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My Toddler or Preschooler is Stuttering. Should I Worry?

by Vannessa Rhoades 15 Jun 2023
My Toddler or Preschooler is Stuttering. Should I Worry?

As your little one develops and starts talking more and more, you may start to notice them tripping over certain words and phrases. Understandably, this leads many parents to worry about stuttering. Stuttering is a speech problem in which the regular flow of speech is disrupted. A child who stutters repeats or stretches sounds, syllables, or words. Chronic stuttering in toddlers and preschoolers is different from simply repeating words when learning to speak. So as a parent, how can you tell when a child’s speech is developmentally normal and when you may need to seek help?

Typical and Atypical Speech Disfluencies

It’s common to see certain types of speech disfluencies (involuntary disruptions in the flow of speech) in young children. The American Academy of Pediatricians (AAP) reports that approximately 5% of all kids are inclined to show some speech disfluencies between 2 ½ to 5 years of age. These disruptions can come and go for no obvious reason but may be more observable when the child feels excited, fatigued, or in a hurry. 

Children this age are developing their vocabularies quickly and discovering how to create more complex sentence structures. A young toddler’s message (“Daddy snack.”) eventually evolves into more elaborate phrasing that requires more advanced motor skills to execute fluently (“Daddy give snack to me.”) Consequently, you’ll notice some inherent disfluencies as they progress and grow. In other words, stuttering in toddlers age 3 or so, for example, is quite normal and doesn’t necessarily warrant concern.

Reading aloud presents books as sources of enjoyable, useful, and fun experiences. Children who learn to value books are more inspired to read on their own. Their vocabularies grow larger, their background knowledge expands, and they can better understand the world and their place within it. Tonies® uses audio storytelling to introduce pre-readers and developing readers to the wonders of narrative long before children can read the words in a book. The Toniebox kids’ speaker is designed specifically for young children to operate easily, independently, and safely without adult supervision. Thanks to its simple controls, even three-year-olds can use it.


How to Know Whether It’s Actually Stuttering

When it comes to stuttering in preschoolers and toddlers, most speech disruptions and disfluencies will eventually resolve on their own. In some instances, however, the disfluencies become more noticeable. Seeking early intervention from a professional is the best chance to minimize stuttering. So how do you spot the difference between what’s typical and what’s not? Here’s a look at some common disfluencies and different types of stuttering in toddlers and preschoolers according to the AAP.

Typical (Will Eventually Go Away)

Atypical (May Be Stuttering)

Repetition of phrases and entire words (“She ate – she ate it,” or “If – if you do it.”)

Repetition of specific syllables or sounds (“Wh-wh-where are we going?”)

Using interjections such as “um” or “like” or “uh”

Prolonging sounds (“Sssssstay with me.”)

Child is comfortable, relaxed when speaking

Child seems to physically struggle to make a sound or may be unable to speak; may show frustration or react negatively when speaking

No troublesome behaviors while speaking

Speaking difficulties may be accompanied by other noticeable mannerisms, like blinking, tapping, throat clearing, or avoiding eye contact

Stuttering lasts less than 6 months

Stuttering lasts longer than 6 months

Risk Factors for Stuttering:

There are several characteristics that may indicate whether there is a greater likelihood for speech disfluencies to last beyond a few months. A family history of stuttering is the greatest predictor of whether your child may be likely to experience it. Boys are twice as likely as girls to experience speech disfluencies, with that likelihood increasing to three to four times by elementary school. Children who struggle with other speech or language disorders may also be more inclined to stutter.

How to Treat Stuttering in Preschoolers and Toddlers

If you suspect your child may be struggling with a stutter, ask their pediatrician about scheduling a complete evaluation from a certified speech-language pathologist to help determine the best treatment. The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) features a searchable database of these professionals on its website. You can also find a specialist who treats stuttering on the American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorder website

Early intervention is key when it comes to improving a stutter. There are two primary methods commonly used:

  • Direct treatment, in which a specialist works directly with the child (individually or in a small group) to teach them techniques for relieving stress during stuttering episodes and ways to ease into words. It may also include assisting the child in distinguishing between smooth (fluent) and bumpy (stuttered) speech.
  • Indirect treatment, in which the specialist guides the child’s caregivers on ways to alter their own communication style. This can be incredibly useful in eliminating or improving stuttering for many kids. 

Tips for Parents

There are a number of ways parents can help their children manage or improve a stutter.

  • Create a calm and comfortable atmosphere to communicate with your child.
  • Allocate some time to engage in conversation with your child.
  • Encourage your child to discuss enjoyable and effortless topics with you.
  • Avoid negative reactions and instead praise your child for using correct speech.
  • Refrain from interrupting your child while he or she is speaking.
  • Speak at a slow pace to assist your child in doing the same.
  • Give your child your full attention when he or she is speaking.
  • Allow your child to complete their own sentences without intervening.
  • If your child mentions stuttering, discuss it openly.
  • Educate your child's teachers and help establish a school environment that is inclusive and safe from bullying.

The Takeaway

Trust your instincts. If you have concerns about your child’s speech, talk to your pediatrician or request a referral for additional testing. Before your visit, write down questions you want answered. Share your family history of speech and language disorders with your healthcare provider. To find out more about stuttering and how to help your child, call or visit the Stuttering Foundation of America at 800-992-9392.

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