Written transcriptions of our videos for parents of pre-school children who stammer, featuring Programme Lead Kirsten Howells.
Watch the videos here.
Hi, it’s Kirsten. Today’s video is called, Should I be worried? This video is for you if you are the parent of a preschool child who's very recently started stammering - perhaps in the last few weeks. One of your big questions is probably, “Should I be worried about this?” - so I want to start by giving you a bit of information.
Stammering quite often starts in children between the ages of 2 to 5 years old, and up to 8% of children will stammer for a period of time. So it's not that uncommon. You're not the only family who's experiencing this. The child is not alone, and you are not alone as a parent. My response to that question of “Should I be worried”, is that if this has been happening for only a few weeks, and if your child is not experiencing a negative reaction to it, then right now you don't need to be worried. There are two reasons for this.
The first is that for the vast majority of children, this will resolve over time - either with or without a little bit of help. Most young children who start to stammer might stammer for a period of days, weeks, months, or even years in some cases - and for most of those children it will still pass. So because your child is stammering now, and even if your child is stammering a lot, if this is very new it does not predict the future for your child. This may well pass.
The second reason why you don't need to worry right now is because it is okay to stammer. We know that for a few children it won't resolve and they will continue to stammer into adulthood - and that's okay. Not so long ago, I was working with a very wise nine-year-old and he said to me, “Stammering is just a way of talking - it's not good or bad - it's just different.” And so it is.
Stammering is just a way of talking. It's easy to imagine we know how the future is going to go for children who stammer - that they're going to face challenges socially and academically - but that doesn't have to be the case. Some people will struggle more than others with stammering. That may be because of a combination of personality characteristics, how we respond to difficulties, how we respond to disruptions in our speech. How the people around us respond can make a difference too - whether those responses are constructive, or whether those responses are unhelpful.
But regardless of the frustrations that stammering can bring, it is possible to live well with stammering. And stammering doesn't need to be a big factor in the decisions we make in how we choose to live our lives. It is possible for children who stammer to thrive at school and in their friendships, and as they get older to thrive in relationships and in their careers.
If you're looking to seek some reassurance on this, and see what life is like for some adults who stammer, there’s a great resource I'd like to point you towards. You can find it on the internet - it's known as Stambassadors - at www.stambassadors.org There you can find some short videos made by adults who stammer, talking about themselves, their relationship with their stammering as adults, and their careers. I'm going to read a little list of some of the careers represented in these videos.
We've got health professionals, fundraisers, lawyers and solicitors, managers, journalists, teachers, engineers, soldiers, directors, academics, speech therapists and even the former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls is there. This is a resource that's been produced by an organization called Action for Stammering Children. It's really good and I’d advise you to take a look at it.
So in summary, if stammering is new for you and your child, and if your child isn't having a negative reaction to these disruptions in their own speech - then no - you don't need to be very worried right now. There's lots to be optimistic about!
Look out for the next video in our mini-series coming soon. Thanks.
Hi, it's Kirsten. Today's video is called, “Is it my fault that my child has started stammering?”
It's a really short video, simply because it's quite a straightforward question - but it’s something that often comes up in our conversations with parents of young children who stammer. Some parents begin to talk about a feeling of guilt. They bring up questions like, “Is it my fault?” and “Should I have done something different?” and “Is it something I did, or we did as parents, or did in the family, that caused this?”
The sorts of things that people bring up, wondering if these cause stammering to start, are things like divorce, or separation, or moving house, or the birth of siblings. What I want to say is that if you are carrying around these feelings of guilt, and wondering if it's some of these big family events which happened and caused the stammering… they didn't. This is not your fault. Stammering is stammering; it’s not caused by divorce, it's not caused by moving house, it’s not caused by upheaval associated with the birth of the sibling.
It isn't your fault.
I also want to say that we sometimes hear from parents who stammer themselves, who are carrying around a feeling of guilt. They are worrying if stammering runs in their family, if this is something which has been passed on to their child. They may also be carrying around feelings of guilt and anxiety for their child, and the future of their child, if the child continues to stammer.
In my experience this is often associated with parents who had a difficult time with stammering themselves as a child. They perhaps didn't receive a lot of understanding from society about stammering at that time. But society is changing, there is a lot more understanding both of what stammering is, and how it affects people out there.
