About the presenter: Gail Wilson Lew has a private practice in Sierra Madre California where she specializes in working with children and adults who stutter. Her involvements includes workshops for people who stutter and their families, the National Stuttering Association (a national self help group), Pasadena City College Disabled Students Program, School District In-Service Workshops, and writing children's books. Gail herself was once a severe stutterer.

You can post Questions/comments about the following paper to Gail Wilson Lew before October 22, 2000.

What Parents Can Do For Your Child When He Is Being Teased For Stuttering

by Gail Wilson Lew
from California, USA

Many parents do not know what to say or do when their child comes home and announces that he was teased. (3 out of 4 children who stutter are male.) Sure, your response might be to run down and enroll him in a karate class or teach him to fight back with the same kind of meanness, but that might not be the wisest thing to do. First of all, making your kid a "black belt" may make matters worse, and secondly, replying in the same manner adds fuel to the fire.

Sometimes a child may not tell you outright that he is being teased. He might start coming up with excuses for not going to school such as complaining that he has a stomach ache. Other things might start to happen such as grades starting to fall, loss or gain of weight. He may even become depressed or irritable.

The first thing you can do is sit down with your child and talk about teasing. Many times children who stutter think they are the only ones in the whole wide world that get teased. Parents need to talk about their own experiences growing up and how they themselves got teased when growing up. Remember, youngsters sometimes forget parents were kids once too. You can talk about other people that have been teased because they were either too short, too tall, too fat, too skinny, too shy, etc.

The second thing that needs to be discussed is why children are teased. The fact is that the person who teases, the "bully", is looking to inflict emotional or physical pain. They want to see the victim suffer. So, the more the person cries or gets upset the more likely it is that the bully will continue his taunting. In other words, he's looking for a pay off.

One day in my 9th grade Spanish class, the boy behind me started to pull on my pony tail. I didn't want to turn around because I was afraid I would get in trouble with the teacher. I was also reluctant to tell the teacher because I would then have to speak up and explain, thus creating the possibility of stuttering and embarrassment. Anyway, this guy yanked real hard on my ponytail so much so that I was on the verge of tears, but I showed no emotion and no reaction. Soon he stopped, because there was no pay off! This particular approach may not be suited for everyone.

Parents should also talk about the children who tease. They may be insecure and may get picked on at home either by their parents or siblings. If things are not going well in the teaser's life, he may be taking it out on other children by teasing them.

The next step is to teach the child alternative actions he can take to counteract the teasing. An effective way of training a child to deal with teasing is to use roll playing. Roll playing is acting out possible real situations that can happen. This prepares your child how to respond ahead of time.

Sometimes children tease out of ignorance. It's not every day a child runs into another child that stutters. Children may laugh or make fun of a child who stutters because it's different or strange to them. Telling the children about stuttering can defuse the situation.

Some Examples of Role Playing:

Here is where the parent could be the child who stutters and the bully could be the child. Reverse roles if possible.

Situation 1:

Two children on the playground. The one child asks a question to the other child.

"What did you watch last night on TV?"

The child who stutters responds,

"I wa-wa-watched H -H -H -Home Im -Im- Im -Improvement".

The other child responds by laughing saying, "Why do you talk funny that way?"

Stuttering child answers, "Sometimes I just get stuck on my words and I c-c-c-can't help it."

The parent needs to teach their child to stand up and take a form of action.

Situation No. 2:

In a restaurant a family is sitting around the table. Have someone dress up as Mom, Dad, sis, etc. The waiter comes to the table, the boy says, "I w-w-w-want a ham b-b-burger."

The waiter responds, "W-W-What would you l-l-like to drink?"

The boy responds, "I don't l-l-like the w-w-w-ay you are m-m-making f-f-un of my speech. I s-s-sometimes stutter, so what. I w-w-would like a coke p-p-p-please."

The waiter apologies and says he won't ever make fun again.

Humor may be another avenue to stop the ridicule. The teaser or bully can be caught off guard when using humor to combat the onslaught.

Situation No. 3:

Teaser, "H -hey y -y -you. C-cat g -got your t- t- tongue?"

Child, "I -i-i-i-if you can't st-st-stutter better than that I'll have t-t-to g-g-g-ive you l-l-l-lessons."

The teacher is very important in enforcing respect and courtesy in the classroom. If teasing goes on in the classroom the teacher should be the one to put a stop to it.

In 4th grade a boy teased me about my stuttering. My teacher heard about it after school and sent for the child and me. She made him apologize and he never made fun of me again.

