When Does Stuttering In Young Children Become A Problem?

by | Jan 7, 2014

‘B-b-b-but m-m-m-mummy…’ I often hear my daughter say.

This has been concerning me for some time now. Is it a problem, or is it something she is going to grow out of? We have a noisy household and with two other siblings around, it’s often difficult to have your say. You have to speak quickly and loudly in order to get a word in edgeways sometimes and this can be difficult if your young mind is working faster than your mouth can. But the alarm bells are ringing because my daughter is approaching her seventh birthday and I feel that her stuttering is becoming a more frequent occurrence.

It is not uncommon for children between the ages of two and four to stutter (or stammer, as it is also known). Early speech and language development involves not only learning a vast amount of vocabulary and grammar, but also involves control and coordination of facial muscles as well as acquiring listening skills. However, any prolonged periods of stuttering are usually outgrown by the time a child reaches the age of five.

It is not known exactly what causes a person to stutter, but it is thought that there are genetic links. Some children stutter as a result of delays in speech, language and cognitive development. It is also thought that stuttering can occur when a different area of the brain is used to process speech.

What are the signs and when should you be concerned?

I found this questionnaire, created by the Stuttering Foundation of America. It is made up of ten questions, designed to aid parents who are concerned about their child’s speech development.

1. Does your child repeat parts of words rather than whole words or entire phrases, for example ‘b-b-b-banana’?
2. Does your child repeat sounds more than once every 8 to 10 sentences?
3. Does your child have more than two repetitions, for example ‘a-a-a-a-apple’ instead of ‘a-a-apple’?
4. Does your child seem frustrated or embarrassed when he or she has trouble with a word?
5. Has your child been stammering for more than six months?
6. Does your child raise the pitch of their voice, blink their eyes, look to the side or show physical tension in the face when stammering?
7. Does your child use extra words or sounds like ‘uh’, ‘um’ or ‘well’ to get a word started?
8. Does your child sometimes get stuck so badly that no sound at all comes out for several seconds when they try to talk?
9. Does your child sometimes use extra body movements, like tapping their finger, to get sounds out?
10. Does your child avoid talking, use substitute words or stop talking in the middle of a sentence because they are worried they may stammer?

The more of these questions you answer ‘yes’ to, the more likely it is that your child has a stammer and may benefit from a referral to a speech and language therapist.

I can answer ‘yes’ to five of these questions regarding my daughter. But what I don’t understand is that she doesn’t stutter consistently. There are some days when it is really obvious and others where you hardly notice it at all. But based on what I have researched, I think it is enough of a concern to seek expert advice on.

This video clip, below, is a really helpful summary of stuttering in children from a speech pathologist’s point of view:

What ‘not’ to do

As this video shows, you are advised to avoid saying things like ‘slow down’, ‘take a deep breath’, ‘think about what you are trying to say’, etc. This only draws attention to the problem and can frustrate the child. Unfortunately I am guilty of saying all of these things, as I believed it would help my daughter. Instead, I should allow her to speak in her own time, speak slowly and clearly to her and maintain eye contact, not let anyone finish her sentences and try to maintain a calm atmosphere in the house.

I can see that some of these things might prove difficult in our house, but it is something that we will all have to pull together and work on. When my elder daughter stumbled on a word the other day, she remarked that she sounded just like her younger sister. It wasn’t said in malice, but it shows that she too has noticed the way that her sister speaks. What worries me is that if the stuttering is becoming more noticeable, it is likely that my daughter’s peers will begin to notice it too. What we don’t want is for it to lead to teasing or bullying at school.

I sincerely hope that I am worrying over nothing and that this a temporary phase. But it is my responsibility as a parent to ensure that I follow this through, regardless. I feel that I would have failed her if I ignore this and as a parent, that is one of my biggest fears.

Perfection Pending


  1. suzymon

    I think you are wise to have her checked out. I stuttered when I was young and have had issues with speaking up in social situations most of my life. I have joined Toastmasters as an adult. I used to prefer writing to speaking, but now I feel much more comfortable and confident speaking in public. It took time and a lot of support and encouragement, though. I was never checked out, so I don’t know if I could have been helped earlier on or not.

    • Nicola Young

      I will definitely do it, even if just to understand what it going on. Thanks for the advice.

  2. Perfection Pending

    I don’t have any answers for you. My daughter did this briefly, but it was around age 3. She outgrew it. Oddly enough, she was around another child that did it a lot. I don’t know if it was learned behavior or not. Hope you get some answers! 🙂

  3. whativelearnedfornow

    Good luck Nicola! This is sometimes the hardest part of parenting–knowing when to intervene or not. You don’t want to freak out at every turn, but you also don’t want them to suffer any longer than need be. Kudos to you for taking time to be so thoughtful about it all:)

    • Nicola Young

      Thanks. I think I’ll give it time and see what happens.


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