Many children repeat words and phrases or mispronounce words as they learn to talk. Most of the time these difficulties disappear These are not stuttering problems, but parents are often quite worried. When children are learning to speak they often repeat words and phrases.

You will notice this behavior in the 18 month to 5 year old. This repetition of words is called dysfluency or pseudostuttering. Normal dysfluency appears in 90% of children. The mind works so quickly the mouth can’t keep up. I have noticed this in a few adults too. In most situations children will mature and the dysfluency will disappear in about three months.

Many children also have a problem pronouncing words too. Normal dysarthria and mispronunciation are terms used to describe incorrect pronunciation of words. This is not true stuttering. Sounds are substituted or left out making many words hard to identify. Normal dysarthria appears in about 30% of 1 to 4 year olds. The cause of this problem is often hereditary. Unlike normal dysfluency, normal dysarthria may last years with slow, gradual improvement as the child develops. For about 90% of children who have dysarthria speech becomes completely understandable by 4 years of age. By 5 or 6 years, 95% of children can speak clearly.

True stuttering which effects only 1% of children involves repetitions of sounds, syllables, words or phrases. You can also notice hesitations and pauses in speech, absence of smooth speech flow and fear of talking. Boys are four times as likely to stutter as girls. In situations of stress, fatigue or excitement stuttering appears more frequently.

In most cases true stuttering develops when a child with normal dysfluency or dysarthria is pressured to improve and in the process becomes aware of his inadequacies. Soon the child begins to anticipate speaking poorly and struggles to correct it. The child becomes tense when he speaks and the more he tries to control his speech the worse it gets. Hereditary factors play a role in stuttering. A speech pathologist or therapist plays an important role too in the treatment of stuttering and they should be consulted if a problems appears.

Parents need to encourage conversation with their children. Sit down and talk with your child. Keep the subject matter pleasant and interesting. Avoid asking the child to recite or perform verbally. Keep speaking time low-key.

Don’t correct your child’s speech. Avoid expressing disapproval. Avoid saying “Don’t stutter” or “Think before you speak”. This is your child’s normal speech and is not controllable.

Avoid interrupting their and give them time to finish what they are trying to say. Don’t complete their sentences and try to prevent their sisters and brothers from doing it too. Leave a few seconds between finishing their sentence and beginning yours.

Try not to force your child to repeat themselves or starting over. Listen closely and only ask them to repeat themselves unless it appears very important. Its OK to guess what they said sometimes rather than force them to repeat themselves. Don’t ask them to repeat a certain sound or word. This just makes them feel more self conscious.

Don’t ask your child to slow down. A rushed rate of speed is a temporary phase and can’t be change by a parent’s request. Model a relaxed rate of speech.

Don’t label your child a stutterer. Labels tend to be self-fulfilling prophecies. Don’t allow your children to mimic or tease the stutterer.

Ask other adults who spend time with your child to follow your examples as I have described them. Consistency sends the right message to your child.

When to seek help? If your child appears to stutter and is over 5 years old. If there are facial grimaces or tics. If your child is fearful or self-conscious about his speech. The family has a history of stuttering. If your child has said no words by 18 months or no sentences by 2½ years. If the speech is totally unintelligible by 2 years of age. If he is 3 years old and only half what he says is understandable.

Last reviewed April 22, 2010