Help! My son’s stammering is getting worse

My seven-year-old son stammers. I was advised to wait and watch. But it has only become worse. We are trying speech and language therapy sessions but there’s little improvement. My son too is becoming frustrated. Please advise. — Shruti Prasad, Bangalore

Stuttering aka stammering is a speech disorder which affects 5 percent of children. But most recover normal speech by age seven-eight. However some continue to experience long-term difficulties. This is a biological and neurological condition and may be genetic. Very often academic pressures at home and in school worsen the condition. You should consult a psychiatrist to assess your son for emotional triggers. Together with speech therapy, encourage activities that enhance relaxation.

Most important, you need to support your son through this difficult time. I suggest the following:

* Don’t ridicule and/or make him conscious of his speech defect
* Allow him the freedom to choose to express and restrain himself according to his convenience
* Stand up for him. Let him know he has your full support
* Encourage free play and activities which are enjoyable and relaxing
* Provide a supportive and loving home environment. Remember academic and other pressures at home and in school aggravate stammering.

My 13-year-old daughter is overweight. This is triggering other body reactions such as acne and hair growth on the face and arms. As a result, her classmates tease and bully her and she has few friends in school. She has also been diagnosed with PCOS (polycystic ovary syndrome). How can I can help and reassure her? — Silvia Roma Patekar, Mumbai

The emotional fallout of poor body image and rejection by peers needs to be addressed specifically and immediately. Your entire family needs to make lifestyle changes including adopting healthy diet and regular exercise regimens.
When your daughter observes that everyone at home is making changes to lead a healthy life, she is likely to accept the change as natural. Otherwise they will be perceived as corrective measures because she is flawed. Avoid putting her on fad diets because they do more harm than good.

Most importantly, listen to her with parental empathy without lectures and ridicule. She may often want to share her frustrations. When she does, don’t jump in with advice and suggestions. This prompts dependency and inability to resolve problems. Instead encourage and empower her to devise her own solutions. It will help her develop the courage to initiate consistent action. To counter bullying, encourage her to be assertive in her peer group.

My 2.5-year-old daughter loves being around people and is a happy-go-lucky child. I recently enroled her in a preschool for 2.5 hours in the morning. Every day when I drop her to school she starts bawling at the gates and continues wailing for the next half-hour. It has been two weeks since she can began school, and the situation hasn’t changed. Should I withdraw her for a year before sending her to play school? — Shaivi Chakraborty, Kolkata

It’s common for young children to experience separation anxiety from parents/caregivers. Re your question about the right age to start preschool, ‘later the better’ is the mantra I prefer because parents should carefully weigh the emotional, physical and academic benefits of starting school when children are fully ready. However, if you wish to begin early, you should help her adapt to early childhood education. I suggest you send her regularly, communicate exactly where she will be going each day, and show her visually (position of the sun or the arms of a watch) when you will come to bring her home. Make sure you keep your promise to let her know you are reliable. Refrain from using the school, teacher or associated memories as threats for positive behaviour, and ensure that the school is not using force or threats to maintain discipline. Young children take up to three months to adjust to school.

(Aarti Rajaratnam is director of the Child Guidance Centre and Counseling Clinic, Salem/Chennai)

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