Is your child having trouble getting his words out? As children learn new words, it’s normal to have periods of disfluency when trying to communicate. For example, it’s not uncommon for children to occasionally stumble over words, repeat sounds, prolong sounds, as in “ssssss,” or use long pauses between words. Disfluency — the inability to speak smoothly — can be a temporary issue that comes and goes.

On the other hand, for some children, stuttering can become a lifelong struggle. When disfluency becomes more regular than normal speech patterns, it’s important to schedule an appointment with a speech therapist. Research provides evidence that early treatment helps stop stuttering from lasting into adulthood. It also helps children cope with negative reactions to stuttering. 

Signs that your child may have a stutter

As you watch your child develop, you see him hit developmental milestones. Speaking in clear, understandable sentences is a process your young child should master. If you sense that your child isn’t communicating as well as other children his age, seeing a speech therapist is in order. If you see the following signs, your child may have a stutter.

Repeating sounds or words 

If your child frequently gets stuck on one sound and says it repeatedly, this is a common sign of stuttering. Instead of saying “Where is my blanket?” your child says “Wh … wh … wh … where is my blanket?” 

Lengthening a sound 

Instead of being able to pronounce a word and move on, your child may often hold on to an initial or end sound of a word, as in “Sssssssee the dog.” 

Using many pauses and fillers  

Instead of saying, “I want to go to the pool today,” your child vocalizes very slowly, pausing frequently between words: “I … want to … go, um, to the pool.” He may use  “um” and “oh” or similar fillers during the pauses. 

Stopped speech

Perhaps your child simply stops speaking in the middle of a sentence and doesn’t continue for a period of time. His mouth is open, but no sounds are made. This is blocked speech, and is also a characteristic of stuttering. 

Tension when speaking and rising voice tone pitch  

Does your child clench his fists when starting to speak? Are the facial muscles pronounced? Does his tone rise in pitch as he repeats words or syllables? All of these may signal that your child stutters. 

Head nodding or eye blinking 

Nodding the head or blinking the eyes sometimes accompanies stuttering; they may be devices your child uses to try to get his words out. 

Avoiding situations where speaking is required 

Has your child’s preschool teacher mentioned that your child doesn’t speak often in the classroom? When asked a question, does your child sometimes look away or pretend he doesn’t hear you? He may be avoiding speaking because it causes stress.  

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