The Three C’s: A Parent’s Journey Towards Resilience – Dori Holte

About the Author:

Doreen (Dori) Lenz Holte is mom to a 24-year old son who stutters and author of Voice Unearthed: Hope, Help, and a Wake-up Call for the Parents of Children Who Stutter. (voiceunearthed.com) Dori enjoys connecting with parents across the world on the Voice Unearthed Facebook group and with students of communications disorders, professional organizations, and speech therapy groups both remotely and in person. She also enjoys doing grant consulting work for nonprofits, teaching grant writing workshops, and playing card and board games with her family. She recently took up tap dancing.  

While we don’t know what causes speech tension (I prefer that term over stuttering), we do know that a parent’s response can have a powerful impact on either minimizing or exacerbating the issue. Dr. Dan Seigel, author of The Yes Brain, states that “A parent’s resilience serves as a template for a child to see how to deal with challenges, how to understand their own emotions.”1 It’s like the oxygen mask on the plane, parents need theirs first in order to best help their child. 

Having my own oxygen mask would have been helpful when our son, Eli, started experiencing speech tension at 2 ½ years of age.  Instead, in an effort to fix what was wrong, I frantically passed the oxygen mask to him and entered the 3C’s stage of this journey:  

  • Crying. I crawled into bed, put the covers over my head, and sobbed my heart out – often. Conversations with other moms and family members were often filled with angst, fear, and sadness. 
  • Cringing: Not outwardly, but my heart, my stomach, my shoulders, and behind my eyes seized every time those tiny blood vessels popped out and his face turned red trying to talk. As hard as I tried to maintain a calm, happy face, he would have to have been in a coma to not pick up on my anxiety.
  • Catastrophizing our son’s future.  
  • He’ll never have friends
  • He’ll never find a life partner
  • He’ll never survive a job interview
  • He’ll not be able to pursue his career of choice
  • He’ll be bullied and teased
  • He’ll be laughed at or even worse, ignored

(Spoiler alert: Other than being teased a few times, these scenarios never played out.)

This was my frame of mind in 1999 when we had him assessed by a professional and his speech was as smooth as a baby’s butt. We were sent away with the message to slow down our speech, make good eye contact, and come back in six months if the speech tension continued. I left feeling alone, dismissed, and helpless. 

The behavior persisted and soon Eli was in speech therapy focused on minimizing or better yet, eradicating the speech tension using fluency shaping and stuttering modification techniques. I mostly stayed in the waiting area, ruminating on the 3C’s and writing out the check. When I was included in therapy, it was for me learn ways to encourage him to use his speech tools to lessen the speech tension. As time went by, his speech measures went from mild to moderate to severe which put my 3C’s on steroids. I became even more desperate to access resources focused on putting this behind us. Our week was filled with hours in the car to access speech therapy, daily special time to practice speech tools, and a growing sense of futility.  

The irony was that the 3Cs mindset eating away at my resilience was exactly the mindset we did not want our son to develop. We did not want him to be filled with sadness, to cringe when he experienced speech tension, or to catastrophize his future.  

By the time Eli was nine, his withdrawal was marked.  It was heart-breaking and believe me, at that stage I was not the best role model for resilience. Our sadness was palatable and my tears were abundant. The words of developmental psychologist, Gordon Neufeld, describe this point well. He states that “sadness is a pivotal emotion and tears present an opportunity for a turning point.” Our turning point was when our new speech therapist, now retired Dr. Jerry Halvorson, said, “we have to get him talking again because his previous therapy sucked all the fun right out of it.” I felt a mind-shift of epic proportions. Now Dad and I were in therapy to become better role models for resiliency not just for Eli, but for all three of our kids. 