It's not your fault that your child stammers. This isn't something you did. It's not something you chose, but remember that your own child's experiences with stammering aren't necessarily going to follow the same script that yours did.
I think it's very easy to start projecting into the future, and thinking you know the challenges stammering’s going to bring - but you don't know! Your child's journey is different from yours. What we can do as parents is to support our children and create a really positive environment for them. So that they’ll thrive whether the stammering resolves, or whether it continues.
But the key headline for this video is - it's not your fault. You didn't cause this.
In future videos we're going to start talking about what you can do to help your child.
See you soon, bye!
Hi, it's Kirsten again. Today's video is about how you can help your pre-school child who has started stammering.
The aim of what you are trying to achieve is to help your child continue to enjoy talking, whether they are stammering or not, and to help them continue to be a confident communicator. The reason for this aim is that stammering is, in its basic form, a physical difficulty, growing out of a physical difficulty with movements for speech. But emotional and psychological reactions can build up on top of this and make it a much more complex challenge, where the child is dealing not only with the physical disruptions in their speech but with lots of other thoughts and emotions attached to the stammering.
What you want to do is to try, as far as possible, to minimize the challenge of stammering to just that physical difficulty - without these other layers of complexity building up on top of it. These emotional and psychological reactions can come from within the child themselves - the way that they experience and respond to disruptions in their speech, the meaning they draw from them themselves. That is much harder for you to affect, although it is possible for you to influence that.
But where you can have a really big effect is on the reactions of people around the child. Because your child can draw meaning from the way they see and interpret other people's reactions. For children who receive a message that stammering is bad, that stammering is unwanted, then those children can begin to go to great lengths to avoid or hide their stammering - and that tends not to be at all helpful.
Trying to avoid it, or hide it, or do weird things so as not to stammer, can actually exacerbate the stammering. It can increase the frequency and severity of those moments of stammering, or it can lead children to go to extreme lengths where they might choose not to talk. Because – hey - at least then they don't stammer and they might think that people are happier when they don't stammer.
So these are the things we don't want for our children. What we do want is… We want our children to enjoy talking. We want them to talk to us, we want them to be confident communicators. And right now, your job is to protect your child and protect their enjoyment and confidence in speaking.
So today we're going to talk about a little bit about how you can do that. (See next video, part 2)
Hi, it's Kirsten again. In this part of our mini-video series for parents of pre-school children who have recently started stammering, I'll be talking about tips and suggestions for ways you can support your child at home. In the interest of keeping each video quite short, I'm going to talk about a different area in each video.
Today I'll be talking about conversation tips - suggestions for the ways you actually chat with your child. I want to start by showing you the leaflet which is available on our website.
There are several information leaflets: this one is specifically for parents of pre-school children. You can download it, or you can request a hard copy if you prefer. You can see our information leaflets here. In the pre-school leaflet there is a section about how to help and I'm going to pick out a few of the suggestions here today.
The three tips I want to talk about in this video (and I'm looking down because I'm glancing at my notes as usual!) are to:
- focus on what your child is saying;
- use comments and leave gaps in conversation; and
- experiment with reducing your own rate of speech.
I'm going to go into them in a little bit more detail, but first I want to explain why these suggestions can be useful. They all come under an umbrella, which is that of reducing pressure on speech. Pressure on speech isn't a negative in itself, but for some children who stammer, putting a lot of pressure on their speech can actually make things more challenging for them.
By ‘pressure’, what I mean is, when we ask our children to say particular things at a particular time. So when we put them on the spot to deliver some information to us - to say a particular thing, right now. With young children, lots of us as parents do this. It can be such a joy hearing children as they develop language. Their vocabulary grows as they learn to name more and more things in the world around them, then they begin to string these words together to form sentences, and to explain completely new thoughts that they've had.
It's such a pleasure! And it's very easy for us as parents to try to pull more of this out, wanting to hear the evidence of their language development. It's such fun - and there really isn't anything wrong with that. It's just that it's not always that helpful for children who stammer when we do that.
We might do it by asking very young children to name the objects around them, because we want to see which ones they know the names for, and which ones they don't. For older children, we might do it when we want to find out stuff about their day. If they're in nursery, or going to pre-school, we might not know that much about how they're spending the day. And we're genuinely curious! So we ask them lots of questions, to try to extract this information. But what this does when we use all these questions is - we are asking them for specific bits of information and wanting it right now in response to the question.
