Support for Parents

If you’re reading this section then you’re probably worried about a child or young person that stammers and what you can do to help them.

We know that parents never cause stammering, however, we understand how confusing it can be when your child begins to show signs of having one. The reasons why a child starts to stammer can be complex and these are different for each child, so understanding why they stammer is the first step towards identifying what you can do. Approximately 5% of children stammer when they are young. This can be a very worrying time for parents, but there are lots of things that you can do to help.

In this section you can find useful facts, tips and information about stammering.  However, if you would like further information, simply contact our helpline run by the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children.  Just click on the ‘Need to Talk?’ icon at the top of the page.

Stammering Facts
Tips
Case Studies
Helpful videos
Wait! I'm not finished yet
Things not to say to someone who stammers

Can you relate to these common misconceptions about stammering?

My Stammering Tap

By Hear In Hull – A City of Culture Creative Communities Project

An animation produced by young people in Hull, explaining what is is like to have a stammer.

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Contact us

HELPLINE: 020 3316 8110

CHARITY: 020 3316 8113

EMAIL: info@stammeringchildren.org

THE MICHAEL PALIN CENTRE WEBSITE

www.whittington.nhs.uk/default.asp?c=23361

www.stammeringcentre.org

Parents' FAQs

What causes it?

Over the centuries, there have been countless theories about possible causes of stammering and there are researchers across the world who are trying to find out exactly what makes one child more vulnerable than another. Recently there has been growing evidence that genetics plays an important part, but not in all families.

Every child is unique. We use this diagram below to help understand the factors that might explain why a child starts to stammer, how the stammer changes over time, why children stammer more or less in particular circumstances and the impact that it has on the child and family. Everyone is born with their own physical ‘make-up’ and as we grow and develop, everyday experiences shape our personal characteristics, our strengths and our vulnerabilities. Each individual who stammers will probably have a different combination or ‘loading’ of these factors and these can change over time. The diagram below shows some examples of the factors that might be important for a child.

It can also be that this framework does not seem to fit; sometimes there seems to be absolutely no reason at all why a particular child continues to stammer. It is complicated and we will take each section in turn.

When does it begin?

Parents often tell us that their child started stammering around the time their language skills were developing.  This is typically between the ages of two and five years, although stammering can start later.

Stammering usually starts in childhood, often between the ages of 2 – 5 years coinciding with the rapid development of new physical and mental skills. In particular, the child is learning many new words, beginning to use longer sentences, expressing new ideas and asking lots of questions.

Stammering is different from other early speech and language problems because it can start at different stages in a child’s life.

For some it starts gradually – it comes and goes and seems to be a part of a child’s natural attempts to use more and more words. While for other children it can begin quite suddenly, sometimes almost overnight, and sometimes quite severely.

This can be very worrying indeed, for both the child and for their family. And, in some cases, it can disappear just as quickly, within days or months.

If you are concerned, it is best to seek advice early. Don’t be put off by the “don’t worry” school of thought. We all know that telling ourselves not to worry is usually unhelpful. Practical help is what is needed, which is what we are trying to offer here.

Parents often tell us that their child started stammering around the time their language skills were developing.  This is typically between the ages of two and five years, although stammering can start later.

Stammering usually starts in childhood, often between the ages of 2 – 5 years coinciding with the rapid development of new physical and mental skills. In particular, the child is learning many new words, beginning to use longer sentences, expressing new ideas and asking lots of questions.

Stammering is different from other early speech and language problems because it can start at different stages in a child’s life.

For some it starts gradually – it comes and goes and seems to be a part of a child’s natural attempts to use more and more words. While for other children it can begin quite suddenly, sometimes almost overnight, and sometimes quite severely.

This can be very worrying indeed, for both the child and for their family. And, in some cases, it can disappear just as quickly, within days or months.

If you are concerned, it is best to seek advice early. Don’t be put off by the “don’t worry” school of thought. We all know that telling ourselves not to worry is usually unhelpful. Practical help is what is needed, which is what we are trying to offer here.

Has it got anything to do with a child's personality?

It is often assumed that people who stammer are shy or nervous. In actual fact, this is not true. Children and adults who stammer have exactly the same range of personality types as everyone else. However, stammering can affect a person’s self-esteem and confidence in some situations – and shyness or reticence may be the result of the stammering.

Many parents also describe their child as being overly sensitive, or a worrier or that he sets himself high standards. Although these traits do not cause the stammer, a child who is more sensitive to their stammering and more anxious about making mistakes may become upset when they can’t say what they want to say. Conversely, a child who is more laid-back and relaxed about life may not be so affected by moments of hesitancy or “bumpy talking”.

Genetics or inheritance

Here we are talking about the characteristics that the person is born with. Sometimes we read about “nature versus nurture”, the crossing point between what is inherited and the environment within which we are brought up.

For example, it can sometimes be quite easy to guess where eye colour or height came from with our own parents and grandparents. It is not so easy to explain personality traits, although you do hear people saying “stubborn, just like his grandad”! Character is probably a mixture of both “nature” and “nurture”.

Stammering also seems to be a mixture of both nature and nurture. For some there is a definite genetic link, a blood relative who has had or still has a stammer. It is becoming clearer that many children do inherit a vulnerability to stammering. At the Michael Palin Centre, more than half of the children we see have a blood relative who has either stammered in the past or continues to stammer. While researchers are trying to find out more about the genetic links, it will be many years before the picture is fully understood – or whether this will help us to decide which therapy is best for a particular child.

How does stammering affect a child?

Children are affected in different ways. Some are not very concerned, while others can be very aware of a difficulty with their talking and get cross or upset. Some may show signs of struggling with their words and frustration with their inability to say what they want to say.

