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Stammering is a breakdown in the flow of speech.  It can take many different forms, and each person who has a stammer shows slightly different features.  The following features are more usual:

  • Repetition of whole words, e.g. “and, and, and, then I left”
  • Repetition of single sounds, e.g. “c-c-come h-h-here”
  • Prolonging or stretching sounds, e.g. “sssssssometimes I go out”
  • Blocking of sounds, getting stuck on a sound where no sound comes out
  • Tension can sometimes be seen in the child’s face
  • Extra body movements may occur as the child attempts to ‘push’ the word out, e.g. stamping the feet, shifting body position or tapping with the fingers
  • Disrupted breathing, e.g. the child may hold his breath while speaking or take an exaggerated breath before speaking
  • Avoidance Sometimes a child may avoid words or speaking situations which is their way of minimising/hiding the problem. E.g. the child may say “I’ve forgotten what I was going to say”, or may switch to another word when he begins to stammer.


Learning to talk, like learning to walk, is never a completely smooth process.  Many children stumble over words as they learn new ones, express new ideas and learn to make longer sentences.  It is common for children between the age of 2- 5 years to go through a period of normal non-fluency during which they may repeat words and phrases and use ‘fillers’ e.g. um, er.   Many children achieve normal fluency within a few months of starting to stammer. Others may need some help.


There is no single cause.  Most evidence suggests that it is the result of a combination of factors which makes one person more vulnerable than another.  Common demands:

  • Time – the feeling that there is little time to talk and do things can put pressure on a child to rush their speech.
  • Turn-taking – competition for talking time may cause them to rush their speech.
  • Fast rate of speech used by others – this means your child has to work harder to process the language.  Children also have a tendency to match an adult’s rate of speech.
  • Use of complicated language – your child has to work harder to think about how to respond.
  • High standards – some children need support to manage their high standards and to recognise their strengths.
  • How people react – how people react to a child’s stammering can affect their fluency.


  • About 5% of children experience some difficulty with their fluency at some point. Most will achieve normal fluency with or without help, but about 1% continues to stammer into adulthood.
  • Stammering occurs in all parts of the world, across all cultures, religions and socio-economic groups.
  • Stammering often runs in families.
  • There is absolutely no evidence to suggest that parents cause their children to stammer
  • In the early years, the number of boys & girls who stammer is about equal. In older children, it is more common in boys.
  • Stammering can vary in severity and can ‘come and go’.


A helpful way to think about stammering is to imagine an old-fashioned set of scales which represent the child’s talking.  One side is your child’s ability to talk smoothly and on the other side are the demands placed on them. These may come from the people they talk to, the environment they are communicating in or from the child themselves.  Tip the scales one way and the child can talk smoothly, but overload in the opposite direction and stammering will occur.

Do… Observe which demands are involved and try to reduce these to re-balance the scales, therefore encouraging fluency.


  • Try and find some time each day to give your child a calm and relaxed setting in which to speak.
  •  Avoid asking your child to slow down or take a deep breath as this may only be helpful for a moment or two. Pausing before you answer or ask a question can help.
  • Slow down your own speech to help your child feel less rushed.
  • Give your child time to finish what he/ she is saying.  Avoid trying to finish it for them.
  • Make sure your child gets a good night sleep– stammering can increase when a child is tired.
  • Keep your language simple- your child will find it easier to process and respond.
  • Try not to ask your child too many questions.  Give them time to answer one before you ask another.
  • Support your family to take turns in conversation so that your child doesn’t feel like there is competition.
  • Look at your child when she/ he talks and show that you are interested. Do not look away when he/she stammers.
  • Remember to praise your child for the things they do well to build their confidence in communicating.

Further Information
The Michael Palin Centre –
The British Stammering Association –