That can be quite a challenge for children who stammer - that demand for something spoken right now, and a particular something. So reducing this pressure on speech can be really helpful. It doesn't mean that we want our children to speak less - far from it - we want them to speak just as much as ever. But we want to give them a little more control over what they say and when they say it.
Let me explain a bit more. So the first point I suggested was to focus on what your child says. I’m going to make that sentence a bit longer and say - focus on what your child says and not on how they say it. Remember to pay attention to what your child is trying to tell you. Respond to the message, not to the way it’s said. So that means not getting hung up on the stammering and the moments of getting stuck, but really valuing what your child is trying to tell you and share with you about their world. And whether their whole sentence comes out easily, or whether they get stuck on every single word and stammer through the whole thing, that you demonstrate to your child that you're interested in what they want to say. That can be of real value for a child who stammers and is perhaps struggling a little to get their message across.
The second tip I mentioned was using comments and leaving gaps in conversations. This can be really useful to do as a conscious way to try to reduce the use of questions in conversation with your child. So rather than asking your very young child to name the things in their environment – instead you do that and you describe them. So you might say, “Oh look, there's a big red ball!”
With older children, when you're chatting and wanting to find out about their day, you can try by telling them about your day instead. This way, you're showing them a way of explaining. You tell them about your day - you might even say, “If you'd like to tell me about your day, I'd love to hear it!”. So you give that choice to the child about whether they want to name something, whether they want to describe something, whether they want to tell you about their day right now, what it is they want to say. You don't demand that from them at the time of your choosing. Instead, you open the door to that sort of conversation. You show them that you're interested and that you're comfortable with leaving silences… which your child can fill if they wish to.
And many children will fill those silences! They want to tell you things, but this way gives them the opportunity to decide when to do it, and what it is that they want to say.
So we've talked about focusing on what your child says, and using comments and leaving gaps which your child can fill (or not) in conversation.
Another thing that you might find useful is experimenting with reducing your own rate of speech. This can help because it demonstrates to your child that you have time. Their speech isn't something they need to rush out under pressure. You are demonstrating with your own manner of talking that this is something that you can take time over. That there is space for everyone in the household to talk.
I'm going to signpost you to another video to watch, which discusses these tips and some others in much more detail - and really far more eloquently than I can do. It's a really lovely video called 7 tips for talking with a child who stutters. It's about 16 minutes long and you can find it on YouTube. It's well worth a look. It's got a group of speech therapists describing tips for talking with children who stammer. They consider it in the context of challenges such as fairness between siblings and how to respond to stammering if you’re really in a rush to get somewhere and your child is trying to tell you something BUT you genuinely don't have time to wait. It’s all about how to deal with those things and it's really, really well done. So I suggest you take a look at that 7 tips for talking with a child who stutters. You can find that video here.
I’d like to say one last thing, thinking about both the tips that I’ve talked about today and those in the 7 tips for talking with a child who stutters video. It's about trying to do all these things at once. I really don't think it's possible for anyone to implement these multiple things simultaneously and be able to do it well! And to be able to pick out which strategies help and which ones don't. All families are different - some things will be useful for some families, and not for others.
What can be a much easier way to go about it is to think of one of these tips that I've talked about today. Or look in our leaflet, or look at the 7 tips video - and pick out one thing. Something where you think, “OK, well that sounds like it might be interesting!” Pick out one, and try it out, do a little experiment with it.
And when I say try it out, I don’t mean try it out once, or try it out for just a couple of minutes, or even try it out for a day. I mean try it out over a week, then sit back and have a think. Was it helpful? Did that help me? Did that help my child? Does that seem to be making the interaction between myself and my child easier?
And if the answer to those questions is ‘yes’ - then brilliant! You’ve found something that helps, so keep doing it, do more of it. But if not, then maybe just move that tip to one side for now and pick something else, and try that for a week. So you really find the things which are going to work and be useful for you, and your child, and your family.
I'm going to leave it there for today but I will be back in the next video, where we'll be talking about building your own resilience to stammering and the benefits of that.
So it is really normal!
Lots of parents of pre-schoolers who stammer talk about feeling uncomfortable when their child stammers. For whatever reason - whether you're already thinking far into the future, whether your child's speech has changed dramatically in a short space of time, or if your child has stammered from the moment they started talking.