We were in therapy to become better at the 3L’s (live, laugh, and love) instead of the 3R’s. Remember the kitschy LIVE, LAUGH, and LOVE signs that were the highlight of every gift shop in the 90’s? Overused? Yes, but sometimes we just need to be reminded of what’s really important. This guidance we received from Dr. Halvorson helped us infuse our lives with more living, laughing, and loving and less fixing. Instead of focusing on results, we focused on creating a space for resiliency to grow in all of us. We did this through:

  • Less judgement: We learned to stop judging our son’s communication efforts by whether or not he stuttered, but by rejoicing when he talked and let his voice be heard. We learned to recognize the times when he talked the most, laughed the most, was most engaged. Who was he with? What was he doing? What could we do to make those circumstances more common to his life? 
  • Authentic listening: We learned to become better listeners with LESS eye contact. Dr. Halvorson said “Every time he talks, your head swivels like an owl. You’re making him crazy.” (If you’re starting to get the picture of a rather unorthodox SLP full of clever quips, you’d be very accurate.) There was a time and a place for good eye contact, and a time and a place to just nod, say uh huh, and keep doing whatever you’re doing. (This is especially good guidance when you’re driving.)
  • Leaving space: We also learned the power of keeping quiet, giving others space to  speak. We learned to generate conversation by making comments and statements rather than asking questions.
  • Letting go of perfection: We learned to role model imperfection, and, when appropriate, share feelings of frustration, disappointment, sadness, joy. Our kids  needed to see our resilience to these circumstances.  
  • Self-care: We honed our capacity for patience, calm, and self-care. Deep breaths, meditation, yoga, exercise all contributed to patience and calm. Feeling free to take a break, doing something mindless, taking a nap, reading a good book, watching movies, playing games, hanging with friends and loved ones, etc. I became an excellent role model for those behaviors.
  • Honesty and transparency: We learned the value of sharing our problem-solving process and creative thinking when faced with adversity.
  • Being grateful: We learned to infuse gratefulness into our daily routine. Not gratefulness around whether or not he stuttered, but gratefulness for all the good things that happened that day, for the people in our lives, for our successes, our failures, our opportunities, etc. 
  • Genuine acceptance: We learned to focus more on all that was wonderful about our kids, to celebrate their strengths and what made them unique rather than putting so much energy into fixing them.
  • Less inhibition: We learned how to infuse more fun and craziness in our world!! (My favorite fun was playing “Build Me Up Buttercup” at full blast and singing and dancing around the house.  This was the perfect way to role model imperfection and inhibition and still is, much to their chagrin.)

Just imagine how different things might have been if instead of catastrophizing his future, I could have possessed a crystal ball. Eli would graduate from college with honors, intentionally seek out positions filled with connections and communication, have dear friends and an active social life, and engage fully in the world around him – even though he still experiences speech tension. 

I now realize that even if the speech tension persists, most kids will grow up to live full and productive lives. Both the Voice Unearthed website and the National Stuttering Association website feature successful adults who stutter. These adults are wonderful role models for resiliency and engagement in the world around them. Go to 

voiceunearthed.com/wall_of_inspiration/ and the NSA website westutter.org/what-is-stuttering/stuttering-in-the-news/ and westutter.org/careersuccess/profiles  

Thank you to the ISAD Online Conference Team for choosing resilience as the theme for this year’s conference. Nothing is more critical and essential to the short and long-term well-being of children who stutter. 

Citations

Seigel, Daniel J., M.D., Bryson, Tina Payne, Ph.D. (2018). The Yes Brain, New York, Bantam Books

Neufeld, Gordon, Ph.D., Mate, Gabor, M.D., (2014) Hold On To  Your    Kids New York, Ballantine Books

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Comments

The Three C’s: A Parent’s Journey Towards Resilience – Dori Holte — 41 Comments

  1. I love this and you sound like an amazing mother!! So many of the topics you discuss are actually critical concepts of achieving happiness in our lives (less judgement, self-care, being grateful, etc.)

    As a mother, why do you think it took you this long to get to this state of mind? Is it simply a lack of education before?

