Reactions to Children Who Stutter: Need for Better Response Clear

(Synopsis of survey results.)

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (Jan. 6, 2003) —  Slow down and relax!

A new survey shows that this is exactly what most adults tell children who stutter, but leading experts say that strategy can aggravate the problem.

A national survey of 1,000 adults by The Stuttering Foundation found that nearly 90 percent said "slow down and relax" is exactly what they would tell a child who begins to stutter. Yet such simplistic advice won't help stop stuttering, and may actually frustrate a child who stutters. (Synopsis of survey results.)

"The survey results indicate that it is more important than ever for us to focus our efforts on educating parents of young children about stuttering," said Jane Fraser, president of The Stuttering Foundation, a 56-year-old nonprofit organization dedicated to the prevention and treatment of stuttering. "With early detection and intervention, stuttering in young children can almost always be overcome. It is crucial that parents become informed."

Survey responses indicate there is a general lack of knowledge about this complex disorder that affects 3 million Americans.

Thirty-three percent of those surveyed said they would correct a child who is stuttering or that they would finish the child's sentences.

Parents may inadvertently aggravate the problem. Allowing the child to complete his thoughts without interruptions or corrections is very important. Patient, attentive listening is critical.

"Parents should realize that the way they react to stuttering plays an important role in the child's speech development," said Lisa Scott Trautman, Ph.D., assistant professor of speech-language pathology at The Florida State University. "If a child senses frustration and impatience when he speaks, his concerns about talking will increase."

So what are parents to do?

  • Remain calm if you hear your child stutter.
  • Give the child your attention and listen carefully, allowing him to complete his sentence without interruption.
  • Talk in a slow, relaxed way yourself; this will be more effective than any criticism or advice to 'try it again slowly.'
  • Convey that you are listening to what your child says, not how she says it. This will build confidence and likely increase fluency.

On a positive note, 84 percent of those surveyed said they would seek professional help if their child developed a stuttering problem.

For many young children, positive attitudes and reactions of parents and other family members are an effective way to encourage normal fluency. However, if stuttering lasts longer than six months, or if it seems fairly severe or worsens, an evaluation by a speech therapist is recommended. The success rate is very high when children begin therapy between the ages of two and five years old.

Parents' best opportunity to help their child is to learn more about stuttering and appropriate methods of handling it.

The Stuttering Foundation can provide a list of local resources for free by calling 1-800-992-9392, or visit the Web site, On the home page, click on "Resources," then select "Referral Lists."

The Foundation also provides the latest research information, a worldwide resource list, and self-help materials compiled by leading authorities in the field of speech pathology. A copy of the new 2003 brochure, If You Think Your Child Is Stuttering: 7 Ways to Help, may be found on the Web site and is free to anyone calling 1-800-992-9392. Also on the "Resources" page, readers will find the list of more than 5,500 libraries which shelve Foundation books and videotapes.

Note to Editors: The national survey was sponsored by The Stuttering Foundation in conjunction with Wirthlin Worldwide.