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Ask Dr. Sears: Could My Child Be a Stutterer?

Q. My 3-year-old stutters a lot. Will he outgrow it?

A. As children learn to talk, mild stuttering (hesitation, repetition, or disruption of words or phrases as they attempt to construct a sentence) isn't unusual. In fact, it's especially common for a child to stumble on the beginning sound of a word or to interject a string of "uhs" and "ums" into his sentences. Kids will stutter more when they're excited, tired, anxious, in a hurry to tell you about something, or feel pressured to answer a question.

They're usually unaware of their speech quirks, and it's good to keep it that way by not calling attention to them. To raise a comfortable speaker, give your child the freedom to enjoy experimenting with language without the worry of speaking perfectly. Some ways to boost his speech confidence: Be patient while he's talking, maintain eye contact, and offer appropriate responses to what he's saying (smiles, head nods, and "uh-huhs"). Don't rush him by interrupting or finishing words for him (most likely, his speech will gradually improve over the next year).

If he has a stuttering problem that needs professional help (it tends to be more common in boys than girls), you'll notice that the repetitive sounds occur more frequently and at longer intervals. True stuttering will most likely be accompanied by frustration, anxious mannerisms, or embarrassment. If so, a speech therapist can identify mechanical problems (such as tongue thrusting) and teach your child the appropriate exercises to correct them before they affect his self-esteem.