    It is unfortunate there is a false expectation that parents know everything whereas the reality is that parents are learning the whole time along with the child and their journey

    • Hi Kunal – thank you for those kind words. We trusted that the speech therapists would do no harm and that the therapy was evidence-based and safe. We knew nothing about stuttering and just wanted it to stop. My goal now is to help parents understand that there is controversy and uncertainty so they can become well-informed before engaging their child in therapy. Yes, I’m still learning and they’re all in their 20’s!!

  2. This was a great read! As a speech pathology student who will likely work with people with speech tension in the near future, it was very informative to read a parent’s point of view. I love that your philosophy became live, laugh, love! People often become so focused on negatives and forget to enjoy the good moments. If you could give one piece of advice to new speech therapists, what would it be?

    • Thank you for reading my paper. My advice would be to provide support that serves to keep kids talking and keep talking fun. The most likely way to provide that type of support is through the parents. Help them explore their world to recognize opportunities for joyful communication and make those opportunities happen as often as possible.

  3. Thank you for sharing your experience as a parent! I am currently getting my Masters to become an SLP and it is helpful to know that simply teaching a child how to use fluency techniques like easy onset is not enough. From what I can tell, working with the family and normalizing stuttering within the household has just as an important impact.

  4. Hi Iris. Thank you for your comment. Working with the family and normalizing stuttering within the family is, in my opinion, far more important than fluency techniques – and far less risky. Adults who stutter often say that stuttering is what they do when they try not to stutter. Strategies that lead to a child thinking more about their speech, rather than less, come with risks of increased tension and silence. Best wishes to you in this journey.

  5. I was touched by your honesty regarding how you found the right path for your children and your family. Parents have the most important role in the life of a child with speech tension. Your willingness to share about past crying, cringing, and catastrophizing will undoubtedly prevent other parents from spending years doing the same. Your advice on finding a professional who can keep therapy fun and offer the whole family a new way to look at and deal with speech tension is spot on. I appreciated learning how listening and letting go of perfection worked for your family, and it’s gratifying to hear about the real-life success your son has experienced. Thanks, too, for making so many role models with speech tension visible to all. As a parent and a speech-language pathology student I have benefitted from your perspective.

    • Hi Meagan – thank you for taking the time to read my paper. Hopefully this perspective can help SLPs and future SLPs become better equipped to provide critical parent support rather than support focused on fixing the child. Best wishes to you – both as a parent and as a future SLP!

  6. Thank you so much for your story. I am a freshman in college majoring in Speech Language Pathology and Audiology and in my Introduction to Disorders or Communication class we have discussed the impact a speech disorder or disability has not only on the child, but also on the family. As a freshman in college it is hard to imagine how this impacts the family. All there is to do at this level is to read the impact and affects in the book and to just talk about in class. Your story has made me aware of the impact it has so I want to thank you for that!

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my contribution. Empowering the family to create a space for authentic and joyful conversations is so important…far more important than working with the child to fix their speech. Hopefully the next generation of therapists can change the systems that impede this approach, i.e. insurance and IEPs. Best wishes with your career as an SLP!

  7. Hi Doreen,

    I am currently an undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Speech Language Pathology. I loved hearing the perspective of a parent with a child who can stutter. Your post leaves me with a few questions. Firstly, as a parent, what did you find were the most helpful and comforting things that you were told by the SLP treating your son? Also, was there anything you wished your SLP had done differently?

    Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Anna – wow, where do I begin? Great questions. As I mention in my paper, being told that our son’s previous therapy sucked the fun out of talking was the first thing I heard from an SLP that seemed to make sense. I wish, and I hope this is happening at least to an extent, is that therapists are providing resources that help minimize the CCCs in parents and children! Yes, most parents come in want their child to be fixed – I get that. I was one of them. But parents can be educated to understand the risks of that focus and shift their mindset to keeping kids talking regardless of whether or not they experience speech tension. Thanks for taking the time to read my paper and best wishes in your studies and beyond!

  8. Hi Dori – I always love your contributions to this and other forums. I often think “what controversy is Dori going to stir up?” (No offense and I’m not thinking this in negative terms at all.)

    We need people who are willing to be contrary to popular opinion and challenge false assumptions. That’s really the only way we ever see progress, isn’t it?

