Take it slow…have fun…and happy talking!!!!There are several things parents can do at home to help facilitate fluent speech. Below is a list of simple techniques you can try to help support your child who stutters.
1. Listen Attentively: For persons who stutter, when they feel they are not being listened to or that what they have to say, needs to “fit” in their communication partners timeframe, a sense of anxiety builds. The race is on to get those words out as quickly as possible. The problem with that is the faster a person who stutters tries to talk the more dysflent they tend to become. So listen attentively to your child and give him/her as much time as needed to get their messge across.
2. Quiet time activities: There are times when your household is just to hectic (e.g. in the morning before getting ready for school, or right before dinner just as mom or dad gets home from work) or loud for you to listen attentively to your child. Sometimes there are just too many things you as a parent need to do and cannot give your child your full attention. When that happens, set your child up with “quiet time activities” for him/her to do and remind him/her that you will have time and WANT to listen to that story at a later time(be specific-e.g. “when I am done cleaning the dishes”, or “in the car on the way to school” or “at the dinner tabel”, etc.).
3. Listen to your child’s thoughts NOT his/her speech: Sometimes, once we as parents notice our child’s dysfluencies we tend to notice nothing else when he/she is talking. This is a hard skill to learn, but try very hard to listen to what your child is trying to say rather than the way he/she says it. When you do this, you send a message that you are interested in what your child is saying and his/her thoughts ARE important. The more your child’s messages are understood and acknowledged, he/she will feel more and more successful when talking. Success leads to courage and that courage will result in feeling less embarrassed when “talking” even if he/she is using dysluencies.
4. Speak Slowly: We as adults struggle with slowing our rate of speech, however according to research, parents use of a slower rate of speech is the BEST way to facilitate fluent speech in their children. You can do this by slowing down your production of sounds, holding out sounds longer than what you would typically do, and smoothly move from the last sound of one word into the first sound of the next word. You want to change your rate of speech not only when you are talking to your child but whenever you are talking AROUND/NEAR your child! This can be so very difficult for us as parents but if you make a conscious effort to slow your rate of speech, your child will learn that they too can control their speech rate and that once again, there is no urgency with which they need to express their message.
5. Use pauses: The general rule of thumb is: anyplace a comma, semi-colon, colon, or period could go in your utterance (if you were writing it down), pause for a second longer than what you typically would do. This illustrates for your child that he/she can pause in their utterances to retrieve the correct word and organize their utterances without needs to speed up their rate of speech. Again, this technique reduces the pressure and anxiety you child might typically feel to get his/her words “out”!
6. Don’t Interrupt: If there is one technique I could stress in this list it would be this one! Please, please DON’T interrupt your child OR try to help him/her out by “finishing” their sentences! When your child is interrupted or when his/her statements are “finished” for them, the feeling is that what they have to say is unimportant or that you just don’t have the time to talk to them so you need to finish their statements and move on. This type of behavior creates anxiety and stress and when you child attempts to speak again, that anxiety will be with him/her and will affect fluency even if that time you are listening attentively to what he/she has to say. So please do NOT interrupt. If you feel the need to finish your child’s sentences, ignore it and remember that what you are doing now can give your child positive feelings about communicating verbally in the future!
7. Silence is OK: By adding more silence in your daily routine, you teach your child that he/she does not have to fill up every day with talking. It is ok to be quiet some times. Quiet time during the day also helps rest your child’s brain and articulators so that when he/she is ready to share something with you, fatigue is not a factor in communicating.
8. Avoid Open-Ended Questions: Avoid asking your child questions that require long explanations or narratives (e.g. “What did you do in school today?) and stick to simpler more concrete questions (e.g. “What did you enjoy better today, recess or art?” or “What would you like for lunch tomorrow, ham and cheese sandwich or egg salad?”). The more pressure your child feels to create a long narrative to answer questions, the more dysfluencies he/she may exhibit. You want speaking to be successful, positive experience. If complexity of language needs to be reduced to create this positive experience, so be it.
9. Prepare your child for changes in routine and reduce language demands: You may have noticed that when your child is more excited or tired, frequency of dysfluencies will increase. At this time you want to reduce the language demands on your child. You can do this by allowing him/her to have quiet time, time to re-energize and give his/her articulators a rest, asking simple concrete questions, and if you must converse, carry most of the conversation yourself, reducing the stress of talking on your child. Prepare you child in advance (either through schedules or reminders) of changes in his/her routine. Encourage good sleep patterns (particularly the night before a more tiring day) and remind other adults to reduce the language demand on your child during times of excitement or fatigue.
10. Talk openly about stuttering: Reduce the stigma and embarrassment by talking openly and honsetly about stuttering. Too many times parents think if they talk about stuttering, it will alert their child to the fact that he/she does stutter and will increase embarrassement. So they tend to avoid the topic completely and act as if nothing is wrong. The problem with that approach is that your child is already aware of their dysfluencies. They know they don’t “talk like everybody else” and you NOT addressing it actually increases embarrassement for your child. Your child begins to feel that their dysfluencies are SO disgraceful that you as their parent CAN’T even talk about it. The shame that builds from words unspoken can signficantly affect your child’s feelings about communication for years to come.
11. Don’t expect a performance: As parents we are so proud of all the things our children learn that we sometimes ask them to perform these skills unexpectently and to people they might otherwise see as strangers. So for the time being, avoid asking your child to perform in this manner and decrease undue stress and anxeity.
12. One on One time: Everyday it is important to set aside some one on one time with your child who stutters (its a great idea for every child but if you can’t do it for all at the very least for your at risk child). 15-20 minutes is more than enough undivided attention to devote to your child for the purpose of letting him/her communicate thoughts and feelings without any urgency or pressure of others around him/her. Make sure you do this when your child is NOT overly tired or excited as these are times being fluent is difficult for your child. Pick a special time (maybe right after dinner, etc.) where you can sit down together and talk or be silent. The point of this time is to tell your child you are there for them if they want to talk but there is not pressure to fill the time with noise.
AND FINALLY…MAYBE THE MOST IMPORTANT STRATEGY THE WHOLE FAMILY CAN DO….
13. Make some ground rules: Every family should have some ground rules. For those families with children who stutter a few good rules are:
1. Only one person talks at a time
2. We speak only when that person is finshed (hold our thoughts in our heads until it is out turn)
3. No judgments or comments will be made on the way someone said something (meaning, no “jokes” or snide remarks about stuttering)