In my past blog posts I have focused on several things we did differently in order to decrease anxiety around Eli’s efforts to speak. These included:
- natural listening and eye contact (stop staring at the kid)
- generating talking by making statements instead of asking questions (stop interrogating the kid)
- focusing on and supporting their interests instead of focusing on their speech tension (promote Pokemon, space aliens, and playing with friends in the sandbox instead of speech tools and fluent speech)
Today I will focus on "putting them in charge."
Dr. Jerry Halvorson, our speech consultant, is big on this one – "Hey Eli, you’re the MAN!" He yells that all the time. Jerry is technically retired and took us on because, well, I’m not really sure except that I think he was a little bored and couldn’t resist a nine-year old kid who stuttered AND loved horses. Eli (who, through the first three years of hanging out several times a month at Jerry’s ranch, had no idea he was a speech therapist) was often "put in charge" around the ranch. He would muck out a horse stall, pick up rocks in the fields, and help load the pick-up with hay bales to take out to the horses in the pasture.
One afternoon I was standing at the sliding glass doors of Jerry’s ranch house after he and Eli had headed out to do chores. As I admired the lovely view, the pick-up truck filled with hay bales came into my field of vision and meandered across the pasture, coasting slowly across the terrain. Jerry was in the back throwing bales of hay off one by one. It took a minute for it to register…but if he was doing that, who was driving?? Yes, it was my nine-year old. Eli thought he was quite something, grinning from ear to ear when he came in the house after chores, yammering his head off about what fun it was to drive a truck. In all of his excitement, he forgot to stutter.
While there are less risky ways you can help your nine-year old experience being "in charge" (although I did grow up on a farm, drove a tractor around that age, and remember feeling like I was quite something!), there are many ways we can integrate take-charge experiences into our children's lives. Other ideas Jerry threw out ranged from having Eli engaging with younger children in a leadership capacity to letting Eli take the lead in planning and cooking a family meal (and being willing to, no matter what, embrace the results with genuine enthusiasm!)
Expecting children to "manage" and "control" their speech only contributes to an increased sense of helplessness, failure, and shame that can permeate their inner world. Putting them in charge and giving them control over many other aspects of their life can go a long ways in countering these feelings and keeping them talking! It may not be as neat and tidy as counting percent of syllable stuttered, but it’s a whole lot more productive, a whole lot more fun, and it will absolutely do no harm!
Thanks so much for your interest!
Doreen Lenz Holte