My child is stuttering… should I be concerned?”

By Roxane Bélanger, SLP-C, Reg. CALSPO, Speech Language Pathologist

First Words Preschool Speech and Language Program of Ottawa

Join the conversation on February 12, 2018. We will be discussing this topic on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page.

When 3 year-old Benjamin started repeating words, his mother worried. She spoke to a nurse at the Ottawa Public Health Line and completed the First Words Communication Checkup. She was immediately reassured. Like many preschool children, Benjamin was going through a normal phase of stuttering or dysfluency. Although he continued to repeat sounds and words now and then over, Benjamin's mom knew to listen to WHAT he was saying and not how he was saying it. She slowed down her own speech and gave him lots of time to finish what he was saying. In the end, Benjamin outgrew this stuttering period and didn't need any therapy. 

Know the signs! 

Between the ages of 2 and 5 years, many preschool children will go through periods of "normal phase" of dysfluency or stuttering. Children will repeat sounds and words, especially when they are tired, excited or upset. Periods of stuttering can change over time, lasting a few days, weeks or even a few months. 

Research shows that these hesitations are often associated to a rapid language growth. For some children, using the right words and sentences, in the right way, quickly in conversation is a challenge. Often, they pause or repeat whole words ("I-I-I want the ball") or the first syllable ("Mo-mo-mommy...") in conversation.  More than 75% of preschool children will stop on their own within the first six (6) months.  When children don't outgrow it, a true stuttering may be the problem. It is important to start therapy as early as possible.  You can start by paying close attention to your child's speech.

Did you know?

  • about 5% of children stutter
  • more boys stutter than girls
  • stuttering runs in families and is not due to anxiety
  • stuttering may be worse when a child is tired, sick or excited
  • most children respond well to therapy

Here are signs to tell "normal dysfluency" apart from a real stuttering problem:  

Normal dysfluency Stuttering
  • Repetition of words (e.g., "I, I, I see a car") or parts of sentences (e.g.,  "I see, I see a ball")
  • Sentence revisions (e.g., "I want, I want to go... I'm going to the store")
  • Pauses between words
  • Repetition without effort  
  • Periods of fluency:  the child hesitates little or not at all during the day or in a week
  • Behaviour does not seem to get worse
  • Symptoms started within the 6 months
  • Repetitions of parts of words (e.g., He...he...hello) or single sounds (e.g., "b-b-b-Bobby)
  • Stretching out a sound (e.g., Mmmmm-om)
  • Blocks: the child gets stuck on a sound, sometimes completely
  • Signs of tension or struggling (e.g., head shaking, lip tension, voice intensity change)
  • Stuttering seems to be increasing
  • Child avoids speaking, becomes aware of the difficulties and/or mentions it
  • Stuttering lasts more than 6 to 12 months

How can I help my child?

Whether it is normal repetitions or suspected stuttering, parents, caregivers and professionals can help a child by showing an interest in WHAT the child is saying (content), and not in the way it is being said.  Here are suggestions to help the child get through this phase:

  • Slow down. Speaking slowly will slow down your child's speech more than telling them to slow down. Use more frequent and longer pauses between sentences.
  • Give the child your full attention and time to speak. The child will understand that he doesn't have to hurry and that you are interested in what he is saying. In a group, make sure the child gets time to talk.
  • Be patient and focus on what the child is saying. Let your child finish his thought instead of interrupting or finishing his sentence as this will not improve fluency. 
  • Avoid using words like "slow down" or "relax".  This may make the child more nervous or self-conscious.  Instead, show interest in what the child is saying!
  • Relax - most children will stop.  Keep the conversation going at a slow pace. 

Act early! Get help!

If you're worried, don't wait! Get help. Some children will not grow out of their stuttering. Like other communication, stuttering is best addressed early on. In Ottawa, services are available for preschool children through the First Words Preschool Speech and Language Program. Here are suggestions of how to access services:

  • Complete the First Words Communication Checkup to check if your child is meeting speech and language milestones. This free online is presently available in French and English. It will soon be available in simplified Chinese and Arabic. Come back every 6 months to check your child's speech and language milestones. 
  • Speak with a Public Health Nurse. Call the Ottawa Public Health Info Line (OPHIL) at 613-580-6744 (TTY: 613-580-9656) or email Ottawa Public Health at  You can also connect with a Public Health Nurse and other parents on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page.
  • Visit the First Words website for more information on various resources and to view helpful webinars.  

Join the conversation on February 12, 2018. We will be discussing this topic on the Parenting in Ottawa Facebook page.

Remember:  Early intervention is the best approach!

Visit the First Words website

Concerned about your child' communication development? Complete our online screening tool

First Words Communication Checkup or call the Ottawa Public Health Information at (613) 580-6744.


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