Meet Tash, who has a series of videos on our YouTube channel with advice for friends, teachers and parents of children who stammer.
Are you looking for some tips on how to manage your stammer? Or do you need advice supporting your child or a young person? There are many common misconceptions about stammering that you might face in daily life and it’s often tricky to understand how to tackle them. On this page we aim to provide you with some basic tips about managing your stammer, or how to support someone you know who stammers.
People in general who don’t know about stammering will try and finish your sentences for you. The majority of people want to finish their own sentences.
Sometimes people do try and hurry me up. It’s worse when I’m put on the spot because it makes it feel like everyone’s watching me.
People make me happier and more confident if they encourage me. They can encourage me by saying nice things, saying things that I can do.
You may have found that you can do things which help your talking. Here are some ideas from children who have attended the Michael Palin Centre. When you are getting stuck with your talking:
- Try to take your time rather than rushing
- Speak a bit more slowly
- Say what you want to say
- Be patient with yourself and say what you want to say
- Pause for a moment before you start to speak
- Don’t always expect the worst – sometimes it goes well
- Remember to congratulate yourself for trying things out
- Try to have a go at things
- Don’t force the words – it just makes them harder to say
- Get plenty of sleep
- Give yourself a few treats
- The faster you try to speak the less you will manage to say
- Try not to bottle out!
- Talk about it rather than trying to hide it
Maybe you have tried some ideas and found them helpful.
Remember, you can’t do all of these things all of the time – perhaps you could pick one you know works and try to do it a little more often, or perhaps try a new one!
Below you can find lots of good advice for young people who stammer:
• More haste, less speech
• People are more interested in what you have to say than how you are saying it
• Make a list of the things you are good at
• Notice other people’s communication skills, no one is perfect!
• You can’t mind-read – imagining the worst doesn’t help
• Notice the colour of people’s eyes when you talk to them. This will help you to maintain eye contact
• You can help others feel relaxed. Smile and try to look relaxed (even if your stomach is all knots and butterflies)
• To stop people asking you questions ask them something first (e.g. “where do you live, work, go to school etc?”)
• The harder you try not to stammer, the worse it gets – go with the flow
• Use pauses to give yourself time
• Try to talk about your stammer to someone today
• Mention the stammer in passing as if you are not concerned about it!
• Notice those things that seem to help and do some more
• Praise yourself for having a go at something you usually avoid
• Noticing something you have done well is better than self-criticism
• Be fair to yourself
• Try to avoid self-talk which includes ‘I must’ and ‘I should’ – try ‘I might have a go’ and ‘I could try to’
• Set one small but achievable goal today – and pat yourself on the back
• Notice the times when you stammer less, rather than concentrating on when it is worse
• Don’t start speaking until you are ready
• Say a little more than you usually do
• When you mind less about your stammering, you often stammer less too
• Smile a bit more; this will help others feel relaxed
• Feel the fear and do it anyway!
• Worrying about what others might be thinking is very unhelpful – you could be wrong
• Can you really read other peoples’ minds? Do you really know what other people think about your speech?
• Do most people know you stammer? Try not to hide it from them
• Is everyone nasty about stammering? Or are some people just nasty?
- It can be uncomfortable listening to a person whose speech is disrupted by a stammer but try to show you are at ease and are ready to listen
- Avoid guessing the word or finishing sentences – it is very tempting, but you may get it wrong or it may just make the person feel cross!
- Use normal eye contact – this doesn’t mean fixed staring! We all glance around when we are talking to each other but make sure you also look at the person while you are listening to them
- Listen to what is being said, not how it is being said
- Try to show that you are not in a hurry – a sense of urgency builds tension
- If you are a fast speaker, this adds pressure and speeds up conversations – monitor your own rate of talking and “change gear” if you need to
When talking to a young child who stammers
- If you think that a child may be stammering, it is really important to discuss this with the parents/carers
- Don’t tell the child to “slow down” or to ” take a deep breath” – the former is too hard for a young child and the latter can become part of the problem
- Having discussed it with the parents/carers, if the child is aware of the problem then it may be useful to mention it thoughtfully; for example: “That was a hard word to say – but well done, you tried your best”
- You might try to talk more slowly. Rapid conversations increase the pressure on a child who stammers and this can make it more difficult for them to be fluent
- Try to show that you are not in a huge hurry; you have time and will listen. If you don’t, then say so… “I really want to hear what you have to say, but I have to make this phone call now – can we talk later?” Make sure you remember your promise!
