How to talk with preschoolers who stutter

Each child and family is unique. The advice provided on this page is applicable to most children. However, parents are directed to speak with their child’s Speech-Language Pathologist for additional advice suited to their child’s unique circumstances.  

Like all young children, preschoolers who stutter are spontaneous in their communication, and they have wonderful things to say. 


  • Listen to what the child is saying and respond as you would with any other child. 
  • Provide natural eye contact as you listen and speak.
  • Allow enough time for the child to finish talking.
  • Avoid interrupting or rushing the child.
  • Don’t point out stuttering or give advice on how to talk.
  • Be as natural as possible.
  • Relax, and have fun with your child!  

When talking with young children who stutter, it is recommended that adults be as natural as possible as they listen to what the child is saying.

Stuttering should never be pointed out but needs to be acknowledged when a child brings it up, or when a child is clearly distressed by stuttering. The information on this page provides some guidance on how to do this.

Comments, questions, and advice bring attention to stuttering, and can be perceived as criticism. They may confuse young children who are mostly unaware that they stutter. Through repetition, children come to realize that there is something others don’t like about the way they talk and begin to internalize these messages of non-acceptance.

Think twice before giving advice. Well-meant advice, such as stop and take a deep breath, while seemingly helpful at first, can contribute to the development of secondary behaviours . A natural pre-speech inhalation can turn into an abnormally large, audible inhalation before the child talks. Children who stutter know how to talk and they usually know what they want to say.

The preferred way to support children who stutter in their communication is to listen respectfully and to respond to the child’s words, as with any other child. Children who stutter need more time to express themselves, depending on how often they stutter and how long each stutter lasts. Listening patiently to what the child is saying, while maintaining natural eye contact is sound practice.

It is important not to interrupt children by cutting them off, finishing their words or sentences, trying to guess what they want to say, rushing them to speak, or telling them to hurry. Ignoring the child, changing the topic, or walking away, is never helpful.

When the child’s speech is hard to understand

Speech may at times be harder for adults to understand due to a combination of stuttering and other factors in young children whose speech and language skills are developing. When speech clarity is affected by stuttering, it is okay to ask the child to repeat the message or clarify the part of the message that was unclear, as would be done with any other child.

When the adult is unable to give full attention to the child

Sometimes children want to talk at times that are inconvenient for adults. It is okay for parents to explain that they are unable to listen as attentively as they would like, and that they will join the child as soon as their task is finished, so they can provide their full attention. Follow through is important.

When stuttering is unusually frequent or severe

On days when stuttering is unusually frequent or severe, parents may become tired as they listen actively to their child over long periods of time. This is normal. When needed, parents can provide themselves a break from active listening by suggesting quiet activities for a period, such as watching a video or movie; drawing, painting, or colouring; dancing, or any other activity during which the child is usually quiet, or less chatty. Children don’t typically stutter, or stutter less, during singing and when reciting nursery rhymes. These are fun activities to encourage and participate in together.

It is rare for stuttering to be very severe for more than one or two days in a row in preschool children. Days with severe stuttering tend to be occasional, and sometimes more severe stuttering lasts for a short time during the day. Some families never experience periods of severe stuttering.

Should preschoolers be made aware that they stutter?

It is okay to talk about stuttering with preschool children keeping in mind that it may be transient or temporary and that most preschool children are mostly unaware that they stutter. When a child continues to stutter to the ages of 5 or 6, awareness will develop in some children. Children may or may not talk about it but will know others can hear it. They may wonder why no one mentions it if it was never talked about.

The decision to discuss stuttering with a preschool child must be carefully weighed and worded in an appropriate way, based on the child’s age, the type of stuttering observed, how consistent the stuttering is, the child’s awareness of and reactions to stuttering, and the child’s temperament.

An important consideration is the reason for discussing stuttering with the child. Is it to support the child, or to make the child aware?  

Stuttering is involuntary – the child is not stuttering on purpose and has no control. In fact, attempts to control stuttering can aggravate stuttering. Making a child aware of stuttering will not help the child stop stuttering. Expecting that a child will stop stuttering or stutter less by becoming aware is unrealistic and could lead to undesired consequences.

Stuttering is discussed to provide emotional support and reassurance to children, when it is needed, to convey that the parent is not alarmed by stuttering, and to “make it okay” to talk about stuttering. Acknowledging and talking about stuttering can prevent or lessen the shame it elicits as children grow older, if they continue to stutter beyond the preschool years. In other words, parents set the stage for stuttering to become an acceptable topic for discussion.

Short, simple comments that convey acceptance towards stuttering are recommended. The objectives are to reassure and calm the child, and to encourage communication. It is not a good idea to comment after each stutter, or when stuttering is mild, unnoticed by the child and does not interfere with communication.

When children ask about or comment on stuttering 

When a child asks or comments about stuttering, a simple response, such as, “I noticed, too, that you sometimes repeat or have bumps when you talk. Lots of kids your age have bumps, and they go away after some time. I’ll keep an eye on it, and we can talk about it again later,” is appropriate.

Or, “We all talk differently. Some people have accents, some have loud voices, some are quiet, some talk fast, others talk slowly, some have bumpy words and others have smooth words. You had some bumpy words just now and that’s okay. No need to worry. I understood what you said and that’s what matters.”

Parents can communicate in their preferred style, using words that suit them and their family. The essence of the message is what counts. 

