Tips for supporting a loved one or friend who stammers, and yourself too.
Stammering is not about nervousness or shyness. In fact, your stammering partner, friend or family member may stammer more with you because they feel relaxed and don't have to worry about their speech. Others might stammer less if they feel more comfortable around you.
If people are working on their speech, they might seem to stammer more for a time. This might be because they are more acutely aware of their stammering. Or they might be no longer trying to hide it. Successful therapy for your partner may mean that they are stammering more but feeling happier about it.
How you can help
- Accept that stammering is an important issue for your partner or friend. Your patience and understanding will be really important to them.
- Stay calm and relaxed when speaking with them. Keep natural eye contact, and give them space and time to communicate. Try not to interrupt or finish their sentences — if you get it wrong, this can be frustrating for them.
- Stammering is not about people simply 'relaxing' or 'taking a breath', or indeed just 'being more confident'. Try not to say these things which aren't helpful. And definitely don't tell them to 'think before they speak' or 'pull themselves together'.
- Be prepared to talk and keep talking about stammering. A friendship or partnership works best when you share stuff.
- If your partner or friend tells you that they stammer, take the opportunity they're giving to open up the conversation. For example, you could say, "Thanks for sharing that — is there anything you'd like me to do when we're chatting together?"
- If someone tells you that they stammer, it can be tempting to offer words of reassurance like, "Everyone stammers sometimes". True, everyone does have moments of dysfluency, but that's not the same as having a stammer. However well-intentioned that comment is, it downplays the person's experiences and risks making them feel like it's not something they can talk to you about.
- They may want to negotiate how to handle practical matters. These can include who answers the phone or who orders in a restaurant.
Nathan told me that looking away is the last thing someone with a stammer wants you to do — it makes him think you feel uncomfortable and that you have lost interest in the conversation.
Don't forget you
Remembering to do all the things above can be hard. Try not beat yourself up if you don't always get it right. And don't put all the pressure on yourself — support should be a mutual thing. Talk with a loved one about how you are feeling too and how they can support you. Tell them how you might be struggling and if there's anything they can do to help you. Ask them to politely tell you if something you do or say isn't helping.
Accept that you won't always understand what they are going through — don't feel guilty about this.
For some, it can be difficult or uncomfortable seeing someone you love stammer or struggle with their speech. If you feel embarrassed or anxious because of their stammering, learning to be comfortable with it will help you both. By doing so you will show others how to respond.
Or speak to us — call our free helpline on 0808 802 0002 or start a webchat, open every weekday from 10am-12noon & 6pm-8pm.
Take a look at our Your Voice section to read about peoples' experiences of stammering.