stammering. In this way, if it is something your child is worried about, you’ve signalled that the door is open for such a conversation. And it’s ok to hug and comfort your child, and say “I know it’s difficult” if your child is aware of the struggle to speak and becomes upset.
Seek support: There is lots of support out there, for both you and your child. The new website of the British Stammering Association has information for parents: https://stamma.org/get-support/parents, including downloadable leaflets and details of different sources of professional help, such as speech and language therapists. The team at stamma.org also have a helpline with freephone number 0808 802 0002. The helpline is open every weekday, 10am-12noon and 6pm-8pm. Or you can email them at email@example.com .
Other sources of support include a group of families who try to meet and support one another in northwest England. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. There are lots of online groups, too, such as the UK Network for Parents of Children who Stammer: https://www.facebook.com/groups/215401565577790/.
So, if you are worried about your child’s speech, remember that you are not alone. There are many other parents out there, facing the same challenges. Your child’s stammering may well resolve over time, either with or without professional support. In the meantime, you can be their staunchest ally, the one who demonstrates to them and the rest of the world that their voice matters, and that they can be an effective communicator regardless of stammering.
This is a Guest Post by Kirsten Howells.
Kirsten is a Speech & Language Therapist in private practice at Brighter Spaces Wilmslow.