Lots and lots of parents talk about feeling uncomfortable with that. But feeling uncomfortable when your child stammers doesn't make you a bad parent. It just makes you human. However, it's not helpful for your child to pick up on that discomfort.
So you have two choices… you can try to mask those feelings… or you can build up your own resilience to stammering and how you feel about it.
Masking it is really hard. And it also means you're not being honest with your own child. You're really hiding your feelings - and you may be more or less successful at that.
What I suggest instead is that you actively work to build up your own resilience to the sound of stammering. So that, over time, you genuinely become more comfortable with it, and it doesn't bother you. So you don't feel worried, you don't feel anxious when your child gets stuck. You're more comfortable to stay in that moment and wait, and let your child say what it is they want to say.
And how can go about building up this resilience? It's pretty simple. Just start listening to stammering, maybe listening to lots of different people stammering. People stammer in very different ways.
To do this, I'm going to suggest you look at a resource I’ve actually suggested before - it's the Stambassadors videos, which you can find on this link. These are short videos, 6 7 minutes long. Each video is of an adult who stammers talking about themselves, their experiences of stammering and their career. Just working through a few of these can help to get you used to stammering, so that when you're with your child and they get stuck, you're just comfortable to be there with them.
So in this mini video series where I've been talking about things you can do to help your child who's recently started stammering, today I'll talking about spending one-to-one time with your child and how this can help.
By one-to-one time, I mean finding a 10 minute period of time. Ideally once a day, but where that's not possible, as many days in the week as you can manage. That might be every other day or whatever works for you and your family. You’re aiming to ceate these regular periods of one-to-one time with your child where there aren't any other distractions. So, if you have other children, those children need to be somewhere else or occupied so they're not demanding your attention for these few minutes. And the TV and any music should be off, so that it's just this quiet time between the two of you.
You might be looking at a book together, or just having a chat, or playing together. We're not thinking about playing football or leaping up and down, and we're not thinking about playing a computer game together! What we're thinking about is something that's a bit more quietly interactive. So maybe you might be building Lego together, or playing make-believe, or perhaps doing a little craft project together. There are all sorts of things you could be doing, but it's a relatively calm one-to-one time between the two of you.
And there are three ways in which this one-to-one time can help children who stammer (and I've got one of my notes here to try to make sure and I don't forget what to say!)
The first is that some children who are stammering, can find the stammering quite hard work. During this one-to-one time, you're taking away many of the things that they're having to deal with at the same time as talking. So you're taking away background noise (or as much of it as you can). You're taking away the need to ‘time’ their speech to get into a conversation with lots of people. And you're taking away the need for a child to try to attract your attention because you're trying to cook the tea as well! You're taking all those things away, so that for this 10-minute period, it's a special little island of time for the two of you.
And that can be a real pleasure for a child who’s perhaps struggling to speak, or is dealing with some difficulty speaking, or challenges speaking on top of all those other things. We're taking those other demands away. So this can be a really fun time for your child who stammers and a real pleasure in their day.
A second reason why this one-to-one time can be helpful is because for some children who stammer - not all, but for some - when you take away all those other distractions and competing things to deal with, then some children might find they stammer a bit less during this one-to-one time. And if they've been finding stammering hard, that can be a real relief to experience times when there's not quite so much stammering but they're still managing to participate fully chatting with you. That can also be really useful and interesting for you to know what's affecting their stammering.
The third reason why one-to-one time can be useful is if you decide that you'd like to have the support of a speech therapist. This is because some of the therapy approaches used with pre-school children who stammer happen during one-to-one time between a parent and a child. The therapist and the parent work together to decide and agree what the parent is going to do during that one-to-one time - to work actively in terms of supporting their child who stammers. So this one-to-one time is a real foundation of several therapy approaches for preschool children who stammer.
It might sound like finding 10 minutes a day to spend one-to-one with your child is really easy. Well it's not! It's surprisingly hard in a busy family day to carve out about 10 minutes when there's nothing else going on, and no other distractions, and nothing else competing for your time and attention as a parent.
So if you're able to work on getting one-to-one time in place, then you will already have that foundation established if you decide to seek support from a speech therapist. And if you and the therapist choose one of these approaches, you will actually have the foundation in place, so you won't be spending time trying to get that going.