Christine Livingston,

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The repeating, pauses, backing up, holding on to sounds, and general confusion of “thinking and talking” are very normal.  Children between three and four years of age have new experiences they want to tell you about without knowing how to put enough words together to express themselves smoothly.  This is why their speech is sometimes nonfluent.
However, there are definite ways to react to a child’s nonfluency.  There are things to do that will reduce his chances of becoming a stutterer.  We suggest the following:

  1. Pay attention to your child when he talks to you.  Let him know you’re listening.  Give your time and attention, if he has something urgent to say.  Remember that he wants to share feelings, experiences and ideas with you.  Let him know that you are interested and don’t rush him.  If you cannot listen right then, explain that and tell him when you can listen…and then Do it.  If certain times are predictable that he will be extremely eager to share (picking up from school, coming home from a friends, etc) try to build in a natural “wait” time such as having a snack for him to eat while you drive home, tell him that as soon as you put the clothes away you will be ready to listen, etc.
  2. Don’t demand speech from him if he’s crying, injured, or obviously upset.  These times will almost always disrupt speech.
  3. Don’t put him on exhibition for relatives or friends by having him recite stories, little jingles, ABC’s
  4. Keep your own speech slow and deliberate by pausing occasionally at natural places.  Use talking that is easy for him to copy.  Try not to use complex language that is beyond his development.
  5. Don’t interrupt him when he’s talking, or complete his sentences out loud for him.  He will resent this “help”.  Try to eliminate verbal competition by encouraging turn taking from all speakers.
  6. Don’t make suggestions about how to talk in a better way.  Comments like:  “slow down”, “think about what you are going to say”, “stop and take a deep breath”, “count to ten”, or “start over” should be eliminated completely.  All this advice does is call attention to the false idea that something is wrong with how he talks.  It makes him think that his speech is not good enough to please you.  If anything, these remarks will make him uncertain, upset and more likely to stutter.
  7. Build up his strengths.  Encourage him to play games and do things that he does well.  Don’t make him compete with the kid next door.  Why should he?  Don’t tell him:  “grow up”, “stop acting like a baby”.  How he thinks about himself will often determine the amount of nonfluency in his speech development.
  8. Keep in mind that 85% of all children who are 2 to 6 years of age show hesitations and repetitions at times when talking.
  9. Tell others not to imitate or joke about the child’s nonfluent speech.  This includes brothers, sisters, friends, relatives and babysitters.  Be frank about how you want/expect others to react to his nonfluency.
  10. Changing a child’s preferred handedness will not cause stuttering.  However, your insistence in trying to make a change may create emotional problems for him.
  11. NEVER discuss his nonfluency when he can overhear you.  The is no need for him to conclude that the way he talks is a general topic for alarm.  However, don’t ignore his comments if he is having difficulty.  Acknowledge that sometimes talking is hard.
  12. If he becomes startled by words he has said nonfluently, you should calmly reuse the words in a natural, normal way.  Remember to state what he was trying to say.  If he says, “Billy broke my t-t-t-toy”, you might say, “Did he break your toy?  Where is it? Lets go see how it is.  Maybe we can fix it.”  Be sure to listen more to what he says rather than how he says it.   Maintain normal eye contact and wait patiently with interest until he finishes.
  13. If he is frustrated and complains, “I can’t say that word”, or “I can’t talk right”, then reassure him by explaining that some words give you trouble too.  Use an example of a word that’s difficult for you to say—linoleum, chrysanthemum, aluminum, etc.  Sometimes use much easier words that he has trouble with too.  Convince him that even adults have trouble talking sometimes, as indeed they do.   Don’t overdo it but occasionally be nonfluent on a word, make a brief remark e.g.“boy, that was a little bumpy”, and then just go on.

BOTTOMLINE:   Don’t expect or require the impossible….100% fluency.  Create a verbal environment that nurtures good communication and listening skills in everyone.  Talking is FUN!