“Kate has started to stutter. What should I do? How can I help her?” Doug, father to three-year-old Kate, asked.
As we develop spoken language, stuttering is a symptom of expressive skills lagging behind receptive language skills. If we think about receptive language being our reservoir of words and understanding, and expressive language as the pump and hose used to move words from our language reservoir to the outside world, stuttering is a kink in this hose of expressive language.
Children and adults understand more than we have words to express. It is part of the human condition. What we understand is called receptive language. What we speak is our expressive language.
The young child has a pool of receptive language and understanding trying to be expressed with developing skills. The right word at the right time can get stuck somewhere along the path from the brain to the mouth.
How do we help the child that is trying to enlarge his expressive vocabulary? What should we do when words get hung up along the way?
First, refrain from using the word stuttering. It places undue importance on a short-term language situation. When a child gets stuck on a word, he or she needs more time to express him or herself. We need to listen patiently, make eye contact, and smile. We need to speak in an unhurried manner. If you have an idea of what your child is trying to say, go ahead and say it, with a question added to confirm your communication. For example, “You’re sad that grandmother had to go home. Is that right?”
Expressive language, in all of us, is challenged by several factors. These include emotions, an underdeveloped memory of how to pronounce the words, and by a weak ability to form certain sounds. By observation you can see when your child is most apt to get stuck on a word.
- Does it happen at bedtime?
- When he or she is hungry?
- Does the situation occur with certain words or sounds such as r’s, th’s, or t’s?
With this information you’ll be better prepared to offer help to your child.
Here are some suggestions to help your child develop stronger expressive language skills:
Sing with your child. Encourage your child to sing-a-long to as many songs as possible. Singing uses both sides of the developing brain, and aids in memory, language development and emotional control. The Wee Sing series offers a fun way to learn new songs.
Use nursery rhymes and poems to help develop speaking in long sentences and paragraphs. Nursery rhymes serve the child’s need to develop expressive language, memory and movement…one reason nursery rhymes have endured for hundreds of years.
Teach words to express emotion. Start with happy, sad, mad, scared and powerless. Being able to use a word to express the emotion that is blocking expressive language helps create richer language and vocabulary.
Use vocabulary cards to help build spoken and visual memory. Sets of cards, either store bought or handmade, can help your child fix in memory a spoken word with its corresponding picture. This information helps your child retrieve words more easily.
Practice making certain sounds. If the “r” sound keeps your child from speaking fluently, sing songs like ‘Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer” or sing ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ using only the syllable “rah” for any words.
These fun activities enlarge expressive language skills, allowing your child to reveal his or her uniqueness.