Generally speaking, adults who have an established stammer
can learn to control the problem with the right kind of help
and guidance, but they rarely overcome it completely. Not so
the young child. Children who stammer can be helped and many
do recover normal fluent speech.
The first thing for parents to do is to note, and write down,
when the stammer is worse and when it is better.
Inexplicably, most stammerers have good patches and bad.
These can last hours, days or even weeks and no one seems to
know quite why it happens. Nevertheless, if we can identify
the situations which seem to increase the stammer, it will
provide us with guidelines for which situations to avoid. The
list could read something like this:
When tired, when excited, playing outside, when one
particular relative comes, when he gets smacked, when child
is forbidden to do something.
In order to deal with the various situations, we will have to
treat this child differently from the others for a while. Try
to avoid late nights, and don't take the child shopping
straight after nursery, although it might be far more
convenient. Avoid excitement at bedtime, as this tends to
keep children awake, and try to play down exciting events.
This is difficult in a large family where one often builds up
excitement for an upcoming yom tov or simcha,
If the child is determined to play outside, we might increase
the stammer even more by trying to stop him (forbidding him
to do something). But if we suggest an alternative such as
inviting just one or two friends into the house to play, we
may succeed in avoiding this particular situation for a
Why he should stammer when a particular relative comes may
seem a mystery. But if you watch carefully, the cause will
usually become apparent. One mother reported that an aunt
used to keep the children guessing as to whether she had
brought them anything, and what it was she had brought. The
excitement and tension increased the stammer.
Punitive spanking is not appropriate in most cases, anyway,
and it isn't too difficult to substitute it with a withdrawal
of a privilege, with an accompanying explanation. The removal
of these pressures greatly improves the stammer, but does not
cure it completely.
Apart from your own personal list of things which increase
the stammer, asking questions puts a definite pressure on the
child's speech. When you ask a question, you expect a reply.
Thus, the avoidance of asking questions at a time when we are
trying to eliminate the stammer is, maybe, the most important
part of the treatment.
Mothers don't realize at all how many questions they ask the
children, all the time. Have you had a nice day? Did you
eat your whole sandwich? What did you do today? Is Yankele
better? Was he in school today? Did you bring anything home?
Shall we go shopping? Do you want a drink? It is
exceedingly difficult for a parent to change this [but so is
it difficult for a child to get rid of a stammer], and well
worth the trouble.
You can't stop asking questions altogether. But for a few
weeks, try rephrasing these questions into statements. It
will still show that you take an interest in your child, but
you will not expect a reply. I had a nice day; I hope you
did, too. You must have been hungry at recess because you
hardly had any breakfast. You look as if you did painting
today. I didn't see Yankele; I hope he's better. Here, have a
drink. A nod can be a sufficient reply.
You may be surprised at the results. Many children, not only
the ones with a stammer, answer `nothing special' when asked
what they did in school, or shrug their shoulders without
volunteering any further information. The less you ask, the
more they seem to want to talk! But, as we said, this is the
most difficult part of the change in our approach.
It takes about two weeks to get used to a question-free
conversation. But it will take several months for the stammer
to disappear completely.
One additional point: try to discipline the child a little
less than you normally would. General discipline is
necessary, but it must be consistent and based on reason.
Lack of discipline, inconsistent discipline and unreasonable
discipline lead to emotional frustration that causes or
increases a stammer. It is essential that parents have the
same rules, otherwise the child will play off one against the
other and once again, feel insecure.
Then there is discipline of speech, itself. We have to
include things like "Don't talk so much. Stop asking
questions. Don't say that, it's rude." The standards vary in
each home. Discipline of speech should be dropped for this
child for a while, and re-introduced gradually when there has
been no stammer at all for six months.
Parents who go for professional help often complain that the
speech therapist does nothing except play games with the
child. That is about the only thing she wants to do as
therapy. Remove pressure from speech and the stammer will
improve. As we said at the outset, most stammers go away of
their own accord. If your child is one with a persistent
stammer, try all the above strategies for a few months, and
hopefully, the stammer will disappear.
[Upcoming: Dyslexia, the Real Thing]