As growing preschoolers become more verbal, they may stumble over what they say, which can have parents worry about stuttering. For those with children out of the toddler stage, it may have you wonder, “is it normal for a 7-years-old to stutter?”
While it’s normal to have trouble speaking now and then, it may because of concern if you see your little one struggling with his speech development. To help you out, I’ll be showing you what there is to know about stuttering in children, when to see a doctor, and how to treat it.
What is Stuttering? The Types of Stuttering
Stuttering is a speech problem when one’s normal flow of speech becomes disrupted. Children (or even adults) who stutter would repeat or prolong their sounds, syllables, and/or words. This is different compared to repeating words when your child is learning to talk.
This speech problem might make it difficult for children to communicate with other people. There are various kinds of stuttering, such as:
- Developmental Stuttering is the most common type in children aged 2-5 years old. This would happen when children’s speech and language development would lag what they need or want to say.
- Neurogenic Stuttering might happen after a brain injury or stroke, happening due to signal problems between the brain and its nerves and muscles that have to do with our speech.
- Psychogenic Stuttering isn’t common, happening after emotional trauma. It may also happen due to problems from thinking or reasoning.
Symptoms of Stuttering
Speech development differs among children. Children may experience symptoms of stuttering, which are only a part of their normal speech and language development. However, if these symptoms would last for 3-6 months or longer, then they might have developmental suffering.
Here are the symptoms of stuttering:
- Repeating their sounds, syllables, or words
- Prolonging their sounds
- Using interjections as they talk, such as ‘uh’, ‘um’, ‘like’, among other words
- Talking very slowly or with many pauses
- Blocked or stopped speech, with their mouth open and ready to talk but no words coming out
- Feeling nervous or out of breath as they talk
- Quick eye blinking
- Trembling or shaking lips as they talk
- Increased stuttering when they feel excited, stressed, or tired
- They are afraid to talk
Take note that these symptoms can vary throughout their day, as well as in various situations. Furthermore, these symptoms may be just like any other health condition, so it’s best to see your child’s doctor for diagnosis and possible treatment if required.
The Causes and Risk Factors of Stuttering
There is no exact cause of stuttering in children, specifically developmental stuttering. However, stuttering also has risk factors. Children would be more likely to develop a stutter if they fall under any of these factors:
- Developmental stuttering is common in some families, sometimes being passed down from parents to their children.
- They have been stuttering for longer than 6 months
- They experience other speech or language disorders
- They feel strong emotions on stuttering
- They have family members who have their concerns and/or fears
- Stuttering is 4 times more common in males than in females
- Stressful events like moving to a new area can worsen stuttering but are not the cause of it. It is NOT caused by anxiety or stress, but stuttering may cause such negative feelings, especially for teenagers.
- It may also be due to a delay or error in messages that the brain will send to the mouth muscles when speaking, making it difficult for one to coordinate with the mouth when talking, causing the stuttering.
Stuttering does not have anything to do with one’s intelligence, nor is it a sign of any hidden psychological problems or by how you raised him. Also, children do NOT catch stuttering from someone else outside the family, it is not contagious, nor can they control it.
Is It Normal for a 7-Years-Old to Stutter?
Stuttering in children is normal and would begin during their preschool years, usually when they reach 2-4 years old. This is because they are beginning to combine words while speaking longer sentences. Sometimes, children don’t begin stuttering until they are older (like when they are 7 years old until their teenage years).
In fact, The Stuttering Foundation says that children would pass through different stages of speech disfluency (between 18 months to 7 years old) as they attempt to learn how to speak properly. Mild stuttering can also happen between 18 months to 7 years old.
Stuttering can begin suddenly, with children waking up one-day stuttering, or it can build up over time. Children may stutter in almost everything they say or occasionally, and sometimes, it can change from day to week or even month to month!
With that said, some children would grow out of stuttering in time. Experts have estimated that around 80% of stuttering children would have a completely normal speech by the time they are 16 years old. Unfortunately, there currently isn’t any way to figure out when children will grow out of their stuttering.
So, when does stuttering become something to worry about?
As mentioned, if your little one experiences stuttering, whether constantly or on and off, for at least 3-6 months, it’s best to take them to a medical professional for diagnosis and treatment. This is better to do than to assume that the stuttering will go away on its own.
Diagnosis and Treatment
While mild stuttering and speech disfluencies are normal in children, they may require a visit to their doctor or speech-language therapist if ever they:
- Try to avoid situations that require talking
- Change words from the fear of stuttering
- Have body or facial movements that come with the stuttering
- Repeat whole phrases or words often and/or consistently
- Repeat their sounds and syllables often
- Have speech sounding strained
Also, you should talk with the speech-language therapist if ever you:
- Notice that your child experiences an increase in facial tension or any tightness in your child’s speech muscles
- Notice any vocal tension, which causes rising loudness or pitch
- Have any other concerns about your little one’s speech and their development
The speech-language pathologist will ask you questions about the stuttering and may also ask your little one to read aloud, observing any speech issues. They will then determine any speech irregularities and rule out speech disorders or Tourette’s syndrome.
There are treatments for stuttering, including:
- Speech therapy to help your child slow down and notice when they stutter, so they can speak more fluently
- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in case they experience stress and anxiety related to their stuttering
- Parent-child interaction with techniques given so you can practice with your child
- Electronic devices to help your little one improve their speech fluency using special speech exercises
While there are medications tried for treating stuttering, there is none proven to completely help.
What Should You Do?
As a parent, you may feel fearful of your child’s future. But again, remember that your little one’s speech development can be improved over time, and stuttering usually stops once they hit their teenage years. Your little one also needs your support and understanding than negative emotions, so encouragement is important.
With your support and encouragement, it can help your little one find this voice, preventing their stuttering from getting worse. Here are a few things you can do to help your child:
- If your child begins to stutter, continue to communicate with him as you would normally, keeping normal eye contact, and patiently waiting for him to finish his sentence.
- Speak with your child in slow and relaxed tones and set aside a few minutes a day for stress-free and fun conversations.
- Listen to your little one rather than criticize him for the way he talks, as this might make him nervous or conscious of how he talks.
- Don’t interrupt your little one or tell him to start their sentence again. Also, don’t tell them to think before speaking or have them speak correctly all the time. Make conversations fun and enjoyable, allowing your child to speak for himself and finish what they are saying.
- Let your child know that you understand and sympathize with the stuttering. When he finished a sentence, let him know that “talking can sometimes be difficult” and that you’re proud of him for how he talks. Don’t ignore or pretend that the stuttering isn’t there, or he’ll think it’s taboo.
Check out this helpful video on stuttering in children and how you, as a parent, can help:
Wrapping It Up
While one can feel worried about their child stuttering, it most likely won’t last forever. Furthermore, if the stuttering becomes a long-term issue, there are ways to improve their speech patterns to make sure that they still lead a normal life.
Hopefully, this article will be of some help to you. Now that you have more knowledge of stuttering in children, use this information to help your little one improve their speech.
Do you have questions or would like to share advice and experiences regarding this issue? Share them in the comments section below!