October 4th, 2010
08:50 AM ET

What can I do to help my stuttering daughter?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Monday, it's Dr. Jennifer Shu, a pediatrician.

Question asked by Karina of Doraville, Georgia:

My 4-year-old daughter has been stuttering at the beginning of her sentences for the past month. It doesn't seem to bother her and she has a good vocabulary and talks in full sentences. I stuttered too when I was her age but it went away. What can I do to help her?

Expert answer:

Thanks for your question. Stuttering is most common between the ages of 2 and 5 years old, when a child's speech is quickly developing. It affects about 5 percent of kids but becomes less common with time, affecting less than 1 percent of adults.

This disruption in one's speech (also called a disfluency) can cause a repetition of a part of a word at the beginning of a sentence or at the middle of one, or there may be no sound at all for several seconds before a word comes out.

Stuttering can run in families and can occur in children with or without other speech problems. Most of the time, the stuttering will go away on its own within about six months. In the meantime it's best to wait and let the child finish her sentence rather than to advise her to take a deep breath, slow down or to relax.

Be patient, maintain good eye contact and show your child that what she's saying is important to you so she'll continue to feel comfortable talking.

If your child's stuttering seems to be severe (happening with every sentence, for example), frustrates her or doesn't go away after a few months, you may want to ask your pediatrician to recommend a speech-language pathologist for an evaluation and treatment.

Therapies may include teaching a child to speak in shorter sentences, control her breathing during speech, and slow down her speech. Once the stammering improves, she will then be encouraged to lengthen her sentences and speak at her usual pace.

Finally, it's very important for anyone who stutters after a brain injury or major stress to receive treatment, because this type of stuttering is less likely to improve without intervention.

Good luck!

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