To help our children, we need to understand the origin of stuttering. Virtually all humans are overly concerned with the opinions of others. This goes back to primitive mankind’s life in the wilderness, where every encounter with a stranger posed a potential life-and-death threat and stimulated what the medical world calls the “fear-fight-flight” syndrome, which is the topic of many courses on psychology and remains deeply imbedded in our psyches.
While modern humans rarely need to “fight” or “flee”, they often still do “fear” — and for reasons rarely valid. All adults suffer some degree of these concerns. In today’s society, this fear of others has evolved into a strong desire to be “accepted” and “acceptable” by them, especially strangers (as they are unknown quantities) and authority figures (as they have the power to hurt us). Again, nearly all adults struggle with these anxieties, at some level, to their dying breaths. They manifest their anxieties in myriad ways: headaches, skin rashes, ulcers, ticks, biting fingernails, nervous body movements, high blood pressure, fast talking, etc. – and some of us by stuttering.
As a rule, the younger that we are, the more insecure we are. In college, we are more insecure than we are in our thirties. At 15, we are more insecure that we are in college, and so the insecurities increase as our age comes down to 12, 10, 8, 6, 5, and, heaven forbid, 3.
Indeed, it is difficult for a parent to remember and appreciate the heightened level of fear that a youngster has when encountering others, especially strangers and authority figures. If you can recall the last time that you were extremely nervous about meeting or dealing with someone and then multiply that level of anxiety by a factor of ten or twenty, you might approximate the way that your child feels when routinely encountering and dealing with others, especially strangers and authority figures. With some children, their anxieties can manifest themselves in shortness of breath, silence and withdrawal.
Unfortunately, some parents are the most frightening of all! Some of my PWS (people who stutter) fear their parents, especially their fathers, more than anyone else, and they simply can’t talk to them at all. Simply put, any and all criticisms by parents can be extremely damaging to their children. Of course, parents need to discipline their children, but it needs to be done in a way that does not frighten the child physically. Removing privileges works well. A spanking may well do more harm than good.
The next most feared group is teachers. Criticisms by teachers can have lasting, negative effects.
Then, of course, there are classmates, their peers. All of us truly need and wish to be accepted by our peers. Children, of course, can be and often are extremely critical of each other. Any imperfection or weakness is often mocked and cruelly ridiculed by peers, driving the child into ever deeper withdrawal and mistakes of many kinds. Stuttering can be a form of defense – a verbal withdrawal from the risks of socializing.
The words “fear” and “anxiety” are roughly synonyms. They cause stress. Stress raises blood pressure and can shorten breath, and it can result in many other negatives. So many illnesses are now traced, in significant part, to stress, even cancer. Can it be any surprise that stress causes fast talking? And that fast-talking leads to innocent, minor speech mistakes? These relatively minor mistakes are often viewed as major mistakes by the child. Fluent speakers make such mistakes constantly and never think twice about them; speech-anxiety-sufferers brood over the smallest speech-imperfections. Then, if those mistakes are corrected or, worse, mocked, the mistakes can quickly morph into stuttering.
How did your child begin stuttering? A great deal of stuttering begins with the most innocent and minor mistakes: “I-I-I-I am going huh-huh-home now,” or when the child tries to pronounce a big word (like pronouncing “metaphysics” and says “met-ah-pix-e” or some such) or when the child simply stumbles over words due to talking too fast — which is followed by a correction by the parent or by the laughter of a peer. Then, when speech-mistakes are corrected or mocked, the speaker thinks more carefully about words; fear creeps in and leads to more mistakes of similar kind. The stuttering-snowball, once off and rolling, gathers steam, size and force as it rolls.
When do most begin to stutter? Based on my exposure to 1,000+ PWS, I estimate that 70% of PWS began stuttering between the ages of 3 and 7; 25% between 8 and 20; and 5% over age 20.
In my book, Stuttering & Anxiety Self-Cures, and its associated video course I created to make it easier to understand my methods and to put them into practice, I provide:
- IMPORTANT INSTRUCTIONS FOR PARENTS TO GIVE TEACHERS
- DETAILED STEPS YOU, THE PARENT, CAN TAKE TO HELP YOUR CHILD STOP STUTTERING
Frankly, unless you stutter or once did, you have no idea how a stutterer thinks. The problem with therapists is that, by my guesstimate, 90% of them never stuttered and the other 10% still do. They either can’t understand the way a stutterer thinks, or they have no idea how to avoid stuttering. As a result, most PWS complain that therapy has not helped, and some assert that it has made their stuttering worse. The lack of success of speech therapy has led to the universal view that stuttering is “an incurable disease”. Without debating the word “cure”, suffice it to say that most stuttering CAN be stopped.
Unfortunately, based on what I have observed, traditional speech therapy is not going to help your child or you, until therapists change their methods and begin to agree that stuttering CAN be stopped. As long as therapists expect to fail, they surely will, and such therapies can be quite expensive – typically, $200-300/hour and/or thousands of dollars for several-day-programs, clinics, etc.
As such, you need to learn as much as you reasonably can about stuttering – and quickly. As a Stuttering Plan member of World Stop Stuttering Association (WSSA) you will have access to the 3rd Edition of my Stuttering & Anxiety Self-Cures book and the 20 video lessons I created to bring my book alive, and this will provide a basic understanding the problem and solutions that work with most PWS. My book and course have been very well received by PWS (the book receiving many very long, detailed and extremely positive reviews). More saliently, having scanned most of the dozen or of the better-known stuttering books, they do not offer methods to stop stuttering but, rather, tips on ways to make yourself or your child more comfortable with it. Our goal is to help children become more comfortable with themselves while they learn ways to stop stuttering.
There are no “magic pills”, including all manner of mood-drugs, that will solve the stuttering problem – more than very temporarily. I have dealt with many who tried such pills, and none has achieved any lasting relief.
You owe it to your child, to study my book and watch the video lessons. In doing so, you will be infinitely better equipped to deal with your child’s problem than most. Even if your efforts achieve less than you had hoped, at some point in his/her teens, your child can and will stop stuttering through his/her (his) own study and use of the methods we teach. Our batting average is very high. Stuttering is no longer a life-sentence for most.