Given that stammering generally emerges in early childhood, it is likely that you will come across a child who starts to stammer in the EYFS. Approximately 5 in 100 children may stammer; often coinciding with the rapid development of language skills. 1% of the adult population stammers, so we can assume that 4 of those 5 will ‘grow out of it.’ However, given that we can’t predict which will be the one child who doesn’t, it’s always best to refer to a speech and language therapist (SLT) for advice as early intervention is important for all of these children, especially if:
- There is a family history of stammering
- The stammer is impacting on the child (or parent's) wellbeing.
- There are associated physical movements with the stammer (screwing up the face or stamping their feet)
- The stammer tends to be tense and 'forced' rather than relaxed repetitions.
Opening up two-way communication with the child’s parents is really important. If a parent comes in worrying that their child has started to stammer, then advising them to speak to an SLT can help alleviate their concerns.
The 3 top techniques that support a young child who stammers in your early years setting are actually good techniques for all children in general:
- Create positive opportunities for communication
Children are less likely to stammer when singing, reciting rhymes, or when speaking in pairs. They are also less likely to stammer if they have already heard the language they want to use. So, a forced-choice question like “would you like the green spider or the red car?” is a good option rather than asking “which one do you want?”
- Boost their confidence and self esteem
Not only in their talking, but also in their everyday activities. Being specific (e.g. good tidying there – that was really helpful) can then lead you on to praising their talking. It’s so easy to only focus on when they are stammering, that it’s important we take time to ‘catch them’ being smooth. “That was really smooth talking there – fantastic!”
- Give them time
Telling a child to slow down, is like telling an adult to calm down when they are mid-rant – it doesn’t work! But if you model an unhurried rate of talking yourself and give them plenty of time to reply, they’ll feel less in need to rush, helping them to be more fluent. Maintaining eye contact and waiting for them to finish their sentence will help them to feel you value what they are saying rather than how they are saying it. It’s no bad thing to encourage ‘thinking time’ for all children before they answer a question or take their time to talk.
For more information and advice on how to help the child who is stammering, visit the British Stammering Association or the Michael Palin Centre’s websites. They are full of advice for parents, professionals, students and adults. Both sites agree that there is no ‘cure’ as such for stammering but supporting a child early on can provide them with approaches and techniques which will help them to speak more fluently.
And here's an infographic I made previously: