How Does Stuttering Therapy For Children Work Using Play Therapy and Parenting Interventions?

Are you concerned as you see your child’s stuttering continue?

Have you tried to resolve the issue, but nothing you do seems to work?

Has Speech Therapy proven to be not helpful enough?

Are you afraid that your child’s stuttering will not go away, and he or she will experience social problems, embarrassment, or career difficulties?

Do you wonder what role Play Therapy and Parenting Interventions can have in stuttering therapy for children?

Although I am aware that there are some who disagree with me, in my opinion and in my clinical experience, stuttering is not a speech or brain disorder, nor is it fueled by genetics or biology! It results from emotional health issues. Usually stuttering is generated when you have a child who is born with a particularly sensitive temperament, who then experiences certain early childhood stressors. Because he or she is so sensitive, those stressors are experienced as emotional mini-traumas, and stuttering is the maladaptive psychological response.

What I’m telling you is actually fantastic news!

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If I were to tell you that stuttering is genetic, or a hard-wired brain or speech defect, there would be nothing you could do to prevent it and little you could do to cure it, as you can’t change a child’s genetics or biology very much. But since I’m telling you that it is fueled by stressors in the environment, by changing the child’s environment through stuttering therapy for children including Play Therapy and Parenting Interventions, you can defuse what’s fueling the stuttering, and even allow it to be replaced with healthy speech habits which develop from the child’s newly earned emotional health!

That’s the simple truth, Psychotherapy has helped many adults reduce their stuttering, but the good news is that with stuttering therapy for children it is even easier! Children and even teens are very flexible and malleable, their habits are not fully formed yet, and thus are more easily influenced. In addition, the way their parents interact with these youngsters has a potentially tremendous effect on their emotional health, therefore there is much that parents can do to control and improve the situation!

Most often, children who stutter have extremely loving, dedicated parents who are doing everything they possibly know how to, for the benefit of their child. However they usually are making some honest mistakes, which because of their child’s sensitive temperament, are fueling the problem. What can they do to turn things around?

Rule number 1 is, don’t try to get the child to stop stuttering!

When parents make direct efforts to influence the child to stop stuttering, including even moderate pressure and an anxious attitude, they are sending him a very powerful message: “There is something wrong with you! You are not Ok the way you are. Something very large and far-reaching needs to change!” This type of attitude, even if not expressed outright, puts tremendous pressure on the child. It makes him or her feel criticized, judged, and above all, shamed for his very self. Such feelings and pressure directly fuel more stuttering! Stuttering is related to a lack of healthy assertion, discomfort and lack of confidence in expressing thoughts and feelings, low self-esteem and low self-worth, a feeling of shame regarding the authentic self, and repressed anger. Encouraging a child to stop only intensifies these conditions! His feelings of shame have contributed to the stuttering, and now he is made to feel even more ashamed because he stutters, and it fuels a terrible cycle! Well-meaning parents are trying so hard to improve the situation and help their child, but they are paradoxically making it worse!

You have to remember that stuttering itself is not a problem, it is a symptom of a problem.

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The real problem is underlying unhealthy emotional habits. Even if you could magically get rid of the stuttering, you would still be left with an emotionally unhealthy child, which is in itself the most important thing we need to avoid, and it will likely generate other problems down the road. A colleague of mine who is a very experienced speech therapist and authority on stuttering therapy for children, Philip Brody, MS, wrote a wonderful book called The Joys of Stuttering. He said that he has often asked his stuttering patients the question, if you could have one wish in life, what would it be? They overwhelmingly answer, “To stop stuttering!” That indicates the prevalence of a terrible distortion in values and the reality of the situation!

The real truth is, that living life as a person who stutters is really not so bad after all. It’s not perfect, but it’s totally possible to stutter and live a happy, successful life!

The supposed shame and embarrassment about it is totally blown out of proportion. What do most people think when they meet a person who stutters? They usually feel an attitude of kindness towards him or her, they want to help him to relax and express himself better, they view him as a good person who has a problem. The point is they usually don’t look down on the person, most people are generous and they really try to see the good in him and give him a chance.

The more we adopt a relaxed and accepting attitude of a child or person who stutters, paradoxically and amazingly, his stuttering will be reduced!

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We need to truly believe and behave in a way that causes the child to know that he is totally fine just the way he is, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with him, even though he stutters. We need to completely downplay the seriousness of the situation, and not indicate our desire to get him to stop! This will go light years in preventing the issue from getting worse, because it will greatly reduce shame, low self-esteem, and a feeling of being defective and not Ok. You have to get the child psyched up that, “I am just fine the way I am even though I stutter sometimes, and I am not going to let it make me feel the least bit bad about myself.”

Therefore the key to stuttering therapy for children is to work on the child’s underlying emotional health, and not focus so much on the stuttering symptom.

How do we do this?

The answer is that as parents we need to seriously reduce behaviors and attitudes towards the child including: criticism, scolding, rebuke, reprimands, displaying anger, shaming, disapproval, yelling, ignoring, over-control and micro-managing. Parents would need to avoid being overbearing or intimidating, meaning they would have to be humble and make themselves small so their child can grow big. They would need to avoid forbidding a child to express his true feelings, even negative ones, such as anger. The above habits definitely contribute to more stuttering because they all create a feeling of shame for the child’s authentic impulses, feelings, needs and desires. They inhibit the honoring of natural desires and self-assertion, and they prevent a child from being consciously aware of his or her emotional life. For example repressed anger can create a fear of rebuke for expressing anger, leading to stuttering.

