Despite parents’ best efforts, children who struggle with a speech or language disorder can eventually start to feel self-conscious about it.
When it’s a speech error like mispronouncing certain sounds, a child might feel frustrated by frequent reminders or corrections from parents. With stuttering, children could even feel compelled to avoid speaking as much as possible.
Fortunately, experts recommend a variety of strategies that can help improve the self-esteem of a child who has a speech or language delay.
First and foremost, parents should seek advice and guidance from the speech and language pathologist who works with their child, says Nancy Kaufman, a speech-language pathologist and the director of the Kaufman Children’s Center in West Bloomfield.
Keep speech ‘homework’ positive
Parents will often get “homework” after speech therapy sessions but therapists are careful to make sure it stays positive.
“Some children have such a tough time maintaining intelligible speech in their lives that they just want to come home and take a break from it all,” Kaufman says. “So we always want to make any type of homework or natural environment training positive and fun.”
One tip Kaufman tells parents is that if they can decode what their child is saying, they typically shouldn’t correct it right away.
“We can’t correct everything. It’s not fair to the children,” she says.
Instead, parents might make a pact with their child that they will only remind him or her about one particular sound, for example, each week. Parents can also consider focusing on a list of “high frequency” words.
“And then we work on those particular words to perfection,” Kaufman says. In this scenario, parents would only correct misarticulations of those “favorite” words and ignore all other errors.
A concern for older kids
Vicki Kellogg, a Michigan-based speech-language pathologist who has a private practice that focuses on stuttering, says self-esteem is often an issue that crops up as children reach the middle-school years. Prior to that, many children don’t seem to mind their stuttering – especially if their friends don’t seem to notice or care, Kellogg says.
“About middle school is when they go to their parents and say, ‘I hate this,'” she says, adding that this is why many children start treatment for stuttering around the middle school years.
Younger children can also feel embarrassed about stuttering or other speech issues. Kellogg says stuttering has a psychological component that also needs to be addressed since some children try to avoid talking because of it.
“That’s a whole other piece to stuttering that you need to work with, the sort of counseling piece,” she says. “When a child becomes aware of it and they become shy, or they say ‘I have funny speech,’ then that’s also when you need to bring them to a specialist.”
An ‘ego list’
When a patient is struggling with self-esteem issues due to stuttering, Kellogg sometimes asks the patient to make an “ego list.”
“They write down everything that’s good about themselves. You’re tall, handsome, you’re really smart, you’re very organized, you’re good at sports” and so on, Kellogg says. “Then they keep that somewhere that only they can see and they look at it every day.”
In a world that is “more than ready to knock you down about everything that’s wrong with you,” Kellogg says the ego list can help kids put a positive spin on their day.
“You look at this list to remind yourself about all the good things that you are,” she says.
Parents can also ask their kids about the good things that happened that day and “remind them that nobody has perfect speech,” she says.
This post was originally published in 2015 and is updated regularly.