More threads by David Baxter PhD

David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
June 22, 2004,

Many children are just going through a stage of development when they stutter. Stuttering is a form of dysfluency - an interruption in the flow of speech. Children between the ages of 2 and 5 commonly repeat whole words and phrases and may interject fillers such as "uh" and "um" into their speech. This is called "normal dysfluency."

When you consider that children of this age are still learning how to speak, developing coordination of the muscles used for talking, learning new words, putting words together into sentences, and discovering how to ask questions and influence outcomes with their words, it's easy to see why they acquire dysfluencies.

What Causes Stuttering?
Stuttering can be worrisome to parents who fear that somehow "bad" parenting is the root of the problem. Parental behavior does not cause stuttering. In reality, the causes of stuttering are not precisely known - it is a very complicated and involved condition.

About three times as many boys as girls stutter. However, more is known about the environmental factors. Stress, for example, can affect stuttering.

Early Signs
The first signs of stuttering may appear after the second birthday or when a child is beginning to put words together to form sentences. To parents this may be upsetting, but it is a normal stage in speech development. Showing patience with your child and adopting a cautious, accepting, and informed attitude are best during the preschool years. A child may be dysfluent for a few weeks or several months, with symptoms disappearing and perhaps appearing again. Most children who begin stuttering before the age of 5 will lose the dysfluency.

The School Years
When children enter elementary school, they sharpen their communication skills. Usually, dysfluency drops to very low levels. If stuttering continues in the school-age child, he is old enough to be aware of the problem and may be embarrassed by it. Classmates and friends may draw attention to it. Even children with chronic, severe stuttering can be helped with learning strategies that can enhance communication.

When to Seek Help
Your child may benefit from professional intervention, especially if:
o you are concerned or anxious about his speech
o repetitions of whole words and phrases become excessive
o sound and syllable repetitions begin to happen more frequently
o your child appears to be struggling with speech
o the dysfluencies start to be effortful or strained
o you notice increased facial tension or tightness in the speech muscles
o you notice vocal tension resulting in rising pitch or loudness
o your child chooses to avoid situations where he would have to talk

If your child's speech is characterized by some of these warning signs, you should consult a speech and language pathologist at your child's school or at a hospital. Most schools will offer testing and appropriate therapy if you have been concerned about the dysfluency for 6 months or more.

What Parents Can Do
There are several steps you can take to provide a nurturing environment for your child:
o Don't require him to speak precisely or correctly at all times. Allow talking to be fun and enjoyable.
o Use family mealtime as a conversation time. Avoid distractions such as radio or television.
o Avoid corrections or criticisms such as "slow down," "take your time," or "take a deep breath." These comments, however well-intentioned, will only make your child think he is doing something wrong.
o Avoid having him speak or read aloud when he doesn't feel comfortable or when the dysfluencies increase.
o Don't tell your child to start over.
o Don't tell your child to think before he talks.
o Provide a calm atmosphere in the home. Try to slow down the pace of family life.
o Speak slowly and clearly when talking to your child or others in his presence.
o Maintain natural eye contact with your child. Try not to look away or show signs of being upset.
o Let him speak for himself, and allow him to finish his thoughts and sentences. Pause before responding to your child's questions or comments.
o Encourage activities that do not require a lot of talking when your child is more dysfluent.
o Talk slowly to your child. This takes practice! Modeling a slow rate of speech will help with his fluency.


Excellent advice and parents should avoid making a big deal of it if their child has normal stuttering, but it is also good to be aware of unusual causes, just in case.

At age 3 my grandson was speaking normally, without a stutter, even though he had had a stroke at age 1. Then, one day he suddenly started having a problem with stuttering. It was so frustrating for him that he'd stop trying to say what he'd wanted to say and simply tell us "I can't say that" perfectly clear, with no stutter.

His parents took him to his doctor, who ordered tests because of his prior stroke. Testing showed he had had a second stroke. It was mild, but if he hadn't already had a history of stroke the proper diagnostic tests probably wouldn't have been ordered.

Speech therapy was not ordered.

Feeling we had to try "something" we got him a set of golf clubs and take him out to the driving range regularly. The hope was that it would be a good way to work on his coordination as well as giving him an outlet for any anger and frustration he felt. It's been a year now and he's doing great; I'm confident he'll make a full recovery again. I don't know if the golf really helped or not, but from the first time he swung his club, he never once stuttered while playing golf. And he sure loves smacking those balls!

Although it's normal for a child to stutter, please be aware that a very sudden onset can possibly be a sign of a more serious underlying problem, like childhood stroke.

Don't panic, but be aware,
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Welcome to psychlinks, Annie!

Thanks for sharing this about your grandson. I'm gald to hear that he is okay and loves smacking those balls around! Good to know that this also occurs with childhood stroke and to get checked by the doctor.

My son fell and hit his head at 3 yrs old. He had one tooth turn black and stuttered for 2 mths afterward. The dentist and GP said not to worry about the tooth and stuttering that they will both will likely turn around and to just monitor . The tooth turned a lovely white again and the stuttering stopped within 2 mths.

It is distressing when it happens though.


David Baxter PhD

Late Founder
I should note that compostannie mentioned this to me previously by email and I suggested she post it here because I think it makes two important points:

(1) it is always important to be thorough, even when you think you already know the most likely diagnosis, especially where symptoms appear suddenly; and

(2) the "remedy" of physical therapies, especially in young children to adolescents where brain pathways are still growing rapidly, should not be overlooked. Annie's comment that "I don't know if the golf really helped or not, but from the first time he swung his club, he never once stuttered while playing golf" is intriguing. It may of course been the case that whatever scarring or other damage may have been caused by the stroke which preceded the onset of his stuttering simply healed. But it makes me wonder about the possibility that learning a new complex sensori-motor skill such as golfing might not have stimulated neuronal growth or healing or otherwise enhanced the process of functional brain recovery.
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