Then parents would need to replace the above habits with an attitude of acceptance, approval, kindness, generosity, patience, tolerance and flexibility.

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They would need to make great efforts to accept and celebrate the child’s every emotional state, adopt a totally relaxed and accepting attitude towards every child’s many mistakes, mishaps and mischief, and give the child a tremendous sense of self-determination and control over his own life and destiny. Lastly the parents would need to consciously and faithfully make all efforts to perform the most acts of kindness possible towards their child, and to make a main goal of every day the mantra, “How can I make my child happy and his day pleasant?” In addition, it goes without saying that parents will have to make all efforts to shield the child from the negative effects of conflict between parents or a separation, however possible, including of course good psychotherapy.

Does Speech Therapy help?

Philip Brody says that in his 30 years as a speech therapist and audiologist, he has never seen a case of stuttering that was resolved by Speech Therapy alone! Rather the appropriate treatment is psychotherapy and Play Therapy, and applying the principles in this article. If you do get speech Therapy for your child, it is important that the therapist not pressure the child to stop stuttering, and make the goal of the treatment “to stop stuttering” as that will only have the opposite effect as I have said. Psychoanalyst Peter Wolson explains that psychodynamic psychotherapy is the successful treatment for stuttering, and cites the true story of King George of England, who was successfully treated by a speech therapist, Lionel Logue, who actually employed psychotherapeutic methods to resolve the issue. You may view the wonderful film, The King’s Speech, on the topic. Therefore if you have a very gentle, relaxed speech therapist who will not try and get the child to stop stuttering, but will help the child to feel more comfortable with and accepting of his stuttering, that may be helpful.

The Magic of Play Therapy as Stuttering Therapy for children:

How Does It Work?

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During Child-Centered Play Therapy, I don’t direct the child or at all tell him what to do. He makes all of his own decisions and completely controls the action, and I follow him. I respond to the child’s chosen activities with the curious Play Therapy technique called tracking, where similar to a sportscaster narrating a game, I reflect back to the child verbally every detail of every step of the action in the playroom, including every feeling, desire or need expressed, decision taken, or accomplishment earned. This gives the child a tremendous sense of honor and respect for his chosen activities, which are actually important parts of his developing self, therefore leading to greatly improved self-respect, self-esteem and self-confidence.

For example, when a child picks up a toy to examine it and consider playing with it, this is an important accomplishment in his world!

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He is realizing and honoring his desire to manipulate that toy, which is an important part of his self and related to his feelings. Therefore I reflect verbally back to him a recognition and celebration of that great accomplishment with an enthusiastic, “Oh, now you got that!” This simple, emotionally charged statement makes the child feel, “What I choose to do is important. My desires and accomplishments deserve to be honored and respected.” My constant verbal recognition of every chosen action the child makes, is done without judging, evaluating or praising, which allows the child to himself conclude, “Things that are important to me are meaningful and worthy of respect in and of themselves, simply because I have created and chosen them.” This generates not fragile other-esteem, but true self esteem. Such acceptance of the child leads him to think, “I am just fine the way I am.”

In addition my reflection of every emotion he experiences or expresses in the Playroom gives him a conscious awareness of his emotions,

so he can process and resolve them, so they no longer will be repressed where they would cause trouble. My respecting and celebrating all of his desires, leads him to honor them himself, and he becomes more assertive and in touch with what he truly wants and needs. My celebration of his every decision taken, creates a positive association to his decision-making process, leading him to be more decisive. In the Playroom, I give the child an exhilarating sense of control over his own life and destiny, of self-determination.

All of the above greatly reduces any shame the child may have been feeling!

It teaches him to celebrate and respect his natural impulses. It allows him to learn to assert himself and raises self-esteem and self-confidence. It takes away his need to repress his anger. It reduces anxiety and insecurity. It helps him to learn to express his thoughts, feelings and desires. All this does wonders for reducing stuttering, as the child feels so validated, accepted honored, respected and celebrated, that he learns by example to treat himself wonderfully likewise. Remember children learn to relate to themselves the way we as adults relate to them.

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If a child chooses not to play, or if he or she is older or a teenager and doesn’t engage with the toys, I switch over to two forms or talk therapy, dynamic and cognitive. Dynamically I help the child to gain a conscious awareness of his or her emotional life, and to understand where his troubling feelings are coming from. Understanding the cause of why he feels the way he does is very helpful to resolving the problem and improving emotional health. Cognitively, I help the child to alter and reframe unhelpful thoughts such as the idea that he deserves to feel ashamed, and low self-worth. Remember that since stuttering is a symptom of emotional health issues, improving the emotional health in general will result in improvement.

So that’s it, working on your Parenting, and Play Therapy or Talk Therapy, are the wonderful double tools which have been proven to reduce stuttering, and in addition create great benefits in emotional wellness, interpersonal relations, and lifelong success.

Feel free to peruse the rest of my fascinating blog.

If you are considering stuttering therapy for children, and feel I may be the right therapist for your child,

you may chat with me in the chat box, or call me directly at 646-681-1707 for a complementary 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!