Family Life

Little I
Aug 22

A week or so ago, my two year-old daughter suddenly developed a stammer. It began one morning, completely out of the blue, and so far hasn’t left us. It took us a bit by surprise as she was an early talker and has been conversing with us in proper sentences for quite some time – so initially this seemed like a bit of a set-back. I was searching my mind for something that could have triggered it, and worryingly she’d had a nasty bash to the head the day beforehand, which despite recovering quickly from, I had the niggling worry at the back of my mind that the stammer could be connected to that (thankfully we’ve been reassured by an expert that this is highly unlikely).

Over the past week I’ve done a lot of reading on the subject, and have received some excellent advice from a speech and language therapist (SLT) based in Dorset, and so I thought it might be useful to share my findings here for any parent who finds themselves in a similar situation.

My overall learning has been that it isn’t abnormal for a child between the ages of two and four to develop a stammer. According to the British Stammering Association (BSA), it affects one child in 20. Evidence shows that in most cases children grow out of this phase, over the course of a few weeks or months. All advice that I’ve received has underlined the fact that I don’t need to worry, at least not for now (easier said than done of course!).

In my daughter’s case, she’s getting stuck on the first sound of a word. So for example she’s saying “I w…w…w…w…w…want honey on my toast please”. I’m told this is unusual. Apparently it’s more common for a child this age to get stuck on the whole word or phrase, such as “I want, I want, I want, I want honey on my toast please”.

The BSA website is a wonderful resource, and houses all of the information that a parent might need on the subject. They additionally offered me very useful information over the phone, and put me directly in contact with a local SLT so that I could self-refer my daughter, instead of going via our GP. Incidentally, although our Health Visitor was helpful, she said to leave things for six months to see if the stammer corrects itself, whereas the BSA advises that it’s far better to seek advice and possibly treatment as soon as possible in a pre-schooler.

There are certain things that a parent, childminder or nursery teacher can do to help a child who’s stammering – a comprehensive summary is available on the BSA website.

To summarise the advice that I’ve been given:

  • Slow your rate of speech when you are talking to your child. This includes when you are reading a story to her – try not to rush it.
  • When she has struggled over a sentence, show to her that you have understood her by clearly repeating back to her what she has said.
  • Don’t ask too many broad questions, such as “What would you like to do today?” Instead ask closed questions where you are modelling the language for her, such as “Would you like to go to the beach or the swing park today?” This may seem like a step backwards if your child has been answering broad questions for a while, but by altering your speech in this way you are giving her an experience of fluent speech that she can copy.
  • It’s important that she doesn’t think of herself as stammering, so be sensitive to what you say around her about the issue. Avoid labelling the difficulty as stammering. You could use expressions like “bumpy speech” or “getting stuck”, or ask her for her own words or descriptions.

We have now self-referred our daughter to a local SLT, who we’ve had a phone consultation with initially. We have been advised to make an appointment in two month’s time if there’s no improvement in the stammer, and sooner if it’s getting worse. Apparently the earliest a SLT would see a child is 2 ½.

If you have any experiences to share on the subject of stammering, please feel free to use the comments section below.

About the Author

Wendy McAuliffe

Social media & online PR consultant and trainer, and ex-journalist. Founder and Director of Populate Digital and Mum of two. Living by the sea in Bournemouth. @wendymcauliffe.

  • Clare

    Hi mummy mcauliffe, love your new bog!, I was really interested to read this article as my oldest daughter woke up one morning with a stammer soon after she turned two, we put it down to being part of her language development and it went gradually over a couple of months. However recently, just before she turned 3, it returned completely out of the blue one morning and was the same as you describe in your daughter in that she will struggle with the first letter of a word (normally her language skills are now excellent) and she will say something like, “mummy is sh sh sh sh sh she staying here, or sometimes she just cant get the word out at all. The recent stammer went after roughly a week but since turning three it has come back again. Having put it down to her language developing in the past, I am now going to get in touch with our local SLT to see what they advise.

    • wendymcauliffe

      Hi Clare, thank you for your comment. I hope you manage to get some good advice from a local SLT. Please share any useful information that you find out.

  • Katetank630

    Was just referred to this by my mom, thank you so much for posting it as my two year old has recently come down with a stammer as well.  Odd because she was so talkative and quick to develop, she was always so communicative and spoke in full sentences.. now, every first letter she repeats five or six times.  I worry, but I hope it just clears up on its own.  Good to know I’m not the only one worrying about it!

    • wendymcauliffe

      Hi Kate, I’m so pleased you have found this post useful. I wrote it almost a year ago, and I am pleased to report that my daughter’s stammer has almost completely disappeared. Occasionally it will come back, particularly when she is tired, but I am no longer worried in the way that I was. I hope your daughter’s stammer resolves itself too. It was a good few months before we noticed things improving, so don’t worry too much if it’s with you for a while. Please let us know if you come across any more knowledge or advice to add to this post!

Copyright 2014 - Mummy McAuliffe // All Rights Reserved