Back to school season fills children with a mixture of excitement and anxiety. They may feel eager to reunite with friends, participate in clubs, sports or other extracurricular activities, and to continue learning (even if they refuse to admit it!) On the flip side, they might be nervous about making new friends, getting accepted socially by peers, and if new teachers will be nice or mean. As children get a bit older, they might also worry about achieving good grades.
Inevitably, the first day of school arrives. Take a minute and try to put yourself in the shoes of a 4th grader on the morning of that first day:
In an effort to help everyone get to know each another, your teacher decides to go around the room for everybody to introduce themselves and share a fun summer break story. The anxiety builds as your turn approaches. “Hi, I’m…”, but to your dismay, your name doesn’t readily come out. You try starting with a different phrase, “My name is…”, again, nothing. You want so badly to say your name, a seemingly rudimentary task, but you are a child who stutters and your name happens to be one of the most difficult things for you to say. Finally, your name comes out after what seems like an eternity. How will your friends react to what they just heard? Will this set the tone for how you choose to participate for the rest of the year?
As speech-language pathologists, we can offer a child who stutters and their family several tools to help them minimize the negative impact of stuttering and develop healthy communication attitudes. This often starts with education and advocacy. For young children, the parents might take on much of the educating and advocating, while also exposing their child to useful approaches to help school staff “get it.” However, as they get older, parents can gradually relinquish this role to their child.
The following examples offer our students or clients who stutter ways to take an active role in creating a safe and nurturing environment within their school. I always share or remind students or their parents of these tips around this time of year: