Stuttering: What to Know About a Common Speech Problem in Kids - Nemours Blog


Stuttering: What to Know About a Common Speech Problem in Kids

Stuttering: What to Know About a Common Speech Problem in Kids

As toddlers and preschoolers begin to speak more, they might stumble over their words or have problems with enunciating certain sounds. That being said, how do you know if your child is having typical speech problems, or experiencing something more than just the common stumble over their words?

What is stuttering?

Many young kids go through a stage between the ages of 2 and 5 when they stutter. This might make them:

  • repeat certain syllables, words, or phrases
  • prolong them
  • stop, making no sound for certain sounds and syllables

Stuttering is a form of dysfluency (dis-FLOO-en-see), an interruption in the flow of speech.

What Causes Stuttering?

Doctors and scientists aren’t completely sure why some kids stutter, but most believe that a few things contribute to it, such as:

  • a problem with the way the brain sends messages to interact with the muscles and body parts needed for speaking.
  • Genetics, kids who stutter are three times more likely to have a close family member who also stutters or used to stutter.

When to Get Help

In many cases, stuttering goes away on its own by age 5. In fact, there are many influential people that overcame their stutter like:

  • President Joe Biden
  • Tiger Woods
  • Marilyn Monroe
  • James Earl Jones (even Darth Vader stuttered!)

If your child is over the age of five and is still stuttering, consult your pediatrician so that they can refer you to a speech and language therapist. From there, they can help you better determine if the stuttering is likely to persist.


Often times speech problems are worked on with a speech pathologist in speech therapy. These are sessions when you can work on your speech and practice your skills.

It’s also important for kids to spend time practicing on their own. The therapist can give your child exercises to do at home. Practicing will improve skills and help with everyday talking. Through therapy and practice, kids can discover easier or different ways of making sounds so they can speak more clearly.

How Can Parents Help?

Try these steps to help your child:

  • Allow talking to be fun and enjoyable without having to speak precisely or correctly at all times.
  • Use family meals as a conversation time. Avoid distractions such as radio or TV.
  • Avoid corrections or criticisms such as “slow down,” “take your time,” or “take a deep breath.” These comments, however well-intentioned, will only make your child feel more self-conscious.
  • Avoid having your child speak or read aloud when uncomfortable or when the stuttering increases. Instead, during these times encourage activities that do not require a lot of talking.
  • Don’t interrupt your child or tell them to start over.
  • Provide a calm atmosphere in the home. Try to slow down the pace of family life.
  • Speak slowly and clearly when talking to your child or others in their presence. This takes practice! Modeling a slow rate of speech will help with your child’s fluency.
  • Maintain eye contact with your child. Try not to look away or show signs of being upset.
  • Let your child speak for himself or herself and to finish thoughts and sentences. Pause before responding to your child’s questions or comments.
Julia Hartnett

Julia Hartnett is a speech pathologist at Nemours Children's Hospital in Wilmington, DE.