At the Michael Palin Centre parents often tell us that Christmas can be a tricky time for their child who stammers – they may have been progressing well in therapy and then the stammering increases for no obvious reason over the Christmas period.
The first thing to say is that parents don’t cause stammering and we can only guess at the reasons for the changes that happen, but there are some common sense possibilities that can be addressed relatively easily, as follows:
Excitement: it can be fun to build the anticipation of Christmas, but this excitement can also result in a child becoming hyped up, speaking more quickly and potentially stammering more. Maybe a measured, calmer approach would be a good idea this Christmas.
Sleep deprivation: we often relax bedtime rules at holiday times and allow children to stay up later (despite the fact that they still wake up at the same time). Children may be already tired at the end of a term in school or nursery. Parents often say that children stammer more when they are tired, so insufficient sleep over several days might be having an impact.
Busy, full households: visiting friends and relatives may be fun but they also mean there are more talkers to compete with. This might be harder for the child who stammers, so some quiet, one-to-one time might be helpful. And while visitors are staying we could try to balance things by also getting those relatives to take turns to talk!
Different routines: some children like a predictable routine and this typically will change at Christmas, in terms of mealtimes, bedtimes, even where they are sleeping. Sometimes it helps to prepare a child ahead of the changes, so they know what to expect.
Illness: a child who is feeling unwell may also struggle more with talking, so don’t be surprised if you hear more stammering when your child is poorly.
These ideas may be helpful for your child, so do experiment. And one last thing – we know that a child’s stammering ebbs and flows, so even if you do notice more at Christmas, there is a good chance that things will settle down again when life returns to normal.
For some useful tips on helping your child please see http://www.stutteringhelp.org/content/7-tips-talking-child-who-stutters
Head of the Michael Palin Centre