Stuttering: Normal for a toddler?

My two year old has recently begun to stutter. Is this normal for a child of this age?

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Robert Steele

Robert W. Steele, MD, is a board certified pediatrician at St. John's Regional Health Center in Springfield, MO. He graduated from medical... Read more

Stuttering is an involuntary repetition, prolongation, or blockage of a word or part of a word that a person is trying to say. Children who stutter know what they want to say, but they are unable to say the words smoothly and effortlessly.

Stuttering generally begins anywhere between the ages of two to four years. Most will have begun before age five. However, it rarely begins until after the child has been speaking short meaningful phrases. In fact, most kids who stutter have been using sentences for some time. About five percent of all children are likely to stutter for several months or more at some time during their lives. And stuttering tends to run in families. As many as 80 percent of children who begin to stutter will gradually stop.

How do you know if your child is having problems with stuttering, as opposed to just sounding like other children their age? Children who stutter seem to have special problems getting words started, and many of these disruptions occur at the beginning of sentences. Sometimes a child may give a exaggerated, prolonged stress to a sound in a word, or seem to be stuck with no sound or word coming out.

Things Parents Can Do To Help The Child Who Stutters:

  1. Listen patiently to what the child says, not how it is said. Respond to the message rather than the stuttering.
  2. Allow your child to complete her thoughts without interrupting.
  3. Keep natural eye contact while your child is talking.
  4. Avoid filling in or speaking your child's thoughts or ideas. Let the words be her own.
  5. After your child speaks, repeat slowly and unhurriedly, using some of the same words. For example, if she says, "I s-s-see the b-b-bunny." You reply in an easy and relaxed way, "oh yes, you see the bunny. He's cute."
  6. Wait a second or so before responding to your child. This helps to calm and slow things down and should help her speech.

At the age of two, children often have a lot more communicating that they want to do than their limited vocabulary and syntax skills will allow them. This may sound like stuttering, but is just the fumbling of words that all children go through in acquiring good language skills. If this is the case, you can expect your daughter to show gradual but sustained improvement over the next year. If, however, she is truly stuttering, her chances of stopping are much greater than becoming a chronic stutterer. I suggest you follow the advice outlined above, and if the stuttering seems to become a chronic problem, therapy from a trained speech pathologist will be essential.

Additional information may be obtained at:
The Stuttering Foundation of America
P.O. Box 11749
Memphis, TN 38111-0749
or call
1-800-992-9392

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