What is Stammering?

Stammering is how we talk about a child’s speech when they are affected in the following ways:

  • Their speech is ‘jerky’ and gets stuck
  • They can’t seem to get started with talking (“….. I want some juice”)
  • They repeat sounds in words e.g. “ssstory”
  • They repeat part of the word (e.g. “mu-mu-mu-mummy”)


What is the difference between stammering and stuttering?

They’re exactly the same! The condition is often called ‘stuttering’ in North America and Australia and ‘stammering’ in the UK. We also talk about ‘dysfluency’ too – all these words mean the same thing!


What causes it?

There isn’t one answer to this. Each child and family are unique, so we look at different factors. What we do know is that a family link can make children more vulnerable to stammering.

(With thanks to I CAN)


Basic information for parents of under 5’s

It can be a bit of a shock when your child suddenly starts to stammer.

We still don’t quite understand why a particular child starts to stammer at a particular time in his or her language development. We do know, however, it’s not the parents who are causing it.

We have tried, with the help of researchers, to come up with what we know about What causes Stammering.

About 5% of children will go through a stammering phase when they develop language. Most of them will recover fluent speech without any intervention necessary.

However, one in five will be at risk of persistent stammering; early intervention as soon as possible after onset has the best chance of success.

It is not easy to distinguish those children who will recover naturally from those who may need additional help – speech and language therapists will make an assessment and will form a judgment based on risk factors. For example, they will ask if there is anyone else in the child’s family who stammers.

(With thanks to the British Stammering Association)


Stammering in preschool children – how parents can help

Difficulties with speaking fluently between 2 – 4 years affect about one child in 20. While the underlying causes are not fully understood, we know that parents do NOT cause stammering – also called stuttering. Evidence shows that most children outgrow this phase over a few weeks or months, although at the time this can be hard to believe.

It can be a shock when your child starts to speak differently, “out of the blue”. Sometimes your child may get quite stuck. This can be painful to see, and you may feel helpless and worried. Some periods may seem more difficult than others. The non-fluency may also come and go.

Our advice is to refer your child to a speech and language therapist (SLT) as soon as you can. You can usually do this directly without seeing a GP. BSA can provide you with local contact details. For the one in three or four children who need extra help, speech therapy has been shown to be more effective before the age of five. Although your child may not need regular therapy, the therapist can carry out a full assessment, offer advice, and help you to monitor your child’s fluency.

In the meantime, take a look at the following guidelines. They cover areas of communication that can help young children to develop their fluency skills. See if there are any changes you could make to help support your child. It may also be helpful to show this leaflet to other family members and adults in your child’s life such as nursery teachers or childminders.


Helpful tips for parents

  1.      Show your child that you are interested in what he says, not how he says it. Try to maintain natural eye-contact when he is having difficulty talking. Don’t finish his sentences – this can be frustrating for him.
  2.      Be supportive. Respond to a speech difficulty in the same way that you would with any other difficulties that arise as they develop their skills, such as when they trip over or spill things. If you feel it’s appropriate, acknowledge the difficulty in a matter-of-fact way, so that she doesn’t feel criticised. Avoid labelling the difficulty as stammering. You could use expressions like “bumpy speech” or “getting stuck”, or ask her for her own words or descriptions.
  3.      If you speak quickly, slow down your own rate of speech when you talk to your child. Telling him to slow down, start again or to take a deep breath is unhelpful. Pausing for a second before you answer or ask a question can also help him to feel less rushed.
  4.      Be encouraging if your child gets upset about her speech, just as you would if she was upset about any other difficulty. You might say something like “Don’t worry, talking can be tricky sometimes when you’re still learning.”
  5.      Observe your child’s speaking patterns but try to resist seeing it as a ‘problem?’. Stammering is not caused by parents, but your anxiety can be passed on to your child, who may feel he is doing something wrong. In fact, he is just struggling a bit at the moment, and the stage may well pass.
  6.      Set aside a few minutes at a regular time each day when you can give your full attention to your child in a calm, relaxed atmosphere. You could follow her lead in playing or talking about something she likes. Try to talk about the things you are doing together right now, not about things that happened in the past or are planned for the future.
  7.      Reduce the number of questions you ask. Always give your child plenty of time to answer one question before asking another. This way, he is less likely to feel under pressure. Keep your sentences short and simple and instead of asking questions, simply comment on what your child has said, thereby letting him know you are listening.
  8.      Take turns to talk so that everyone in the family can speak without being interrupted. This will reduce the amount that your child is interrupted, or that she interrupts others.
  9.      Respond to your child’s behaviour in the same way that you would with a child who does not stammer. As with any other child, discipline needs to be appropriate and consistent.
  10.  Try to avoid a hectic and rushed lifestyle. Stammering can increase when your child is tired. Children who stammer respond well to a routine and structured environment at home and at nursery or playgroup. It is also helpful to establish regular sleep patterns and a regular healthy diet.

(With thanks to the British Stammering Association)


How stammering can affect you

Problems usually become apparent while your child is still learning to speak, between the ages of two and five.

As a child gets older and becomes more aware of their stammering, they may also change their behaviour in certain ways to hide their speech difficulties.

Stammering may develop gradually, although it often starts suddenly in a child who has previously been talking well.


Typical features

Stammering can involve:

  • repeating certain sounds, syllables or words when speaking, such as saying “a-a-a-a-apple” instead of “apple”
  • prolonging certain sounds and not being able to move on to the next sound – for example, saying “mmmmmmmilk”
  • lengthy pauses between certain sounds and words, which can seem as though a child is struggling to get the right word, phrase or sentence out
  • using a lot of “filler” words during speech, such as “um” and “ah”
  • avoiding eye contact with other people while struggling with sounds or words

Stammering is also more likely when a young child has a lot to say, is excited, saying something important to them, or wants to ask a question.

Stammering can be worse in situations where the child is self-conscious about their speech and so may be trying hard not to stammer.


These situations might include:

  • talking to a person in authority, such as a teacher
  • saying something in front of the class
  • reading aloud
  • speaking on the telephone
  • saying their name in registration at school


Behaviours associated with stammering

A child who stammers can also develop involuntary movements like eye blinking, quivering lips, grimacing, tapping the fingers or stamping the feet.


They may also:

  • deliberately avoid saying certain sounds or words that they typically stammer on
  • adopt strategies to hide their stammering, such as claiming to have forgotten what they were trying to say when they have trouble getting words out smoothly
  • avoid social situations because of a fear of stammering, such as not asking for items in shops or going to birthday parties
  • change the style of speech to prevent stammering – for example, talking very slowly or softly, or speaking with an accent
  • feel fear, frustration, shame or embarrassment because of their stammering

(Taken from NHS Choices)

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