How to Teach Past Tense Language Skills to Children Who Stutter

two girls reading a book

Around five percent of children go through a phase where they will speak with a stutter for six months or more. The good news is that around 75 percent of those kids are going to grow right out of it. As a parent of a child that stutters, you have the power to make the difference between recovery and a child that has a speech impediment for life. All you have to do is learn how to walk them through it. As a parent of a child that stutters, you can teach past tense verbs and help them.

It's undoubtedly heartbreaking to watch your little one struggle to get through a word. Never forget, though, unlike many maladies that strike our children, in the case of stuttering, you have the power to help them recover. Experts say that the bulk of the work to recover from a stutter happens in the home. You are your child's first line of defense, and we are here to help you strap on those combat boots and get to it.

You don't need to be a grammar expert, teacher, or even all that good at it to be able to pull this off, either.

Speech Delays in Children Who Stutter

There are two terms you are likely going to hear a lot on this journey: receptive language and expressive language.

Receptive language is your child's understanding of language "input." It is the understanding of words and gestures that the people around them use to communicate, Research found that in children who stutter, in most cases their receptive language skills are right where they should be. So, rest easy knowing that your child is learning all the things they should be learning.

Expressive language, however, is where we start to see problems. Expressive language is defined as the words and gestures your child uses to communicate. Researchers found that children who stutter are simplifying their speech to make it easier on themselves. What this means is that your child is not able to put all that information they just learned into practice. The problem, then, is that without practice, a stuttering child can't get any better or grow their skillset.

Mother teaching her little child


As the parent of a stutterer, it's your job to help them practice. There are ways to practice and work on expressive language, but today we are getting a little more specialized. Please note, however, that these activities help with your child's expressive language skills, as well as teach past tense verbs.

Important Protip

There is one significant factor we need to talk about before we dig in. Your child will learn and remember things better when they hear it at the end of a sentence. In English, this can be difficult. Generally, we like to put our verbs in the middle of the sentence. As often as you can, though, put those past tense verbs at the end of the sentence while you're doing this work with your child.

For example, you can try to rephrase some of the sentences you use. Instead of saying,"We wiped your face in the bathroom," say,"We were in the bathroom, and your face is all washed." If you find yourself using a handy past tense verb in the middle of a sentence, simply repeat it and adjust accordingly. Of course, this is not always possible, but sometimes it works.

Past tense verbs are a complex and difficult thing to teach a child. Verbs are tricky because there is not one hard and fast rule. In some cases you add an "-ed," in other cases you change the word entirely. The difficulty only highlights what we keep talking about -- practice. In many cases, repeating the word and doing it over and over for a period is the only way a child will learn the correct usage of past tense verbs.

Your child cannot adequately communicate their needs if they don't know the proper use of the word. For example, if your child approaches you and says, "I poop," you need to know what they mean. Do they mean they need to poop or they already did? You either need to get them to a potty quickly, or you need to search the house. Either way, the distinction is incredibly important.

Activities to Do with Your Child to Teach past Tense Verbs

Now we can finally get into these cool activities you can do with your kid. As we said, practice and repetition are critical. Try to use these tips not only during playtime, but also during car rides, getting ready for school, and other pursuits. There will be some unique games and links for activities included, as well.

playing lego

Use toys

The best part about these activities is that most of them are things you already do, like play with toys. Have your child pick out their favorite toys to play with. Then, have them act out a simple action like run or jump. After they complete the action, talk to them about it. Say, "Did you see that soldier when he ran?" or "Did you see how high that ballerina jumped?"

As we said, conversation with a child that stutters is important, especially when you are trying to teach past tense verbs. When you are playing with your child, keep the conversation rolling. Use things as they happen. For example, if they lift a toy say, "look how high you lifted that heavy toy."

Reading Books

Luckily, most children's books are already written in the past tense. When you're reading with your child, to teach past tense, simply emphasize those past tense verbs.

On top of that, you should also look for books with lots of action words to teach past tense verbs. A good one to try, for example, is Gallop! Waddle! Kick by Rufus Butler. As you read, take note of the action on the page. Then, when you get to the end of the page, before you go to the next one, ask a few questions. For example, "Wasn't it great when the cat ran into the bunny?" Then, ask your child what they think will happen on the next page before moving on. After you read that next page, discuss whether he or she was right or wrong.

Sing songs and do rhyming activities

Just like when you're reading, you can teach past tense verbs while singing or rhyming with your child, as well. Emphasize the past tense verbs as you sing along. Or, you can make up a song with call-and-action activity. For example, jump up and down and pat your belly. After completing the action sing, "I jumped on my feet, and I patted my belly, now you." At the end of the song say something along the lines of, "Wow, we sang a great song together."

Daily routines

You can also teach past tense verbs while you are doing your daily routine. It's easy, as you go through your day just talk about the things you just did. for example, "You did a great job when you brushed your teeth just now." Additionally, when you talk about your day, there are a lot of chances to use past tense verbs. Talk to your child about how they're feeling during the chat. For example, "I bet you were hungry before you ate lunch."

Games, printables, and other activities

There are even a few fun games and worksheets to help you and your child along the way.

  • A cool card game called Slap It created by a concerned mom for Deceptively Educational
  • Visit TEFLtastic for games, activities, and printable worksheets
  • Visit One Stop English and download Grammar: Past Tense Card Game

These are all great resources for your child. The games and worksheets will hold their attention and make learning fun.

A Few Things to Remember

There are several causes of stuttering including genetics and anxiety. Since you probably don't know why your child is stuttering, it's important to ensure you have the most efficient house possible for them to hone their skills. For instance, make sure your home is relaxed and provide plenty of opportunities for your child to speak. Conversation is practice, and that's the ultimate goal here. Do not react negatively when your child stutters. Instead, gently correct the word they got wrong. Each time, though, make sure you praise them for the part they got right.

Further, you should always speak to your child in a slow and relaxed manner. Also, try to face your child when you speak to them so they can see how your mouth forms the words. Do not try to complete sentences for your child. It's incredibly important they attempt to work through it themselves.

Finally, stay open and honest with your kid about this struggle. Stuttering is not a thing you can sugarcoat. They must be an active participant in their own recovery as a way to empower themselves and gain confidence. Before you know it, your child will know how to teach past tense verbs to the other kids.

You Are Ready to Teach Past Tense Verbs to Your Child

Parents and caretakers, you are now armed with the knowledge to help your child overcome their challenges. Strap on those boots and get to work. The earlier you start, the better.

The thing you should most take away from this is the work you can do in your daily life. Nothing really needs to change for you to enact this in your house. Now that you read this, you will keep these things in the back of your mind and your daily activities it's simple to work on these things.

Do you have any other cool ways to teach past tense verbs that we missed? Let us know in the comments.

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