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  • 1-5 Years
  • 5-11 Years
  • 11-19 Years
  • SEND
  • Speech, language and communication
Young girl sitting on dad's knee reading a book together and laughing.

Stammering (also known as stuttering, dysfluency or non-fluency) is where there is a problem that disrupts the flow and timing of speech. It can develop gradually or your child can suddenly start stammering.

Stammering often presents between 2 to 5 years old while your child is learning to speak. Approximately 5% of children will go through a stammering phase as they are developing their language skills. 

Types of stammer

There are a number of different types of stammer:

Airflow problems - breathing is disrupted

Eye-contact - unable to look at people when they speak

Fillers - adding extra words like "um" or "ah"

Forcing - pushing sounds out forcefully

Freezing - freezing as they speak

Gestures - extra movements using their face or body

Hesitation - pausing while speaking

Incompletion - words or sentences are not finished

Prolongation - making sounds longer like "mmmmmmmilk"

Repetition - repeating a certain sound like "a-a-a-a-apple"

Hidden stammering

Hidden stammering (also known as covert stammering or interiorised stammering) is where your child changes how they speak to hide their stammer.

It is not very easy to identify a hidden stammer as it relates to the thoughts and feelings your child has around speaking. Children with hidden stammers tend to avoid speaking or avoid certain situations. 

Speaking avoidance is when your child avoids saying a word or sound because it's difficult to say. They may replace the word with another or not talk at all. Some children may feel that it's better to not talk than to sound stupid. 

Situation avoidance is when your child thinks their speech is good in some situations but not others. They will avoid putting themselves in those situations for example, they may regularly arrive at school late to avoid answering the register.

Helping your child with their stammer

It can be shocking and worrying if your child start to stammer out of the blue. Some periods may seem harder than others and their stutter may come and go. 

It's important that you support them through this period of development. Try to treat it like any other difficult like when they trip over or spill things. Make sure your child does not feel criticised for something they cannot control. 

If your child gets upset about their speech, try to comfort them. You can say something like "Don't worry, talking can be tricky sometimes when you're still learning."

You can try the following techniques to help your child:

Show interest in what your child is saying, not how they're saying it.

Comment on what your child is doing. Instead of asking lots of questions, try commenting on what your child is doing. This lets them know that you're listening to what they're saying.

Reduce the number of questions you ask and give your child plenty of time to reply. This way they are less likely to feel under pressure. 

Setting some special time aside to play or talk with your child. This helps build the relationship between you and your child. When they are younger you can play with toys and picture books. When they get older you can talk to them about their day or about their interests.

Ensure your child is well rested in a routine. Stammering can increase when your child is tired. Children who stammer respond well to routine and structure at home and at nursery or playgroup.

Things to avoid

There are some things that you may want to do to help your child with their stammer or stutter. However these can add to your child's anxiety and frustration. 

Avoid finishing their sentences for them. It can be tempting to help them finish the word or sentence but this can cause more frustration for your child. 

Avoid telling your child to slow down, start again or take a breath when they stutter. This is unhelpful. It can make your child feel more anxious about what they are saying.

Avoid labelling it as stammering. Use words like "bumpy speech" or "getting stuck". You can ask your child how they would describe it and use those words to talk about the stammer.

Last reviewed: 1 November, 2023


Who can help

If you have concerns about your child’s communication development you may want to discuss this with:

  • your health visitor, if your child is under 5 years old
  • the staff at your child’s school, if your child is in school
  • a professional, if your child is homeschooled visit the Speech and Language Therapy service page

You can Call Us on 0300 029 50 50 or Text Us on 07520 649887 to start a conversation.

Open Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm (excluding bank holidays).

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