    Both people who stutter and the people in our world with us need to see people for who they are and where they are at, instead of focusing on identifying a problem and then applying some type of treatment that will magically cause the stuttering – or as you aptly illustrate it, speech tension – to just disappear.

    Your advocacy and activism as a parent has changed a lot of lives. Keep up the good fight.

    Pam

    • Oh Pam – you made me tear up a bit! I remember our first visit on the bus in D.C. So glad you sat with me all those years ago! You too have been such an inspiration when it comes to advocacy and activism. Thank you thank you!

  9. I enjoyed reading your story and how honest you were about y’all’s story, thanks for being willing to share. It reinforced the idea of how important it is to educate the parent’s as well as provide support for the parents. I am in graduate school right now and enjoy gaining wisdom from individuals that I can apply to when I am a practicing clinician. What is something that you wish a clinician would have told you sooner or something that you feel like the clinician could have done better (whether that’s in relation to you or your son)?

  10. Hi – thanks for taking the time to comment. I wish I had understood that there was disagreement and so much uncertainty when it came to treating children who stutter. I wish an SLP would have educated me on the risks of focusing on a fix versus keeping them talking. I wish we, as a family, had been empowered to keep talking abundant and fun in our household. I just read Matt Dorn’s contribution to this conference and I think it speaks well to the importance of educating the family around support and acceptance. I always say I wrote the book (Voice Unearthed) I wish we could have read when we started on this journey 20+ years ago. I also wish you all the best in your studies and beyond!!

  11. Dori, This is an incredible story of a parent’s resilience towards their child. I am not a parent myself. In fact, I still do a bit of catastrophizing myself, but not as much as I used to. I still have scenarios I worry about playing out but over time I know I’ll overcome such worries because of my family and the support I have. You described the struggles of a parent so well though. That feeling like you need to bare it to protect your child so he doesn’t have to. You want to be the one to take the battle scars for your child so they can live a fulfilling life. However, as you learned, some battles need to be fought by the child but you can be there to make the battle easier. You did this by allowing Eli to speak in his own time, not judging his performance, and observing how happy and engaged he was when he was talking. This is exactly what families need to do to support someone who stutters. This is what my family did and still does. Although, there is still the occasional time they finish my sentences, but not all families are 100% perfect. What matters is they make an effort, and they do. Your efforts toward your son are inspiring. Thank you for sharing this story. Eli is lucky to have a mother like you :).

    • Hi Matt – thanks so much for reading my paper – I figured you’d relate to the importance of family support and education. I was just speaking to several SLPs yesterday about the absurdity of putting a child in therapy for 1/2 to 1 hour a week with no family involvement. I tell therapists that if, for whatever reason, parents are not engaged in the therapy process, SLPs can become the best listener that kid has in their life. Not an ideal approach, but far more helpful than teaching fluency techniques. Can you imagine if you had a therapist who you trusted enough to share your family’s reaction to your stuttering and she had worked with the family early on to educate them and increase their understanding, what a difference that would have made in your life. Having said that – no family is perfect and for your family to have responded as they did to your letter, well, there had to have been a lot of love to draw on once they understood. I wish you all the best Matt!!

      • Agreed. For therapy to really be effective, the parent should be involved in the whole process and even if they are, that involvement has to extend further than in just the therapy room. At home, out somewhere pubic, whatever. Basically, the parent needs to become the therapist in a way and always be that anchor of support wherever the child is. I really wish more SLPs could do their session in real-world settings with the parent or just someone who cares.

  12. Hi Dori, thank you so much for your thoughts and perspective about this topic. I am an SLP student. I will make sure I remember your advice when I am an SLP! I think sometimes SLPs get caught up in what they think will help “fix” without taking the time to understand what works for each family. I will make sure to take time and provide parent support and always listen to the parents input about treatment and therapy.

