Are you a primary school teacher wanting to know what to do to help a child in your class who stammers?
Read more here.
I think a child in my class might be stammering
- discuss your concerns with parents or carers
- talk to your local speech and language therapist if parents agree
- give parents information about how they can refer their child to speech and language therapy or make the referral yourself if they prefer
- refer to the MPC assessment clinic if there is no local speech and language therapy service, the local SLT also thinks this is good idea, or the parents ask you to do this
How can I make my classroom stammer-friendly?
Reduce time pressures
- give the child who stammers time to finish what they are saying
- model this to the rest of the class so they also know to wait and listen
- slow down your own rate of talking – aim for a relaxed pace
- reduce time pressure to speak or respond by encouraging all of the class to take their time to think before putting their hands up and by avoiding timed speaking tasks
Build the child’s confidence in communicating
- let the child know (explicitly or through your non-verbal signals and attention) that you value their ideas and participation
- look for ways to help a child gradually join in more if speaking in front of the class appears to be difficult (i.e. reading aloud to you on your own, reading aloud in a pair, then in a small group, then in a larger group)
- nurture a classroom culture of kindness, respect, inclusion and acceptance of difference
- encouraging listening and turn-taking within your classroom
- respond to any teasing or bullying, or other intentional, or unintentional, negative comments or reactions to stammering promptly and sensitively
Be flexible with oral tasks and routines
- answering the register can be a daily nightmare for the child who stammers. Think about whether there is another way that things can be done (e.g. everyone putting their hands up for the register)
- reading aloud can also be challenging. For many children who stammer anxiety will increase while they wait for their turn. Consider asking them whether they would like an early turn to read aloud rather than having to wait too long
- raise awareness amongst all staff including cover staff or supply teachers, secretaries, classroom assistants, dinner staff and other school staff
Try not to:
- finish the child’s word or sentence for them
- move on to another child in the class before the child has finished
- assume that the child will not want to participate
- tell them to slow down or take a deep breath
- give them any other advice about what to do or not to do when they stammer
- ask them a lot of questions at once
- put them on the spot with questions
- speak quickly yourself or in other ways put them under time pressure to respond
Should I mention stammering?
- this depends on whether the child is aware that they stammer, whether they notice it happening when they are speaking and whether it is something they want to talk about
- younger children may not be particularly tuned in to it happening
- older children may be aware of it but not be particularly bothered about it, or if they are bothered about it they may not be ready to talk about it with other people
- talk with parents or carers, or the child’s speech and language therapist first to get guidance from them
- if a child seems to be aware of their stammer (they clearly struggle physically, give up on what they are saying or they refer to stammering), and parents/SLTs or the child themselves have said they would like you to say something then try acknowledging when they stammer. You might gently say “That was a bit tricky I know, it’s ok I’ve got time”. It can take the pressure off. Only do this if you are on a 1:1 with the child, have checked out with them whether it’s what they would like you to do and do not do it every time they stammer
- if a child wants to have a private talk about their stammer with you then showing interest in anything that they find challenging at school and thinking together about ways to manage these can help a lot. There may be some practical things that you can do that will make day-to-day life at school easier
Read our suggestion sheets for advice about specific classroom situations.
Learn how to build young children’s resilience at our MPC ‘Building confidence and resilience in children who stammer’ course
- learn how to build confidence and resilience in children (not just children who stammer)
- read more and enrol in a course here
- The age of the child will influence this as older children are more likely to be aware of their stammer. However any child who stammers who is of school age may well be quite tuned into their stammer and able to talk about it.
- If it is clear that a child seems to be aware of their stammer, for example they are obviously really struggling or giving up, or they say things about it themselves, then it may be helpful to acknowledge that they are having difficulty if parents agree to this. A way of acknowledging stammering gently would be to say, for example: “That was a bit tricky I know, it’s ok I’ve got time”.
- If a child is aware of stammering they may find it helpful to talk with you about it. They may have their own ideas about how you can help but there may also be things that they are worried about or finding difficult in school Again, check with parents about this first.
- Talk to the child; if it is clear that they are aware of their stammer, then it will be appropriate (with parents’ permission) to take them to one side and talk to them about it. Find out whether there are things the child wants to do more of, but needs a bit of support, or whether there are things that are really worrying them e.g. taking messages to another teacher or participating in circle time
- Try to be flexible with oral tasks. Routines like answering the register can be a daily nightmare to the child who stammers – is there another way? E.g. everyone putting their hands up instead. This is a good topic to discuss in your 1:1 session
- Paired reading can be really good practice and often results in the child reading more easily too
- Anticipating a turn in reading aloud can be especially difficult. There is time for real anxiety to build up when there is a fixed routine for this (for example row-by-row or in alphabetical order). Choosing at random or having an early turn can be helpful – again checking with the child is a good policy
- Raise awareness amongst all staff, including cover/supply teachers, secretaries, assistants, dinner ladies, etc.
- Don’t advise the child to take a deep breath or to slow down. It probably won’t help for more than a few moments
- Don’t finish the child’s words for them – it may increase anxiety and tension
- Reduce time pressures to speak quickly
- Deal with bullying and teasing immediately – these make stammering much worse
- Deal with unkind behaviour – e.g. mimicking or sniggering
- Praise them for the things that they do well, e.g. having a go, listening, taking a turn, being polite, helpful with tidying, etc.
Sometimes you just need someone to talk to
Sometimes you just need someone to talk to
Our Helpline, 020 3316 8100, is open during office hours (9am-5pm) and voicemail messages can be left when the office is closed.
“It was really useful to properly open up about my stammer and how it effects me.”