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The Speech Therapy Blog

What Causes Stuttering in Toddlers and How to Treat It?

Last updated Nov. 1, 2017

When we have a child, our hearts are filled with joy and expectation.

When they are young, we worry about their development and what is normal and what is not. We worry if they seem to lag behind the status quo as we celebrate their milestones.

When a speech impediment develops, we grow concerned. A trip to a speech therapist may be needed to ascertain the scope and depth of the problem. Stuttering is among the most common speech abnormality in children. Many children experience a stutter between the ages of 2-5 years.

Stuttering can be a part of the learning language process. Learning to speak and a new language is very complex. Children not only need to learn what each word is but to also pronounce it and fit the words together to form coherent sentences.

Most of the children that stutter will outgrow the impediment, but for others, it stays and it makes them very frustrated.

So, what causes stuttering in toddlers and how can it be treated?

How can the parents or speech therapist help them to overcome the problem?

As parents, we want the best for our children. We want to help them as much as we can. We want to prepare them for the world. We want them to grow up and lead productive and successful lives. We want them to be confident in who they are and in their abilities. So, how can we help them?

Before we move on to the causes of speech impediments in toddlers, we need to first discuss the basics:

What is a Stutter?


Stuttering is also known as stammering or called by its clinical name which is dysfluency.

It is a disruption in a person’s normal pattern and flow of speech. It can appear in many forms, from stumbling over words to repeating them or complete phrases or sentences repeatedly. It can also appear as prolongation of specific sounds like “ssss.”

Sounds can be completely omitted from the speech or speech can stop altogether. There can also be frequent breaks in speech with additive words such as “um” or “uh”.

A stutter can develop at any age. It can develop as the result of a brain injury or trauma. In children, it is most likely to develop as the child learns to form words and sentences. It is estimated about one in five children experience a stutter that seems severe.

This can be alarming to parents, but most of them grow out of the dysfluency within a six-month time span. Only about one in twenty children keep their stutter for longer than a six-month time frame.

Even when the stutter seems to last longer than six months, it doesn’t mean that it will hang around throughout the child’s life. Know what to look for and how to handle your child’s stuttering problem to help them overcome the impediment.

Signs to Look for in Your Child


  • Facial Muscles: Do you notice a tension or tightening around the facial muscles as your child speaks? Does your child seem to struggle physically to get the words out?
  • Pitch:  Does your child’s voice raise in pitch with their repetitions?
  • Avoidance:  Does your child try not to speak at all? Do they try to keep from stuttering by avoiding certain words or changing words mid-use? Are extra sounds made or do they make added sounds instead of words?

Children can develop a stutter for different reasons. It is hard to get the mouth, tongue and all needed muscles working in the right order for each word. It can be a stressful time for children as they learn how to communicate with everyone else.


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Main Reasons for Stuttering


  1. Child Development:  If the child already has a speech or language problem, stuttering is likely to occur on top of the original impediment.
  2. Neurophysiology:  Language may develop in different parts of the brain in some children than in others. When this occurs, it may interfere with the interaction between the muscles that control speaking and the brain thus causing a stutter.
  3. Inherited Trait:  Some believe that a stutter may be linked to genetics but the specific genes shared have not yet been identified. However, there is a startling statistic that shows 60% of children who stutter are directly related to someone in their close family who stuttered as a child as well.
  4. Lifestyle:  High family expectations can cause a stutter in children. If the child feels pressured to speak right or frustrated by the whole problem they can be pushed and their stutter can become worse. Instead, try to calm your child down when they start to stutter. Encourage them to finish what they were going to say and help them to relax through the process.
  5. Trauma:  A stutter can be caused by physical trauma. This is a rare occurrence in children and usually occurs in adults more than kids. There is very little support to prove that emotional trauma causes stuttering.

How to Know When to Seek Professional Help


Since stuttering can be a common phenomenon in children, it is hard to know when to seek out professional help for your child and when to just calm down and encourage your child to do the same then wait for them to grow out of it.

There aren’t any medications to treat a stuttering condition. A speech pathologist or a speech therapist will work with you and your child to set up some techniques to try and correct the problem.

Professional Help Should Be Sought for Your Child if You Observe Any of These Symptoms or Traits

  • If the stutter becomes worse or more frequent.
  • If their speech is strained and difficult.
  • If they use extra facial or body movements when they stutter.
  • The stuttering continues past the age of five.
  • The child avoids situations that will require them to talk.
  • There seem to be vocal tensions that rise your child’s pitch when they talk.

8 Ways to Help at Home


There are a lot of things that a parent can do to help their toddler and older children. Here are a few ways to help:

  1.  Find ways to get your child to participate in the conversation. Make sure there aren’t distractions such as TV or computers. Pick a quiet time to talk and encourage them to talk with you and family during this time. At dinner time or bedtime is perfect.
  2.  Come up with ideas to allow them opportunities to talk. Play speaking games and sing. Make sure the atmosphere is fun and relaxed with no pressure.
  3.  Do not constantly correct your child’s speech. A lot of criticism will only add undo pressure.
  4.  When a company is present do not encourage your child to speak unless they want to. Allow them their space and provide non-verbal activities.
  5.  Listen when your child speaks. Be attentive not to be distracted by other things such as smartphones and chores. Give them eye contact and do not show frustration and impatience.
  6.  Do not react negatively to your child’s stutter. Do not finish their sentences or correct them. Your child needs to learn to communicate effectively with his stutter.
  7.  Talk to you child about their stutter. Allow them to express their frustration with it and come to terms with it. An open discussion about it will help them overcome and deal with the issue.
  8.  Do not use words such as “slow down” and “take a breath”. You may intend for these phrases to help but they only point out the problem and make the child self-conscious.

Remember, stuttering is common and parents should think of ways to help the child instead of worrying about the issue.

In most children, the stuttering will fade away. If it should persist until older than five years of age then the child should definitely visit a professional speech therapist.