    • Hi Kay – thank you for reading my paper. I hope I planted a seed! Parents will come in wanting a fix because they don’t know any better. But parents can be educated as to the risks of focusing on a fix and the possible outcomes of silence and life-altering avoidance behavior. Best of luck in your studies and future as an SLP!

  13. I really enjoyed your story and your views on speech tension rather than stuttering. I am currently a speech language pathology student and I am taking a course on speech tension. I currently have students in the school I am placed at that have speech tension and I was wandering if you have advice for me to give the parents or school teachers? I love hearing everybody’s stories and the advice that can help me understand speech tension and how to apply the advice to my future families. Thank you for sharing your stories and honesty about your family and your motto for live, laugh, and love.

    • Thanks Kay for taking the time to read my paper. My advice to you is to help parents and teachers to understand the risks of focusing on a fix and work with them to nurture an environment that supports abundant talking with no judgment. This is key. Best wishes to you on your studies and future as an SLP.

  14. Dori,
    Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and perspective as a parent. I really like the example you gave about the oxygen mask on the airplane. I think that this example is not only revenant in situations for parents/adults of children with communication disorders, but I think that this is a valuable way to look at difficult life situations in general. I also really enjoyed reading about how you created a space for resiliency within your life. All of the points you made are great insight into making an unforeseen circumstance into a positive way of life. I value your advice and thoughts not only as a SLP student and future clinician, but also for personal growth!

    • Thank you Brooke for you kind comments. I’m glad you resonated with the oxygen mask analogy. In today’s world of specialized experts, it’s easy for parents to get sidelined in the process of raising their kids. Parents play an incredibly important role in the well-being of a child. Parents have intuitions but they are not always well-informed intuitions. Experts, teachers, therapists, all have the opportunity to fuel those intuitions in a positive way. This will serve children far better in the long run than focusing on providing speech tools to fix the stuttering. Best wishes to you in your studies and future as an SLP.

  15. Hello Dori! Thank you for your vulnerability, transparency, and your perspective as a mother of a person who experiences speech tension. Your post was beautiful and insightful!
    When your mindset shifted from the “3Cs” to “3Ls,” and when a space was created for resiliency, what changes did you notice in your son? Specifically related to his speech tension and his attitudes/feelings towards stuttering in general?

    Again, thank you for the valuable insights offered in your post. Best wishes to you and your family!

    • Hi Linsie – thank you for taking the time to read my paper. Within several months of our shift away from continual judgment and stress and anxiety around his speech, many of Eli’s secondary behaviors started to melt away. He no longer growled and pressed his chin into his shoulder in order to talk. More importantly, over his teenage years, he blossomed into a leader, engaging in many activities and making life-long friends. Over time he was engaging far more in conversations and today, amazingly enough, he is truly the extrovert in the family. And he still has speech tension, sometimes severe. We had to have patience and faith in what we were doing because the measures were not at all about %SS. It was about getting him back and helping him to live a full and happy life regardless of speech tension. Best wishes to you too!

  16. Hi Dori!
    Thank you so much for this incredibly insightful and personal perspective. It can sometimes be so hard to describe the experience of a parent to a child who stutters and I think the Three C’s really illustrate what many parents go through. Thank you for being a source of support for fellow parents to children who stutter, and for anyone who comes into contact with individuals who stutter. I am currently studying speech pathology and articles like yours help me better serve my clients.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my paper. The family dynamic is so key to a child’s well-being, especially a child who has speech tension. I hope you are able to keep that at the front and center of your efforts as an SLP. I know the system doesn’t necessarily support it, but maybe you can be part of the change that needs to happen! Best wishes to you!

  17. Dori,

    Being able to read the perspective of a parent of a child who has speech tension was a treat. Right how, I am enrolled in graduate school on my way to become a speech-language pathologist. In my fluency disorders class, we often talk about the impacts of different treatment approaches and speech tension on the clients themselves, but I think it is important to think about the impacts of speech tension and different treatment approaches on parents. Your paper has allowed me to open my mind, and be sure to include parents in my practice as much as possible. We want children who experience speech tension to accept themselves and your paper hit the nail on the head. How can we expect children to accept themselves and reduce their anxieties when their parents haven’t managed to accept their child’s speech tension and reduce their own anxieties. Thank you for sharing your perspective.