The amount of stammering that the child is experiencing is not necessarily linked to their level of awareness or concern about it. For some children, a seemingly mild stammer can have a big impact on their lifestyle, while for others an apparently severe level of stammering doesn’t seem to hold them back in the least.

Has it got anything to do with gender?

Boys are more vulnerable – we don’t know why, but boys are more at risk of other speech, language and literacy problems too.

Social and environmental factors

Throughout this website we emphasise that parents and families do not cause a child to stammer.  However a child’s environment is important as there are lots of things you can do to help.

Daily lifestyles, events, experiences, attitudes, and behaviours that occur at home and school do have an impact on all children in all sorts of ways, and for children who stammer this will include their fluency.

Most families’ daily lives are busy and demanding. There is so much to organize and to remember: full schedules of activities, clothes to find, mealtimes, bedtimes, appointments, school timetables, homework and social lives! There are constant demands and pressures, fun times and conflicts, anxieties and health worries – all normal parts of everyday life.

Some children who stammer may find it difficult to keep up the same pace, or keep trying to get in ahead of others.

However, the fact is that stammering and a fast pace do not go well together.

As adults, our task is to notice and understand the usual pace of life in the child’s environment and decide what can’t be changed and then try, where possible, to adjust those aspects which can be sensibly controlled or modified.

So:

  • If everyone talks at once and at a rapid rate, the child may try to match it
  • If everyone uses very complicated language, the child may try to copy
  • If certain situations are demanding, the child may feel pressured

None of these is easy when you are also stammering.

The view that the environment plays an important role in a child’s stammering is supported by valuable clinical evidence which shows that helping families to notice what they are already doing that helps their child to be more fluent and doing more of this – can be really helpful for their stammering. Small changes can make a big difference to supporting the child’s fluency.

Can parents cause stammering?

Definitely not!

As parents, we all start to assume that everything we do is potentially wrong for our children, with guilt and worrying seeming to start as soon as the baby is born! There is apparently an innate drive that makes us all aim to be perfect parents, demanding that we are able to get it right.

This misconception about parents causing stammering seems to be related to some old, poor-quality research. An American speech pathologist (who had a stammer himself) developed a theory that the problem was caused by “highly anxious” parents labelling the normal hesitancies of developing speech as stuttering. Worse still, it was suggested that parents’ “negative reaction” to their child’s speech then caused the child to struggle to stop these moments of disjointed speech and that it was this effort that created the stammering.

There have now been countless research studies investigating whether parents of children who stammer do react or interact differently with these children – and the answer is quite clear:

Parents don’t cause stammering!

If I draw attention to it, will I make it worse?

By talking about it calmly and naturally in the same way that you would talk about any other problem, you will prevent it becoming a taboo subject. By reassuring your child that it’s ok and that we all get stuck sometimes, you won’t make it worse.

A quiet acceptance and acknowledgement can make your child feel better. The message you want to convey to the child is that what they are doing is not unusual and that it’s part of the learning process. You want to convey the feeling of “I do understand”, “I am listening to you” and “I can help”.

How much more confusing and upsetting for a child is it when no one seems to be helping them with a problem they are struggling with? Imagine what’s going through their heads! “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t I talk properly?” “What am I doing wrong?” “Why aren’t they saying or doing something?”

Does stammering change over time?

Stammering can change daily and from situation to situation and looking for signs that it is getting worse will increase your anxiety – and maybe the whole family’s. Trying to notice what the child is doing well is more helpful.

If you notice changes in your child’s speech it may be his or her attempt to speak more fluently. Throughout childhood, the range of speaking situations that a child encounters will increase and his or her awareness of the problem may be growing as a result. It becomes even more important to pay attention to the times when the speech is more fluent and notice what it is about those situations which seems to be helpful.

How can I get help?

It is important to seek help if you are worried that your child might be stammering. 

Finding your local speech & language therapy services

If you are worried about your child’s fluency you should contact your local speech and language therapy service as soon as possible to arrange an appointment for an assessment.

Most local NHS Services or Health Boards will have a speech and language therapy service. It should be possible to contact the manager and request information about their local team. Some Trusts have a ‘direct access’ policy which means you can refer your child directly to the local speech and language therapist. You could also call in at your local health centre to get the information you need about contacting your local speech and language therapist.

Your child’s school may be able to help too. Some schools have speech and language therapists who visit on a regular basis, or the head teacher may have a contact telephone number.

Some Trusts have speech and language therapists who specialise in working with children who stammer and you may be referred to that person.

GP or Health Visitor

GPs and Health Visitors will also have the information you need to find out about local speech and language therapy services.

Help from the Michael Palin Centre

There are a number of ways that you can seek help for your child from the Michael Palin Centre:

Referral by speech and language therapist: If you have a local speech and language therapist, you can ask for a referral to The Michael Palin Centre, which is a specialist or ‘tertiary’ centre. Children are referred to us from all over the UK for a free consultation service, which offers a specialist assessment, advice and treatment recommendations for each family. Your local speech and language therapist will be invited to attend the appointment too.

Referral by GP:  You can ask your GP to write a letter of referral for a free specialist assessment.

Referral by parent: If you do not have a local speech and language therapist or there is no local service for children who stammer of your child’s age, you can contact the Michael Palin Centre directly. Please find the information to do so here.

Tel: 020 3316 8110

Email: mpc.admin@nhs.net

As soon as a referal is received, your child’s name is put on a waiting list and you will receive information about the assessment. You can always telephone to check the waiting time for an appointment. The appointment letter will usually be sent out 6 weeks in advance to try to give sufficient time for you to organise your visit.

 

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