Stuttering in children: Is it normal?

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Stuttering in children: Is it normal?

Question

My 5-year-old son has started stuttering. Is this normal? Could it be a sign of anxiety?

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Answer

Many children go through a stage of development when they stutter. This often occurs between the ages of 2 and 5 and may last for several weeks or months. Most children outgrow their stuttering without treatment. But for some, the stuttering progresses from simple repetition of consonants and syllables to repetition of words and phrases. It's difficult to predict in advance which children will develop persistent stuttering.

The cause of stuttering isn't clear. It does tend to run in families. But the extent to which genetics plays a role is unknown. Stuttering is not caused by:

  • Parenting style
  • Psychological problems or trauma; however, a small study published in 2006 suggests that children who have trouble controlling their emotions may be more likely to stutter
  • Stress — although this may worsen an existing stutter

Although parenting style doesn't cause stuttering, your reaction to your child's stuttering may increase your child's anxiety about it and affect the degree to which the problem persists. Some tips for parents from the Stuttering Foundation of America and the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association include:

  • Listen to what your child says, not how he or she says it.
  • Speak with your child in an unhurried way, pausing frequently. Television's Mr. Rogers is a good example of this style of speech. Unhurried speech gives your child a chance to respond. It also shows that you're not impatient or annoyed with the stuttering.
  • Don't interrupt or complete your child's sentences.
  • Maintain eye contact with your child when he or she speaks.
  • Set aside a few minutes each day when you're doing nothing else but listening to your child talk about whatever he or she wants to talk about.

If you're concerned about your child's speech, talk to your doctor. He or she may refer you to a speech therapist.

Last Updated: 07/10/2006
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