Toddler Stuttering: When It's Normal & When It's Not

child with hands over face

Every parent looks forward to when their little ones start talking ... which is why it can hit parents hard to hear their toddler stumbling over sentences. Yet stuttering, also called dysfluency, is actually surprisingly common. So, if your toddler struggles to say even simple words, never fear, you've got plenty of company.

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"About one out of five children will stutter at some point in their lives, and one out of 20 will stutter for more than six months," says Deena Blanchard, a pediatrician in Brooklyn at Premier Pediatrics. "It will typically start around 18 to 24 months when their language skills are rapidly developing, but can crop up anytime up until they're 5 years old."

Stuttering is defined as frequent disruptions in sound, which can manifest as part-word repetitions ("w-w-where are you going?"), sound prolongations ("sssssave my seat"), or a series of interjections between words ("See you -- um, ah, like -- at six"). While the causes of stuttering are unknown, genetics seems to play into it.

"Many children who stutter have family members that stuttered at some point as well," says Dr. Blanchard. "Children who have other speech and language disorders -- like a lisp -- are also more likely to stutter."

More from The Stir: 5 Signs Your Child Might Need Speech Therapy

Often kids will outgrow stuttering without intervention, but there are a few times to be concerned. For instance, stuttering that is accompanied by facial or body movements could be a symptom of deeper disorders like Tourette's, which should be checked out by a doctor. And while it's not a big deal if you hear one to two syllables or sound repetitions, three or more sound or syllable repetitions could signify a more severe stuttering problem that could merit the help of a speech therapist.

You should also seek professional help if your child is bothered by his stuttering, and starts to clam up or talk less as a result -- but as long as it's mild and not bothering him, it shouldn't faze you, either!

If you do hear your child stutter, try to refrain from correcting his speech, finishing his sentences for him, or saying things like "slow down" or "take a deep breath." You may mean well, but this may only ramp up his anxiety and make his stuttering worse. Instead, patiently wait for your child to get it out, since this drives home that even if he stutters, he can still communicate -- and isn't that what really counts?

Have you heard your child stutter, and how did you deal? 


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