It can be disconcerting to have your 3 year old stuttering all of a sudden. There are so many questions — will this go away? Do I need to get her to a speech therapist? Should I be concerned? There are a few things to consider to know if your child does have a stutter, what to do about it and how you can help.
What Causes Sudden Stuttering in a 3 Year Old?
There is not a known cause for stuttering. Research suggests there could be small glitches in a child’s brain that interfere with the normal rhythm of speech. Stuttering in a child is more common if someone in your family line has a stutter and stuttering is four times more common in boys than in girls. Stuttering is not in any way a sign of lack of intelligence, emotional or psychological problems or poor parenting. Like a child who lacks physical coordination, stuttering is seen as a lack in verbal coordination. If you are going through a stressful time (a new baby or a big move for example) then there is a chance your child’s stuttering will be more pronounced, but those events did not cause the stutter in the first place.
What is Normal and What is Abnormal?
Preschoolers are still learning and growing in their speech and you might find them use words like “um and “uh” frequently. If you find your child repeating words or phrases (“Look, look, look mom. Is that um, a chicken? A chicken?”) then that is not something to worry about. They are learning how to turn their thoughts into sentences and repeated words and the use of “um” is not a cause of concern. If you notice that your child occasionally repeats the first sound of a word once or twice “Hi m-m-mom” that’s also not likely a cause for concern. These speech patterns are just a sign of them growing their speech and these are perfectly normal in a preschooler.
What is Mild Stuttering in a 3 Year Old?
If your child is stuttering more regularly, day after day, then that is a sign that your child may be dealing with a stutter and should get help. The repetitions of sounds will be longer “Hi MMMMMMom” or happen more frequently “Wh-wh-wh-what is that th-th-th-thing?”
In these types of situations the child may show signs of awareness of their stutter. These signs include blinking, closing their eyes, tensing their mouth or looking to the side. A 3 year old who suddenly stutters may appear frustrated or ask you why it’s so hard to talk.
If your child experiences mild stuttering you will recognize it because it will appear regularly, day after day.
What is Severe Stuttering in a 3 Year Old?
Severe stuttering will be easy to recognize. Your daughter might show signs of physical struggle and tension in their frustration about getting words out clearly. They may try to hide their stuttering by avoiding speaking. In severe stuttering you will see it occurring daily and your child can become anxious if they in situations where they are expected to talk. Stuttering is also considered severe when there are speech dysfluencies in practically every phrase or sentence that is spoken.
Do I Need to Take my Child to a Speech Therapist?
It’s a good idea to make an appointment with a speech therapist if your 3 year old suddenly starts stuttering. Children who get help early have a higher chance of gaining normal speech, so an evaluation by a speech therapist is a valuable step in helping your daughters experience less frustration in expressing herself.
Therapists can counsel you on the best way to talk to your child and provide one-on-one therapy using games for young children to slow the rate of their speech. A therapist will work with your child to practice speaking slowly and without getting frustrated. Therapists can give you activities and suggested practices to work on at home. With understanding parents who work with a child there are great chances of success in gaining normal speech and raising a confident daughter who has no problem expressing herself, stutter or not.
The Stuttering Foundation’s 7 Tips For Talking With Your Child
The Stuttering Foundation has been providing support since 1947 on all things related to stuttering in children and adults. Here are their 7 helpful tips for talking with a child who is stuttering all of a sudden:
1. Speak with your child in an unhurried way, pausing frequently. Wait a few seconds after your child finished speaking before you begin to speak. Your own slow, relaxed speech will be far more effective than any criticism or advice such as “slow down” or “try it again slowly”.
2. Reduce the number of questions you ask your child. Instead of asking questions, simply comment on what your child has said, thereby letting her know you heard her. Children speak more freely if they are expressing their own ideas rather than answering an adult’s questions.
3. Use your facial expressions and other body language to convey to your child that you are listening to the content of her message and not to how she’s talking.
4. Set aside a few minutes at a regular time each day when you can give your child your undivided attention. When you talk during their special time, use slow, calm, and relaxed speech, with plenty of pauses. This quiet, calm time can be a confidence builder for younger children, letting them know you enjoy their company.
5. Help all members of the family learn to take turns talking and listening. Children, especially those who stutter, find it easier to talk when there are few interruptions and they have the listeners’ attention.
6. Observe the way you interact with your child. Try to increase those times that give your child the message that you are listening to her and she has plenty of time to talk. Try to decrease criticisms, rapid speech patterns, interruptions, and questions.
7. Above all else, convey that you accept your child as she is. The most powerful force will be your support of her, whether she stutters or not.