- Praise the child for the things that he is doing well – without focusing on their talking
- Try not to ask lots of questions, one after another. One question is enough – and give the child time to reply
- Children who stammer often stammer more on long, difficult sentences. Be a good model and keep your sentences uncomplicated
- Listen to what is being said, not how it is being said
Parents may notice that their child sometimes stammers and at other times speaks fluently. Can you see a pattern to this? When do they seem to be more fluent? For some children this seems to be when they are calm, not rushing and not competing with others. This may be in a one-to-one speaking situation. What do you think helps them to speak more fluently? Your instincts about this are probably right – if you feel they need to be giving themselves more time, or calming down, it is highly likely that these things would help.
You may have noticed that their speech is less fluent when they are excited or in a hurry, when they are trying to explain something complicated, when they are tired or ill or when normal routines have changed. Again, following your instincts about how to help them is usually the best approach. If you think they need to get more sleep, get back into a routine or stop rushing around, then making changes in these areas may help their speech.
Think about what you already know about your child and what seems to affect their fluency and try making a few changes that you think might be helpful.
Here are a few general ideas which you may wish to consider:
- Having a short (5 minutes) one-to-one time with your child on a regular basis, when you are both calm and not in a rush and you are not likely to be interrupted
- Thinking about your child’s general well-being, their sleeping and eating habits, their health and their pace of life
- Looking at your family’s conversations – are you letting each other finish what you want to say? Is anybody hogging all the talking time? Do you interrupt each other when trying to speak?
- Building your child’s confidence by focusing on what they are doing well and praising them for this
- Thinking about your child’s language and whether they are trying to use sophisticated words and sentences to express themselves. What kind of language are people using when they talk to them?
Telling someone with a stammer to hurry up is very counterproductive. If a child tries to speak faster they are likely to stammer more and a vicious cycle sets in. The added pressure of being told to hurry will make him feel stressed, which can make the stammer worse still. When children are able to keep calm and take their time they are more likely to be able to express themselves freely.
For some children who stammer, the prospect of speaking in front of a group can be terrifying. And the fact that they are very nervous can make the stammer worse. Their whole body becomes tense, their breathing is affected and the more they try to get their words out the more they get stuck.
There will always be difficult situations in which people who stammer simply have to break. But when we are aware that someone has a stammer we can help to reduce the pressure on them by not forcing them to speak if they don’t want to, and by giving them the time to speak if they do.
Something that upsets children and young people the most about how other people react to their stammer is ‘people finishing off my sentences for me.’ Understandably parents and friends are desperate to help if a child is struggling to get their words out, but children who stammer generally don’t find it helpful when other people speak for them.
A child who stammers wants you to wait until they have finished their own sentence, no matter how long it takes. Other people finishing their sentences for them can make the situation worse, especially if they get it wrong and they have to start again.
Very occasionally a child may say, if they are really struggling, that they don’t mind if one of their parents help them out with a word – as long as they are very sure that they know which word they are trying to say. However, it is very important to ask your child if they want you to do this. It is nearly always best to let the child get their own words out, no matter how long it takes. The more they opt out, the more they will feel they cannot speak for themselves. The more they try, the more their confidence will grow.
It can be hard to listen if a child is taking longer to say something. There are often other things or people demanding our attention at the same time. On the other hand, we cannot always stop what we are doing to give a child who stammers our undivided attention. This is unrealistic and unfair on other children. It is about getting the right balance. Sometimes parents will be able to listen carefully just when the child has something to say. Sometimes they need to say, ‘I can’t listen to you now, can we chat when this is done?’ Sometimes the child who stammers will have to wait their turn while other children have their say.
We all like to be listened to, and when the child who stammers has their parent’s full attention they will probably feel calmer and able to speak more fluently. They also need to see that this has to fit in with the rest of the demands of family life.
Children and young people who stammer want to be given the same opportunities and choices as everyone else. They want to be invited to take part in school and social activities. Parents and teachers sometimes assume that because a child has a speech impediment they won’t want to join in activities that involve speaking, but it’s important they are given the chance to participate in activities that they’ll enjoy and that will build their confidence.
Some children take a while to get their words out and there can be long silences while they’re trying to speak. It’s important to maintain eye contact and to really listen to the child, rather than act like you are listening.
Children who stammer may become very sensitised to our response, and they can see form our facial expressions if we’re bored, impatient or embarrassed. When they know we are listening they will feel more accepted and less pressurised.