When children lose track of what they were saying

When talking takes a long time, some children will lose track of what they were saying. Thoughts move forward as children take longer to say their words. Children might say, “I forgot,” or, “Never mind.” The adult can repeat or paraphrase what the child was saying, or reassure the child by saying something like, “I sometimes forget what I’m saying, too. Don’t worry. You can tell me later, okay?” or, “Are you sure you don’t want to finish telling me about your idea? I’d love to hear it.”  If the child declines, the adult accepts it.

When the child shows distress or expresses frustration

Stuttering that does not interfere with speaking in a significant way is not usually noticed by preschool children – that is, they do not mention it or react to it, and it does not stop them from talking. For some children, there will be times when stuttering is more frequent, takes up significantly more time, or is accompanied by physical struggle, leading them to react emotionally or verbally. When a preschooler experiences distress because of stuttering, or verbalizes distress or frustration, it is important for adults to acknowledge the experience and reassure the child.

Acknowledgement should be matter of fact and supportive in wording. For example: “I could tell that you worked hard to tell me that sentence. You know that I always listen to what you have to say. You told me that Johnny picked up a worm and put it in his pocket…oh, no, did it get squished?” 

Or “Yeah, I noticed that it sometimes takes a while for you to say your words. I’m not worried about it, but if you are, please tell me. You know that I love hearing what you have to say, so let’s keep talking.” Some parents affectionately touch their children, or hug them, as they reassure.

Parents are advised to consult a Speech-Language Pathologist if they are unsure about how to respond to their child’s stutter, reactions or comments. 

Siblings and other children

Parents and adults are models for siblings and other children. By practicing respectful listening and communication, children will observe and follow the lead.

With or without adult modeling, siblings or other children may be drawn to comment on how a child talks, and even mock the child’s speech. The supervising adult can respond in the moment by answering the child’s comment or question briefly, in a neutral manner, or by redirecting the conversation.

In follow up, the adult may speak with the commenting child in private, briefly explaining that the child who stutters is learning to talk and will sometimes make mistakes, and that the best way to help is to let the child talk and to teach them by simply talking with them, as they do with other siblings or friends. Parents need to consider whether the commenting child’s parents should be informed of the conversation ahead of time, or asked to be present when this brief conversation takes place. 

Verbal competition

Like most children, preschoolers who stutter are excited to share information with parents, siblings, and others. Children sometimes excitedly talk over each other, creating verbal competition. These situations can be challenging for children who stutter as they speak louder and try to hurry, so others don’t interrupt them, talk over them, or speak for them. Some may stop talking and let the others take over.

One way to make group conversation easier for young children who stutter, is to encourage conversational turn-taking: each person talks for a short time before stopping to let another child or adult speak. In this way, everyone gets a chance to talk, and everyone is heard. If needed, a physical object can be passed around, so it is clear whose turn it is to talk. The person who has the object speaks for a short time while others listen. Younger children may need support in respecting turns, while most older children will find it easier to wait their turn.

Performance speech

Parents are naturally proud of their children and will sometimes ask them to tell others about notable achievements or experiences. These requests can be in the form of, “Show Grandma how high you can count,” or, “Tell Alex what happened at the park today.” These activities are pleasurable for some children, but they also can be demanding for a child, and can lead to increased stuttering. 

It is best to avoid this type of “performance speech” with children who stutter and to focus instead on sharing skills and accomplishments that are not based on talking, such as showing how well or fast they ride a bike, or how they dance to a popular song. Children take great pride in showing off their skills. 

Protecting the child

Parents are also naturally protective of their children. It can be hard to watch as a child takes a long time to speak or struggles to talk. Some fear that others will interrupt, ignore, or make inappropriate comments about how the child talks. Parents want to avoid embarrassment for their child and negative judgement or reaction from others. It may be tempting to speak for a child who stutters at these times, especially in front of adults or children who may not have heard the child stutter before.

When a child is asked a question that requires a specific answer, such as, “What is your name?” it is advised that the parent give the child a reasonable chance to speak before helping. It may turn out to be unnecessary for the parent to step in. By waiting for the child to answer, the parent lets others know that the child needs more time to speak.

If needed, parents can support their children when stories or explanations are long or harder to tell by forming a partnership: the parent does most or some of the talking while providing opportunities for the child to comment, complete a sentence started by the parent, or answer a question that can be answered with a short sentence or with just a few words. For example, “Where did we go yesterday?” or, “We each got our favourite flavour of ice cream. I got vanilla because it’s my favourite, and what flavour did you always get, Jessica?” Such prompts are given “now and then,” and should not be constant. If the child begins to talk more, the parent can say less, as appropriate. Parents often do this with children who don’t stutter when they need support to tell something that is harder to explain. If the child shows no interest in adding to the conversation, the adult can continue speaking, involving the child through listening and welcoming spontaneous contributions from the child when they happen.

Daycare staff, preschool teachers, babysitters, and other adults

Parents can alert educators and other caregivers about stuttering. These adults can provide helpful information about how the child stutters at day care, preschool, or when the parents are not present, and they can ensure that the child is actively engaged and participating in activities, like all other children. Parents can provide communication tips to adult caregivers and a copy of the “Takeaways” listed at the top of this page and direct them to the Canadian Stuttering Association website for additional information.

Occasionally, uninformed adults and adult family members will comment about stuttering in front of the child. They may direct their comment, advice, or question to the child, or to one or both parents. Parents can educate the adults about stuttering and provide helpful tips, so that they, too, can be patient, accepting and respectful conversational partners. 
Adults will sometimes share anecdotal advice or opinions that are meant to be helpful. Following the advice of a qualified professional, such as a speech-language pathologist, is recommended.

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