How to Overcome Stuttering: Strategies and Tactics
Posted on October 21 2016
Stuttering is a frustrating disorder, but with the right strategies you can discover how to overcome stuttering. One of the most frustrating aspects of stuttering is its unpredictability. Sometimes your stutter is pronounced and other times you struggle far less. Some words or sounds can be harder than others as well. Here are some strategies to help you learn to manage and, in many instances, control your stutter.
Before we discuss management strategies let’s start by debunking several myths associated with stuttering:
- “I will outgrow my stuttering.” It is common for young children to stutter up until about age 8. After that, without effective management strategies a stutter will follow someone for the rest of their life.
- “Stuttering is my fault.” Stuttering is a biological and neurological condition and NOT the fault of anyone.
- “I must speak without stuttering.” This myth is based on the thought that people who stutter are broken. You’re not broken, you’ve simply been dealt a challenge.
- “Stuttering is uncool and stutterers cannot be successful.” History is filled with amazingly smart, witty and talented people ranging from “Winston Churchill, a Prime Minister of England to Albert Einstein, a Nobel Prize winner in physics.”
Now that we’ve addressed the myths, let’s talk about management. One of the biggest reasons people stutter is fear. Fear of failure and embarrassment. As you grow and mature you’ve had situations where you stuttered and people got frustrated with you, or worse yet, laughed at you. That creates a reflex to stutter when you feel afraid to speak. It may be as simple as answering the phone or speaking in large groups that produce more frequent blocks of stuttering. The fear a stutterer feels to speak creates tension in their body as well. This creates tension in the neck and vocal cords making it even more difficult to breathe, let alone speak. Focusing on easing fear and tension will go a long way in helping ease a stutter.
We’ve all been told in life to face our fears and we will persevere. That doesn’t quite work with stutterers. The fear is what creates the stutter, so to face it just exacerbates the stutter. Let’s focus on ways to control the fear.
Preparation and practice are the two P’s you need to include in your life to help overcome stuttering. Start with situations you know are coming up. Maybe a birthday party or a PTO meeting. Start small with short sentences like “Hi my name is Keith Fletcher”. Just practicing this phrase and mastering it when you are relaxed and calm will help you be able to nail it when you are in a situation that may cause you to become stressed.
A helpful tip is to practice in front of a mirror. It may seem odd at first but the truth is practicing without interaction with someone will help but it will be far more effective if you have to look someone in the eye and speak. Once you’ve mastered some short phrases in the mirror, move on to someone you trust who you feel relaxed around. Work in short bursts of time so you don’t feel fatigued or start to stress about how well it is or isn’t going.
Slowing down and breathing is another key to tame your stutter. With your fear and tension comes the urge to rush through a conversation. The rushed pace forces improper breathing and an irregular rhythm to your speech. Both these things force more tension and make it extremely hard to keep your stutter under control. Learn to take a deep breath before beginning to speak and keep a relaxed pace. Don’t worry about stopping to breathe a bit before continuing. Building the confidence to take the time you need will reduce your fear and tension and create more successful experiences.
You can practice a slow pace by speaking very softly to yourself. Don’t force the words, let your mind and vocal cords take the time they need to speak. Gradually, as you learn to slow down and relax, begin to practice louder until you reach a normal voice level. This is a great technique to use on words or sounds you find most difficult. Find a quiet spot where you are relaxed and begin to say the challenging word or sound. Repeat it over and over again until it flows relatively easily. Then begin to magnify the sound until you are speaking at a normal volume.
Visualization is a technique that can be helpful as well. When you begin to feel overwhelmed by a conversation, stop yourself, breathe and then start to visualize what you want to say. Maybe it’s pictures or the actual words, but either way the simple act of seeing what you want to say can be a helpful strategy to controlling your stutter.
Try singing or reading aloud to practice speaking. These strategies have been helpful to many stutterers. In reading aloud you are seeing the words that need to be spoken, capitalizing on the visual element and in singing you are extending the sound of some words and carefully pronouncing others. Both these strategies can be fun and you can easily engage others while doing them.
Use a feedback device so you can hear exactly how your speech sounds. It will help with prosody (the patterns of rhythm) and pronunciation. Once you begin to hear yourself say the word correctly over and over again, you will have far more success when in a conversation.
Finally, get yourself prepared to fail. No one – let me repeat that – NO ONE speaks without stammering over a word or making a mistake while speaking. Getting over stuttering takes tremendous self-discipline and desire. It’s human nature to err and although it will take a lot of patience and practice, you can control your stutter rather than letting it control you. Use the two P’s; Preparation and Practice, to learn how to overcome stuttering.