Much to the surprise of parents, a child can go to bed perfectly fluent and wake up hardly being able to get a word out. Obviously, this causes a great amount of panic and concern for parents.
It is actually not that uncommon in children around the age of 3 to 3 ½ to develop what is known as developmental dysfluency. This developmental dysfluency or stuttering can range from mild to severe and may disappear overnight. Children may cycle through periods of stuttering appearing and disappearing for no apparent reason. The thought behind this behavior is that a child of this age is progressing so quickly in their cognitive or thinking skills but their language has not developed at the same rate. Thus, they have thoughts and ideas, but are struggling with the formulation of their sentences because the vocabulary or grammatical structures are not quite sophisticated enough. Hence you will hear sounds, syllables and words repeated.
There are many things that a parent can do to make this an easier time for everyone.
First, give them time to express their thoughts without giving them the impression that they will ‘lose their turn’ in the conversation by taking too long.
Secondly, modify your speech and language patterns to make things easier. On severe days, ask what we refer to as closed ended questions. For example, “Do you want to go to the park or play here at home?” That is in contrast to an open ended question, “What do you want to do today?” Open ended questions require much more planning and thought.
Thirdly, never label the behaviour as stuttering. Giving a label is an indicator that the child is doing something that is wrong or not desirable.
Lastly, if this developmental dysfluency increases in severity, such as blocking (where the word appears stuck in the throat, facial grimacing or any other behavior) or is prolonged, consult a speech and language pathologist for assessment, treatment and further suggestions of how to manage and treat developmental dysfluency.