Talking to your kids about stuttering question

Hi everybody!

I am a speech-language pathology graduate student and currently taking a stuttering course. This question is for parents of CWS, professionals, or a PWS. I grew up with a boy who stuttered and he was constantly bullied for it. He started stuttering as early as I can remember. In middle school his parents got a divorce. His stuttering was at its worst at this time in his life. He never did speech therapy and his parents usually avoided talking to him about his stuttering. We have discussed in class the importance of talking to kids about their stuttering. Does anyone have any recommendations for successful ways parents/professionals can talk to their children about stuttering in an effective and positive manner? Also, what are the best ways to educate other kids who don’t stutter about stuttering so that there is a greater awareness of it?

Thanks!

Madasyn

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Comments

Talking to your kids about stuttering question — 6 Comments

  1. Fellow SLP graduate student here! I was wondering about this very concept as well. I also grew up with a friend who stutters and her parents did not talk to her about it. She is in her 20s now and says that her parents still have never talked to her about stuttering. I am also curious about parents talking to their children about stuttering and how to go about having this conversation and how a child’s personality may play a role in this? I look forward to hearing any insight on this!

    -Melanie

  2. Madasyn and Melanie,

    Welcome to the conference! And, thank you for being advocates for your education by asking questions and thank you for advocating for parents and clients with communication disorders. Our field will be better with folks like you in it!

    I am a person who can stutter (I say can because sometimes I do, and sometimes I do not, so the word “can” allow myself some psychological flexibility). And my parents and I did not talk about stuttering until I was going through speech therapy at the age of 21 and was coming out of suicidal attempts and ideations. Now, I’m conscious that my case might be an extreme case, however it was very real to me, and I praise the speech pathologist who just allowed me to talk without pushing agendas of techniques or psychological philosophy on me. She just allowed me to say whatever I wanted, however I wanted, and whenever I wanted. My point here was, when I finally told my parents I wanted to talk to them, I found out something very profound. I discovered they wanted to talk to me as bad as I wanted to talk to them, but they were told by an SLP I had as child “not to talk about stuttering.”

    Of course now we know that not talking openly and honestly about out challenges can potentially influence thoughts of loneliness, sadness, and fears (generally speaking).
    So to answer your question, how can we talk to families and kids who stutter and teach kids who don’t stutter about stuttering. I will toss out a few ways and then let my wonderful Speech Language Pathology experts here add some of their own. As you wrote to hear from a variety of people and not just one.
    1. You can encourage parents to talk about how they themselves do not talk perfectly, and that is okay. Parents could foster a conversation about how the imperfection of not only speaking, but ourselves, is what makes us unique
    2. Kristin Chmela and Julie Raynor, the directors of Camp Shout Out, have a wonderful approach to showing that stuttering can happen and we don’t have to choose to make it a big deal. At camp shout out, when ever we adults make any mistake (not so much centered on speaking, but we can transfer the idea to stuttering), we can say “oops.” This simple word, and acknowledgment has neat psychological effect. One, it can desensitize ourselves from clinging (fusing, if you will) to a negative thought related to imperfection. Which then makes us more able to adjust we might want to do, or react, when we might slip up, or even stutter. We can approach parents with this concept, that stuttering is not something we need to tense up about whenever it happens, but can be treated like any other bump in a road.
    3. When I was an SLP in schools, I would have CWS and CWDS in small groups and we would talk about what made our speech unique as compared to our other group members. At these moments I could teach them the anatomy and physiology of speaking (in a child friendly way). This provided them education on who all voices and speech are produced, while giving them language to explain their speech. So when we got deeper into the question of “what makes your speech unique” the children had the language and concepts to explain their own speech and their perceptions. This gives each child the power to communicate more effective because they have some knowledge to build from.
    4. Another idea to education parents and CWS, is to have the child develop a little survey or questionnaire for their parents. They can ask there parents anything about stuttering that they wish. E.g., “Do you stutter?” , “What do you think stuttering is?” “Can you stutter?” “How many people stutter in the US?” As SLPs, we are guiding this practice and thus providing the child education about stuttering, thus giving them more knowledge and power. Then when education is provided in the form of a conversation WITH their child, parents maybe more accepting and willing to talk because the child is taking the lead. And, this puts the child in the roll of a “teacher”, which is a great speaking situation to see to develop all kinds of thoughts and feelings of self-worth, self-esteem, and positive attitudes toward speaking. And it can be fun!
    Bottom line to all of this, at the end of the day, if we can help a client of any age to see that speaking can be fun, and we see them smile and laugh while talking. We are doing our job.

