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Stuttering in children

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Stuttering is a speech disorder that stops the natural flow of speech.
  • Most children will outgrow stuttering without treatment – but you can’t tell who will and who won’t.
  • A speech pathologist can help your child with their stuttering.

What is stuttering?

Stuttering is a speech disorder. It stops the natural flow of speech and can make talking difficult.

Stuttering (also called stammering) is a pattern of speech that involves:

  • hesitations
  • repetitions
  • silent blocks (when your child tries to speak but no sound comes out)

People who stutter know what they want to say, but have difficulty saying it.

Stuttering can have a strong and negative effect on your child’s view of themselves and their social relationships.

It’s common for children between the ages of 3 to 4 to go through periods of stuttering. It might start overnight or build up slowly. Some children stutter occasionally, others all the time. It can vary depending on the situation. It might stop for a while and then start again.

For most children, this is part of learning to speak, and it gets better on its own. It’s rare for adults to begin stuttering.

Symptoms of stuttering

Stuttering signs and symptoms can vary greatly between children and may include:

  • difficulty starting a word, sentence or phrase
  • prolonging a word or sounds within a word
  • repeating a sound, syllable or word
  • brief silences for certain syllables or pauses within a word (broken word)
  • the addition of extra words such as 'um' if difficulty moving to the next word is anticipated

Your child may also do nonverbal things when they stutter, such as:

  • grimacing
  • blinking
  • tensing

Stuttering can be unpredictable. It can get worse with tiredness or stress. Stuttering can be very mild to very severe.

Types of stuttering

There are 3 main types of stuttering:

  1. repetitions
  2. prolongations
  3. blocks

Repetitions are when a sound, part of a word, a whole word or a phrase is repeated.

Prolongations are when a sound is stretched out.

Blocks are when no sound comes out.

Your child may do one or more of these behaviours.

What causes stuttering?

Nobody knows what causes stuttering. Stuttering is related to brain activity. This means that it’s a physical disorder not a psychological problem.

Stuttering isn’t caused by:

While anxiety does not cause stuttering, it can make it worse. This can then make the anxiety worse creating a negative cycle.

Stuttering runs in some families, although it can happen on its own. Males are more likely to stutter than females. About 1 in 100 people stutter.

Stuttering affects people from:

  • all backgrounds
  • all intelligence levels
  • all personalities

Treatment for stuttering

It’s not possible to tell whether a child will recover naturally from stuttering or if they will need therapy. It’s recommended that all pre-school aged children who begin to stutter should get treatment.

Young children benefit most from early intervention with a speech pathologist. Treatment at this age is more effective. It’s also because social anxiety usually begins to appear in children from 7 years of age.

Speech pathologists know about:

  • stuttering
  • evidence-based interventions

They will help you set goals for your child and work towards these goals.

You can get help for your child either in person or via telehealth. These sessions can be individual or in a group.

Treatment for adolescents and adults aims to both:

  • correct the speech
  • reduce anxiety that usually goes with it

There are no medicines to help with stuttering.

How should I talk with my child?

When talking with your child who stutters:

  • be patient
  • show interest in what they’re saying
  • try not to interrupt or finish their sentences

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder to find speech and language therapists near you.

Resources and support

You can find out more about stuttering from Speech Pathology Australia.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: March 2023

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Need more information?

Stuttering - Better Health Channel

Children who stutter should see a speech pathologist, preferably before they start school.

Read more on Better Health Channel website

Stuttering in children & teens | Raising Children Network

Stuttering is a common speech problem that makes it hard for children to speak smoothly. If you notice your child has a stutter, see a speech pathologist.

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Communication disorders: children & teens | Raising Children Network

Communication disorders include speech disorders, language disorders, stuttering and voice problems. Speech pathologists can often help.

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

Need further advice or guidance from our maternal child health nurses?

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