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The Kid’s Doctor: When to worry about stuttering

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Reading aloud with your child in a slow, normal manner is beneficial to developing language skills.

By Sue Hubbard, M.D.

I received an email from a mother who is concerned about her 2 1/2-year-old daughter who has started stuttering in the last week. She asked, “Is this something to be worried about or just watch it and see?”

This is a common question from parents with preschool aged children, and it is typically most frequent between 18 months and 5 years of age. Stuttering at this age is called disfluency (or pseudo stuttering) and is quite common as children learn to speak and develop more complex speech patterns.

In many cases the stuttering occurs out of the blue, may last for several weeks and resolve; but it may return off and on during the preschool years as a child is learning more and more language. When a preschooler is stuttering, the parents usually note that the child repeats an initial sound such as “l-li-like” or “s-st-star” or the child may have frequent pauses with “um” and “er.” It is not uncommon to see this happen when a child is excited, anxious or tired.

Young children may stumble on words or sounds, and after a good night’s rest you may see an improvement. They often don’t seem to realize that they are even stuttering as their brains and mouth try to keep up with one another. Remember, they have a lot to say!

The best medicine for stuttering is for parents to reassure their child that it is OK to slow down, as sometimes it is hard to make the words correctly. A hug from Mom or Dad while they are reassuring their child is also helpful.

Practice slow and relaxed speech when you are talking to your child, and try not to rush them when they are talking even if the stuttering is bothering you. When your child asks you a question, pause before answering to also model behaviors with speaking. Reading aloud with your child in a slow, normal manner is also beneficial (I remember nights of trying to rush through those early books to and get everyone in bed!).

The best person to emulate is Mister Rogers. Think of how relaxed he always was when speaking. He never seemed as if he was hurrying for anything!

In most cases a child’s stuttering will not last more than weeks to several months and will resolve on its own. If you think the problem is increasing in severity or is causing stress and anxiety for your child, it may be time for a discussion with your pediatrician.

(Dr. Sue Hubbard is an award-winning pediatrician, medical editor and media host. “The Kid’s Doctor” TV feature can be seen on more than 90 stations across the U.S. Submit questions at http://www.kidsdr.com. The Kid’s Doctor e-book, “Tattoos to Texting: Parenting Today’s Teen,” is now available from Amazon and other e-book vendors.)