Worldwide, more than 70 million people stutter. If your child is one of those people, you are likely a little overwhelmed and worried about their quality of life. Did you know, though, that you can reverse stuttering in children? Out of the five percent of kids who stutter for a period, only one percent of those end up with a permanent problem. There are early interventions like learning expressive language skills that are key to helping your child reverse the condition.
In fact, you can empower both your child and yourself by teaching them expressive language skills. You just need the right tools!
What is Expressive Language?
First of all, let's talk about what expressive language is. There are a couple of new vocabulary words we will learn today: expressive language and receptive language.
Receptive language is "the understanding of language input." Essentially, this is the ability to understand not only words but gestures, as well. It goes a bit beyond vocabulary skills, though. It also describes the ability to understand that a question is a question as well as concepts like "off." Children typically develop their receptive language skills first. First, children watch and absorb all the rules of language; then they put it to use by starting to express themselves.
Expressive language is, not surprisingly, the "output," of language. It's how your child expresses their wants and needs. It goes beyond just words, of course. Expressive language includes grammar rules as well as how words fit into sentences and paragraphs. Like receptive language, expressive language is also the use of facial expressions and hand gestures.
Expressive Language in Children Who Stutter
The good news is that research shows that children who stutter have no delay in their receptive language skills. Those same researchers found delays, though, in the development of expressive language in children who stutter. The reason for this is to cope with the stutter; the child simplifies their speech. The downside to that is that your child can't practice all those incredible skills they just learned.
We all know that if you can't practice something, you won't get any better at it. Don't worry, though, because there are many things you can do to help your child work through this.
How to Tell if Your Child Has a Problem With Expressive Language
A child that has difficulties with expressive language may do the following:
- Have trouble finding the right words when speaking;
- Difficulty naming objects;
- Use of sentences that seem too immature for their age;
- Use made-up or nonsense words;
- Unfamiliar people cannot understand them;
- Issues writing stories or paragraphs, and
- Trouble re-telling a story.
When to See a Doctor
Let's talk for a moment about when you should consult a professional. Experts recommend that you have your child evaluated if they have been stuttering for three to six months. Stuttering can be genetic, so if there is a family history, you should also consider that when deciding.
Whatever you do, most of your child's therapy will happen at home. So let's get into all the things you can do to walk your little one through this trying time.
Consider Your Home Environment
Before we get into the actual exercises, let's talk a little bit about your home life. First, experts agree that you should make sure that your child understands that they have this problem. Stuttering is one of those things that you can't sugarcoat. To make the most progress with your child, they have to be 100 percent involved in their own progress.
To have the best chance at making the most of these exercises, let's talk about general things you and the rest of the family can do around the house. Conversating with your child is incredibly valuable, keep the conversation flowing if you can. Try not to pressure them too much, though, if they struggle or want to take a break.
There are some things you can do at home to help. Don't be too demanding when your child speaks. Make sure you give them time to work on those tricky words. Also, try not to react negatively when your child stutters. Instead, acknowledge the stutter, praise the part they got correct, and move on. Perhaps you can go back and practice the word; we will get into that later.
Make sure your house is relaxed. While anxiety doesn't always cause stuttering, it is undoubtedly a factor in many cases. When having conversations speak slowly and in a relaxed way. That will help your child feel better about taking his or her time when it's their turn. Additionally, make sure you listen attentively when your child speaks. Do not finish your child's sentences; it's imperative that they do so on their own. Turn off background noise like the television or radio. Finally, talk face-to-face with your child whenever possible so they can see you forming your words
Activities to Learn Expressive Language
Now, we will finally get into all the incredible exercises you and your child can do to help them reverse their stuttering. Of course, you should choose age-appropriate activities from this group, as they aren't one-size-fits-all.
Reading books with and to your child is a fantastic way to help improve their expressive language skills. The thing you want to remember most is the importance of asking open-ended questions. Ask things like
- "Where do you think that baby duck will go?"
- "How do you think that little girl feels right now?"
If you have a younger child, wordless books are an excellent resource. You can ask them all sorts of questions like we just discussed. Point at things and ask away. It is helpful to expand on your child's answers if you can. For example, if they answer that it is a dog, you might say, "correct, that is a dog, a big, black dog."
It doesn't matter if you feel silly. Pretend play is an excellent way to hone your child's expressive language skills. Actually, not only is it useful, pretend play targets higher level expressive language skills. It is one of the single most essential exercises on this list.
Here's how to get the most out of this exercise: ensure that your child is the one that calls the shots. As you and your child play, ask them open-ended questions. It allows them to create their own scenario as opposed to letting them get away with one word or two-word answers.
Sequencing skills are essential when improving one's expressive language and cooking is a great way to practice. Sit down with your child and have them narrate the steps of the recipe. Really, all that entails is having him or her either read the ingredients off the list -- have them name them if they can't read yet.
Then, as you are cooking, ask your child to describe what you are doing and what steps are coming up next.
Playdough is not only super fun, but it's incredibly helpful when it comes to learning expressive language skills. Your child can literally build anything his or her imagination desires. Use a cookie cutter or other tools to help out if your child struggles with figuring out what to make on their own.
This sort of play is a great way to get your child to make "I need" and "I want" phrases.
Toy animals and train/car sets
Use toy animals as well as train/car sets in the same manner as you do the pretend play. Of course, keep up the open-ended questions, of course. Use the toy animals and have your child narrate what he or she thinks that animals are doing. With the train sets or cars, practice phrases like, "go again," "go up/down" and "ready...set...go."
Don't worry if you have a child that isn't into any of those other toys, dress-up is another excellent exercise. Use dress-up either with pretend play or on its own. Have your child express to you what they want to wear or what they want you to wear. Of course, asking them open-ended questions during dress-up is vital.
Using play food with your child is another way to help them grow. Have them pretend they are cooking and serving food to you or your family. Teach them to ask you questions to find out what you want or what you like to eat. Have them express to you what they are cooking and how they are preparing it.
Another idea is to have your child feed the puppet. As they feed the puppet, tell them to help it eat by telling it what to do. Things like, "eat potato," or eat the candy, puppet." Encourage your child to discuss whether or not the puppet enjoyed their meal.
A few other tips
As you can see from all these ideas, getting your child to speak frequently is critical. Here are a few other tips to help your child along the way.
First, for times spent in the car or waiting rooms, you can use some worksheets from the National Educational Psychological Service. Here are a few other things you can do that will help:
- Sing songs with them;
- Expand on their language in conversation;
- Model language that they get wrong;
- Always have your child ask for what they want;
- Have your child request another turn, and
- Ask them what they are doing and have them explain it to you.
Work on these things every day to improve their skills.
Congratulations, parents, now you have a full set of tools to help your child overcome their stutter. Remember, this is a stressful time for your entire family, but if you all work together, these activities can turn out to be surprisingly fun. It's all about getting your little one to practice, practice, practice those skills until their confidence soars and they overcome that stutter.
No matter what, never forget that the odds are very much in your favor, and good luck.