Children who stutter experience bullying more often than other children.1, 2 This presents a significant challenge for children, parents, and speech-language pathologists. Because of their speaking difficulties, children who stutter may also struggle to cope with bullying. To overcome this problem, they need the help of caring, qualified speech-language pathologists.
Bullying is a particularly hard issue for children who stutter. Bullying makes children feel bad, and when they feel bad, they are more likely to stutter more severely. This, in turn, can lead to even more bullying.
Bullying can also increase the negative consequences of stuttering by exacerbating negative reactions, social isolation, reduced self-esteem, and other adverse effects on a child’s quality of life.3
How You Can Help
Fortunately, speech-language pathologists can help children minimize the occurrence and the adverse impact associated with bullying.4, 5, 6 School-wide bullying prevention programs have been developed specifically to help children who stutter. These involve strategies both for the child who stutters and for those in the child’s environment.
For the child who stutters, key therapy goals include:
- Educating the child about stuttering so they better understand what they are experiencing when they feel “stuck” in their speech. Stuttering is not their fault; it’s just a characteristic of how their brains work.
- Educating the child about bullying so they can understand that bullying is not their fault, that bullying is not acceptable, and that there are ways they can reduce bullying.
- Reducing the child’s concerns about stuttering through desensitization and acceptance exercises that help children learn to cope effectively with stuttering. This is a key component of effective stuttering therapy programs.7
- Helping the child learn what to do and what to say when bullied.
For those in the child’s environment, including parents, teachers, and peers, key therapy goals include:
- Educating others about stuttering so they can understand what is happening when the child who stutters gets stuck. Reducing confusion about stuttering can also help reduce bullying about stuttering. Activities may include a “classroom presentation” about stuttering, as well as other activities designed to educate peers about why the child who stutters sometimes has trouble talking.
- Offering parents tools so they can be helpful. Parents are often unsure about the most effective ways to help their child when bullying occurs. You can show them that the most important thing they can do is build their child’s self-esteem. A child with a strong sense of self can withstand the comments of bullies, no matter what others might say.
- Expanding existing school-wide bullying management programs to account for the needs of children who stutter. Most schools already have bullying management programs in place. The problem is that these programs aren’t designed for children with communication difficulties. With your help, classroom teachers and administrators can learn to adapt existing anti-bullying programs to support children who stutter. The short message? It’s okay to stutter, but it’s not okay to bully.
Be Vigilant in Supporting Your Children
Preliminary research has demonstrated the effectiveness of these approaches for helping children overcome bullying and increase their ability to cope successfully with stuttering.8 Often, children won’t tell you when they’re being bullied because their reduced self-esteem may lead them to believe that the bully is correct. As a result, you should be alert to the possibility of bullying and prepare yourself to incorporate anti-bullying efforts into your treatment, regardless of whether or not you have observed bullying behavior yourself.
You Don’t Have to Do This on Your Own
Several authors have provided guidance about how to help children who stutter overcome the problem of bullying. In particular, my colleagues and I have prepared a comprehensive set of therapy materials, entitled Minimizing Bullying for Children Who Stutter, which includes four parts:
- A comprehensive guide of therapy activities and goals for speech-language pathologists, so you will know exactly what to do in and out of therapy sessions to help your students
- A workbook for students, so they will have their own materials to help them cope with bullying through education, desensitization, acceptance, and appropriately assertive responses to bullying
- A workbook for parents, so they will understand how they can help build their children’s self-esteem and personal power
- A workbook for teachers and school administrators, so they will understand how to adapt their existing school-wide bullying management programs to the needs of children who stutter
All of these concepts and more are covered in detail in the following MedBridge courses:
- Minimizing Bullying: Working with the Child Who Stutters
- Minimizing Bullying: Working with the Environment
Don’t Wait to Make a Difference in the Life of a Child Who Stutters
Children who stutter need your help—and you can make a real difference in their lives by proactively helping them prevent the negative consequences associated with bullying. Take action now and help children learn that they are okay, regardless of what others might say. You can do it!
- Blood, G. W. & Blood, I. M. (2016). Long-term consequences of childhood bullying in adults who stutter: social anxiety, fear of negative evaluation, self-esteem, and satisfaction with life. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 50: 72–84.
- Langevin, M. (2015). Bullying experienced by youth who stutter: the problem and potential intervention strategies. Stuttering Meets Stereotype, Stigma, and Discrimination: An Overview of Attitude Research (pp. 71–90). Morgantown, WV: West Virginia University Press.
- Blood, G. W., Blood, I. M., Tramontana, G. M., Sylvia, A. J., Boyle, M. P., & Motzko, G. R. (2011). Self-reported experience of bullying of students who stutter: relations with life satisfaction, life orientation, and self-esteem. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 113(2): 353–364.
- Langevin, M. (2000). Teasing and Bullying: Unacceptable Behavior. The TAB Program. Edmonton, Alberta: Institute for Stuttering Treatment and Research.
- Murphy, W. P., Quesal, R. W., Reardon-Reeves, N., & Yaruss, J. S. (2013). Minimizing Bullying for Children Who Stutter. McKinney, TX: Stuttering Therapy Resources, Inc.
- Yaruss, J. S., Reeves, N., & Herring, C. (2018). How speech–language pathologists can minimize bullying of children who stutter. Seminars in Speech and Language, 39: 342-355.
- Reardon-Reeves, N. A. & Yaruss, J. S. (2013). School-Age Stuttering Therapy: A Practical Guide. McKinney, TX: Stuttering Therapy Resources, Inc.
- Murphy, W. P., Yaruss, J. S., & Quesal, R. W. (2007). Enhancing treatment for school-age children who stutter. II. Reducing bullying through role-playing and self-disclosure. Journal of Fluency Disorders, 32(2):139–162.