It is also important for the parent to educate the teacher about stuttering. The teacher may never have had a child who stuttered in her classroom, and may need to understand the unique aspects of stuttering. She may be uneasy not know how to respond in a situation involving a stutterer.

The National Stuttering Association has an excellent brochure out titled, "What the Teacher Can Do To Help the Child Who Stutters." The brochure explains what stuttering is and gives helpful suggestions in working with a child that stutters. The National Stuttering Project's number is (800) 364-1677.

There are times when you may have to go to the principal if there is teasing going on outside the classroom, and if the teacher has not intervened in the classroom. Elin McCoy, in her article, "Bully-Proof Your Child" says it is not recommended to call the teaser's parents or have you the parent talk to the teaser. Let the principal handle the situation. This gives the principal and the teachers the chance to observe the children interacting. and then it's less likely the parents of the teaser will deny that there's something going on.

A visit from the speech/language pathologist in the stutterer's classroom can be very effective in eliminating teasing. This would be a good time to talk about teasing in general. The speech and language pathologist could ask the children in the class how they have been teased and ask how they felt about it. Then she can explain that stuttering is when the tongue, lips and/or throat can get very tight causing the mouth to jam up. Then the speech and language pathologist may want to talk about good listening habits, such as not filling in the words, and not interrupting a person when he or she is talking. Make sure the student who stutters gives his permission to do this endeavor.

One of the most memorable and rewarding experiences I ever had with my own speech therapy was having my speech/language pathologist come into my 7th grade English class. He talked about stuttering and how it was just something I did, not something I was. He brought a Delayed Auditory Machine (DAF) in the classroom, and had various people try it out. (It can make a person stutter if they try to beat the delayed reaction to their speech.) I felt a brick had been lifted from my head. I no longer had to hide the fact that I stuttered and the children were much more accepting of who I was, and my stuttering. I also felt very special from all the attention.

Some parents are at their wits end, trying to stop siblings from teasing one another They may have tried various methods to prevent the teasing from occurring.

I can remember my father sitting down with my brother and sister. I was excluded but could hear through the door. He laid down the law, saying they were never ever to tease me about my stuttering. My brother and my sister never did tease me about my stuttering, but my sister sometimes threatened to do so whenever I got to be too much for her. I can remember as if it were yesterday, how she used to say, "If you don't stop that I'll tease you with your stuttering!" Right away I would stop. She wasn't playing fair by using my stuttering against me.

I met a mother who said she had a big problem with her older son teasing the younger one who stuttered. She would sit down with the older one and tell him it was wrong to tease him about something he couldn't help. Despite the reprimands the teasing continued until the whole family went to one of my workshops for children who stutter and their families. At this workshop the family got to see other children as well as adults that stuttered. After they got home from the workshop the mother never heard any more teasing. In fact, the older brother was more patient and considerate around his younger brother. The mom speculates the reason for the change was that the brother, seeing the various degrees of stuttering among the children, realized that it wasn't just "his little brother's thing." His little brother actually couldn't help stuttering.

At another workshop a mother shared a wonderful experience of how she handled her son being teased. My son Josh (not his real name) and a neighborhood boy were outside my house playing when I overheard the neighborhood boy mimicking and teasing my son about his stuttering. I became so furious that I was ready to storm out of the house and give that boy a tongue lashing. But I was able to compose myself and I thought of a better way to handle the situation.

I went out and sat down with the neighborhood boy and asked him if there was anything that he ever had a hard time doing. He thought for awhile and said he had a hard time skate boarding. I went on to explain that Josh had a hard time talking and sometimes the words just got stuck. I asked if he had ever tried to hold back a sneeze and he said yes, and without much success. I went on to explain that Josh's stuttering was a lot like sneezing, because they are both really hard to stop. They just happen.

I felt Josh's friend walked away with a better understanding of stuttering and to this date he has not teased Josh again.

Any form of teasing causes more damage to children who have low self-esteem. It is important for parents to build up the child's self-esteem. One way this could be done is to encourage him to participate in areas where he excels. This could be in sports, academics, and for the older ones getting a part-time job.

It is very helpful for your child to know he has parents who care. When something does happen at school he has you to listen to him. Sometimes this is all he needs, someone who lets him vent his feelings and concerns.

Article Mentioned:

McCoy, Elin, "Bully-Proof Your Child," Reader's Digest, November, 1992.

You can post Questions/comments about the above paper to Gail Wilson Lew before October 22, 2000.

September 1, 2000