Supporting myself as the parent of a child who stammers
Jessica talks about worrying for her 4-year-old son who stammers. Not knowing how to support herself, she looked online for tips. Here she shares the things that help her cope.
"My words are hard. Why?"
My four-year-old asked me this heartbreaking question during one of his tougher moments. He could barely get the words out and forcing out the sentence seemed to take the effort of his whole body. I gave him lots of cuddles and reassurance, told him I could see that it was really hard but I loved hearing what he had to say, and that I was going to try and help make it easier.
He is a gorgeous little boy — cheeky, clever, funny and really kind-hearted. He loves dinosaurs, fire engines, helicopters, jigsaws and playing with his big brother. He also has a stammer.
- Looking for support for a child who stammers? See Help For Parents
We were told his stammering would go up and down, and to expect a rollercoaster, but when the bad days come they are really hard. The frustration and upset it can cause my little one is overwhelming.
About nine months ago, my husband and I looked into what we could do to address his stammer proactively. We started speech and language therapy sessions, did an amazing course for the parents of children who stammer called Keep Them Talking, with US speech & language therapist Kelly Clendaniel (who is also a parent of a child who stammered so she gets it!) and did a lot of our own research.
All this gave me the tools to help support my little boy on the difficult days — but I still didn't know how to support myself.
All this gave me the tools to help support my little boy on the difficult days — but I still didn't know how to support myself. I didn't know how to build up my own resilience to get me through seeing him struggle. I worried about him starting school — making friends and socialising in the playground; I worried about much further into the future — how would he get through a job interview or a first date? And I worried about how he would have a voice in the world. But I also knew a parent's anxiety can have a negative effect on their child's stammering (which made me even more anxious!).
So when my son said, "My words are hard. Why?" I reached out to Word on the Speech, an incredible online community of parents of children who stammer run by Kelly Clendaniel. I posted the question 'How do you support yourselves on the tough days?'. The response was heartwarming. Parents from all over the globe shared their advice with me so generously and were incredibly honest about how difficult those moments can be. I immediately felt supported and less alone.
So, here are some tips that were shared with me:
- Do something with your child that they really love so that you can see them smiling and laughing, to remind yourself that there are good moments too.
- Do something with your child that connects you but doesn't rely on speaking — snuggle up under a blanket and watch a film or read a book, go for a walk holding hands, drink hot chocolate together. I really love this one and use it a lot.
- Take a break. If you are finding it hard to hear your child stammering because they are struggling, set them up with some toys, a game or the TV and you can have a cuppa in another room and take some time out.
- Be inspired by people who stammer. There are lots of people out there living happy and fulfilling lives with a stammer. The stamma.org website has videos of people talking about their lives and careers which are really empowering.
- Don't judge yourself for being upset. Use a journal or the support of friends to share your worries and fears. All of the emotions are allowed in these moments; you're not betraying your child.
- Do things that bring you joy — listen to music, exercise, walk in nature, look up at the moon, eat chocolate!
These were not my ideas, they were shared with me by other parents, so I owe them a big thank you. I have tried all of these ideas and at times they have been a game changer.
For me, the most important one has been finding other people who understand — through parent support meetings, online groups and charities like stamma.org. Remember: in those really low moments, there's a community that can help.
Get support from other parents via the UK Peers Support Group for Parents of Children who Stammer Facebook group.