At the American Institute for Stuttering, we frequently refer to “stuttering gremlins.” These are destructive creatures of the mind who spew forth a collection of unhelpful thoughts that, when obeyed, seem to afford safety from potentially painful speaking situations. In actuality though, listening to their chatter results in an influx of negative emotions and resulting tense, avoidant speech behaviors. For example, if a person enters a situation worried that he will be mocked for stuttering, he will speak with more anxiety, more severe physical struggle, and attempts at avoidance.
These inner gremlins send strong messages to the child who stutters (CWS) that he should try hard to not stutter, that he should avoid talking when he thinks he will stutter a lot, and that others will think badly of him when they notice it. In short, the gremlins scream: “Don’t’ stutter! It is not ok!!”
We assert that the most important goal for children is to keep them speaking freely, regardless of how they are presently stuttering. Here we present three methods to help parents and other caregivers squash the gremlins that try to stifle children’s voices.
1. Introduce children to role models who stutter
Children who stutter often feel alone, and worry that they will have to stop stuttering in order to be happy and successful. By introducing them to others who stutter in person and online, they can see for themselves that others are out there fully living life with a stutter and that people who stutter can be excellent communicators (Ziauddin Yousafsai, for example). Check out videos of George Springer, Emily Blunt, or AIS clients Jolie or Joshua.
2. Encourage CWS to say what they want to say, even when they will stutter
We emphasize that saying what you want to say is much preferred over changing your message to avoid stuttering. To promote this idea, be an active listener by keeping normal eye contact and avoiding any conveyance of time pressure. Reinforce the power of the child’s message, not his fluency. Praise the child for being brave enough to face stuttering head-on without avoiding.
3. Teach them to advocate for themselves
It is helpful to promote the idea that just because someone “notices” something, this does not mean it is judged as “bad.” After all, we immediately notice when people have foreign accents or an unusual physical feature such as being very tall. It is very helpful to have children role play responding to others who may notice their stuttering so if another child asks, “why do you talk that way?”, they are prepared to respond (and to understand when this question comes from a genuine place rather than a place of nastiness).
We further emphasize teaching children to “self-disclose” their stuttering to others by saying something like, “I stutter so it may take a few extra seconds for me to talk.” This can help alleviate negative stuttering anticipation and time pressure.
At AIS, we often quote Dr. Seuss who said, “Those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind.” We teach children that their true friends will be there to support them no matter what, and that those who would bully them are the ones to be pitied and ignored.
The American Institute for Stuttering is a leading non-profit organization whose primary mission is to provide universally affordable, state-of-the-art speech therapy to people of all ages who stutter, guidance to their families, and much-needed clinical training to speech professionals wishing to gain expertise in stuttering. Offices are located in New York, NY and Atlanta, GA, and services are also available Online. Our mission extends to advancing public and scholarly understanding of this often misunderstood disorder.