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What is stammering?

Stammering is a neurological condition which makes it physically hard to speak. Someone who stammers will repeat, prolong or get stuck on sounds or words. There might also be signs of visible tension as the person struggles to get the word out.

Learning to talk is like learning to walk – it doesn’t always go smoothly! Stammering is thought to be caused by a slight difference in how the brain is wired.  In young children this wiring is still forming, which is why many children recover from stammering.

Stammering is primarily a neurological condition, not a psychological one. What is clear is that parents do not cause stammering. But the way you respond to your child's stammer can make a real difference.

Signs of stammering

When a child…

  • Stretches sounds in a word, repeats parts of words several times, or gets stuck on the first sound of a word so no sound comes out for a few seconds.
  • Puts extra effort into saying specific sounds or words. You might notice tension in the face around the eyes, lips and jaw.
  • Holds their breath or take a big breath before speaking, so their breathing seems uneven.
  • Uses other body movements to help get a word out - they might stamp their foot or move their head. 
  • Loses eye-contact when getting stuck on a word.
  • Starts to try to hide their stammer - they might pretend they’ve forgotten what they want to say, change a word they have started to say or go unusually quiet.

Helpful tips for parents

When talking to your child

  • Slow down your own rate of speech, but don't tell your child to slow down or take a deep breath.
  • Ask one question at a time and give them plenty of time to answer.
  • Use short, simple sentences.
  • Have one-on-one time with your child, just 5 minutes every day, where they aren’t competing for attention with tasks or other family members.

Information taken from British Stammering Association:

When listening to your child

  • Keep natural eye-contact.
  • Listen to what your child is saying, not how they say it.
  • Pause before answering questions.
  • Make sure everyone in the conversation gets a turn to speak.
  • Acknowledge speech difficulties with reassurance and encouragement, if that feels right for you and your child. You might say something like, "Learning to talk is quite a hard thing to do - lots of people get stuck on their words and that’s OK. You’re doing really well." 

Information taken from British Stammering Association:

Additional Support for Stammering


  • British Stammering Association Facebook Support Group


  • UK Network for Parents of Children who Stammer


  • Michael Palin Centre for Stammering


  • Action for Stammering Children


If you or your child, are worried about stammering, please refer to your local NHS Speech and Language Therapy Service

Pre School:

Referral form along with more information is available at this link:

SLT Central Line: 020 8102 3575

School Age:

Children can be referred to the School Aged Dysfluency Service by their GP. If a referral is required, please ask your GP to complete a referral form and email it to Referral forms can be found here and will be accepted from any GP in H&F, Westminster or K&C. GPs in other boroughs should refer to their local services.

Last Updated 17/10/2019

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