    These are just thoughts. There will be a host of other great ideas coming your way!
    Thanks ladies! Good luck finishing up your graduate education!!!
    With compassion and kindness,
    Scott

    • Hi Scott – Thanks for the great post.

      I’d like to offer a minor counterpoint to the “oops” approach. To me, “oops” is a word that is commonly associated with making a mistake. I say oops when I trip; I say oops when I spill my water; etc. It is a simple acknowledgement that is not associated with major negative reprisals, but it is still associated with a mistake.

      The way that I approach this is similar, but I use a different word. Instead of oops, my clients might say, “That was interesting.” or “Look at that!” or even simply just “Hmm.” The specific words that my clients use are up to them, but I do try to help them pick neutral terms (so, not “Sorry” – a person who stutters has nothing to apologize for). Oops may work just fine to defuse the behavior from the emotion if the oops is viewed fairly neutrally (and it’s certainly better than the “dammit” that the person might have been thinking before). But, if there’s something even more neutral and not associated with a mistake (not just in the minds of people who stutter but also in the minds of listeners), then I think we can take that defusing process a step further.

      Thanks for listening 😉
      S

  3. Hello, Madasyn & Melanie. Thank you for your great question! Scott’s suggestions are excellent. I’ll add another. One way to facilitate communication between parents and children about stuttering is to include parents in therapy in some capacity. Including parents in therapy may “break the ice” and be a first step to opening the door for future conversations to emerge between the child and parent about stuttering. Some parents and children may need structure and guidance for initial conversations to take place. Depending on the age of the child and the setting, this might be implemented differently.

    Consider a school-age child who receives therapy without the parent in therapy with the child. Although the parent may be aware of what is happening in therapy by observing the sessions or communication between the SLP and the parent, the communication between the child and parent may be minimal or none. In these situations I will discuss with the child the possibility of inviting a parent to a therapy session to teach the parent what they have been doing in speech therapy. Even if the parent is very knowledgeable about what is happening in therapy, the main purpose is have the child talk with the parent about stuttering. If the child agrees to it, we spend time in therapy preparing for the meeting so the child can be the teacher. Preparing may include constructing a speech notebook with notes from what has happened in therapy. The meeting could include describing terminology used in therapy, describing therapy activities, demonstrating speech techniques and stuttering, sharing facts about stuttering, sharing any thoughts and feelings, and having the child describe what helps them – how parents can best react. A potion of the meeting often includes the parents trying out some stuttering and speech techniques with the child giving feedback, which kids love doing! This is just one method I have used to get parents and their child talking about stuttering, but there are many!
    Dave

  4. HI Madasyn & Melanie,

    My colleagues have offered some very helpful input up above. I want to just pick up a bit on the bullying issue. Unfortunately, children who stutter are indeed more likely to experience bullying that other children. Fortunately, there is much that we can do to help children minimize both the experience and the adverse impact of bullying. In case it’s of interest, my colleague Nina Reardon-Reeves and I have posted some free videos about helping children who stutter who experience bullying. You can find them on our Stuttering Therapy Resources website (www.StutteringTherapyResources.com) under “Resources” or on our YouTube channel. They go along with some materials that we developed with Bill Murphy and Bob Quesal about minimizing bullying.

    In my opinion, bullying is something that we must address head-on with our school-age children, because it’s so likely to happen and because bullying exacerbates many of the challenges already associated with stuttering (negative reactions, social isolation, etc.).

    Feel free to send follow-up questions. Thanks again for posting.
    J Scott Yaruss

  5. I am starting to take a much harder position on this than most of my colleagues. I would involve the child actively the minute that it appears as though the condition is likely to be persistent, so perhaps between 5 and 7. I say this because in any other chronic condition (allergies, asthma, diabetes, juvenile arthritis, etc….) kids need to quickly assume some ownership of their problem. There are a lot of persistent health/developmental problems out there, and we would think nothing of empowering kids to refuse eating certain things, sitting out some physical activities or requiring modifications, etc. I believe we really need to start doing this with families of CWS early on. I suspect it is lingering feelings about the Diagnosogenic theory that propels some of us, and pediatricians, to treat stuttering with kid gloves and the illusion that we can help a child only from the outside-in, devoid of the child’s understanding and involvement. Bullying is possible in these cases, in part because the child doesn’t see people openly discussing the issues they confront. A person who would bully a kid who needs an inhaler can get shut down more effectively, I think, because we discuss openly why he or she needs it. The older I get, the more I not only want parents to discuss stuttering with their kids, I want to ask our profession and others why we treat stuttering differently than any other childhood health condition, in which patient and family education and involvement is consider pivotal, even starting in preschool. Nan Bernstein Ratner