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Stuttering: 6 ways parents can help

Mother leaning into chuckling daughter. Your toddler likely has a lot to say these days. But sometimes new talkers can have trouble getting those words out.

Stuttering often affects kids ages 2 to 6 years, who are fast learning new speech and language skills. The condition, which makes it harder to speak smoothly, usually fades by the time a child starts grade school. But support—both from a speech therapist and at home—can help.

Slip-ups versus stuttering

It's common for toddlers to repeat whole words or phrases, say "um" a lot or switch to a different word or thought mid-sentence. All of us stumble over our words from time to time—especially small children. Talking takes practice!

But stuttering sounds different. A child who stutters might:

  • Repeat one-syllable words. "I have to go-go-go to the potty."
  • Repeat part of a word or make prolonged sounds. "I w-w-want a snaaaack."
  • Pause partway through a sentence. "Let's read [pause] a book."
  • Nod their head or blink their eyes frequently while talking. Some kids use these behaviors to help them avoid stuttering.

How to help your toddler

The most important things to remember? Be patient, be positive and be proactive. Staying calm and upbeat—and looping in your child's primary care provider—are the best forms of support. Try to:

  • Talk together often. Keep it low-pressure. Ask about a drawing they're making, chat while taking a walk around the block or invite them to recount their day at bedtime.
  • Take it slow. Give your child time and space to get those thoughts out. Rushing them or finishing their sentences can put them under pressure—and up the chances for stuttering.
  • Stay positive. Your toddler is more likely to stutter when feeling embarrassed, nervous or frustrated.
  • Make eye contact. It's a great way to let your child know that you're listening.
  • Avoid shaming. Never make your child feel bad about stuttering. Remind them that it's OK—and if they have questions about their stuttering, answer them.
  • Don't ignore it. Let your child's healthcare provider know right away if your child is showing signs of stuttering. They can help you connect with a speech therapist. Getting help early can make a big difference—and it can start as young as ages 2 or 3.

Sources: American Academy of Family PhysiciansAmerican Speech-Language-Hearing AssociationNational Institutes of Health

Reviewed 9/21/2022

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