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my paper. I am grateful that you truly understand the disconnect in wanting our children to accept their speech when we can’t accept it ourselves. Parents need support that empowers their intuition and their capacity for an attitude of genuine acceptance. It’s not easy, but so important. Best wishes to you in your studies and your future as an SLP!

  18. Dori,

    You are such a great advocate for your son. I loved how you described your experiences with the 3 C’s yet were able to provide hope and insight with the 3 L’s . I am currently a graduate student in speech language pathology, and I plan on providing my future client’s family your article. It is always hard to receive a diagnosis regarding your child, but I think you did a beautiful job describing your experiences while empowering your son and other speakers with speech tension. Thank you for sharing!

    • Hi Alexis – thank you for reading my paper and for planning to share it with parents. It’s hard for a parent to empower their child when they are feeling helpless themselves! Best wishes to you in your studies and as a future SLP.

  19. Hi!
    My name is Anna and I’m currently a freshman studying Speech-Language Pathology. I really enjoyed reading your story, as many people don’t think about how speech-tension effects the person AND their families. It was nice to see this perspective. I have a few questions for you: First, how did you come up with the 3Cs? Was this a personal creation or did someone else come up with this system? Second, if you could give parents with kids who have speech tension only one statement of advice, what would it be? Thank you again for sharing your story and for your time!! – A

    • Hi Anna – thanks for taking the time to read my paper and for asking how I came up with the 3C’s! I did come up with that on my own – and in my original version, I made a connection between the parents’ 3C’s and the CCC that SLPs in the US have behind their names once they are done with their training. I was encouraged to remove it as this is an international conference and the panel felt it might confuse those not in the U.S. So again, thanks for asking!! One statement of advice? Not easy with such a complex issue as speech tension, i.e. stuttering, but my mantra is “keep them talking and keep talking fun!” Best wishes to you in your studies and as an SLP!

  20. Hello Dori,
    It was great hearing from a parents perspective. As a graduate student, we often hear from the child/client. However, we forget that everyone has emotions and that the parents are going through a transition/challenge along with the child. I loved that you turned the three Cs into the three Ls. As humans, we seem to count ourselves out before the game even begins. Thank you for the wise and insightful words.

    • Thank you for reading my paper. Yes, I do think parents are even more quick to count themselves as a much smaller pieces of the picture when faced with all the experts in this world. Hopefully experts can help parents practice “informed intuition” and empower parents to provide support that leads to their children living full and productive lives. Best wishes to you in your studies and as an SLP!

  21. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experiences! I am a graduate student studying speech language pathology. I found your paper insightful and beneficial. I look forward to incorporating your advice into my practice when I work with parents. I really appreciate how open and honest you are with your experience or raising your son. I also liked how you talked about 3 C’s and then shifted to 3 L’s. Thanks again for sharing!

  22. Hi,
    Your post was amazing and a great read! As a graduate student, it is essential to have a parent’s perspective. The parent’s feelings and emotions are essential as well when providing services to their loved ones. You provided great tips. I love your three L’s (Live, Laugh, Love) because we can forget about important things, and we must be reminded of them. Thank you!

    • Thank you for taking the time to read my paper. Yes, it’s so easy to lose the big picture when you’re raising kids – to forget about what really matters. Best wishes to you in your studies and your future as an SLP!

  23. A bit late, but I can’t log out before talling you how much I agree with your paper. After many years of children and youth camps, so many stories from children and parents are engraved in my heart, some with a smile, some with tears. What you do for children and parents is beyond amazing. The key thing raising and dealing with children is to help them to become strong, happy adults, with a backpack of tools to use when times are rough. To keep them talking and making them feel how amazing they are, showing them their strengths, not the other way. I so wish to hug you, Dori, and thank you for all you do.

    Stay safe and keep them talking

    Anita