Throughout our journey we were occasionally encouraged to praise Eli for his fluent speech. We never did that… it just didn’t feel like the right thing to do. Why not? This suggestion pops up in almost every list of recommendations for parents, from The Stuttering Home Page and the Stuttering Foundation of America to text books and instruction manuals. The Parent’s Guide on the Stuttering Home Page suggests you
“Praise your child when s/he speaks well; but this should not be taken as praise for not stuttering; praise what s/he says, not how s/he says it.” (1)
How do you praise a child when he speaks well without praising how he says it? If you say “you sure know a lot about Pokemon©!” you are praising them for what they said, not how they said it. If you say, “I like how you used your easy speech when you talked about Pokemon©,” you are praising them for how they said it, not what they said.
I asked Eli how he might have felt if I had intermittingly praised his fluent and natural speech when he was younger (he’s 17 now). He frowned and then responded:
“Praise the small things. Praise things that matter. If you get lots of praise you will focus too much on looking good in other peoples’ minds. Don’t praise something that is commonly expected. Most people talk without thinking about it. If I get praised for fluent speech, that tells me that if I don’t get praised, I must be doing something wrong. I will think harder about my speech in order to get more praise.”
“Praise things that matter.” If you praise a child for fluent speech, they will get the idea that fluent speech is what “matters” to their listener. Is this really the message we want to risk sending? Doesn’t that come with an inherent risk of adding more anxiety to communicating? Isn’t it pretty well-accepted that increased anxiety contributes to increased tension and stuttering behavior?
I had a brief moment of hope when I read the Stuttering Foundations “Tips for Talking With Your Child.” They say:
“Praise strengths unrelated to talking as well, such as athletic skills, being organized, independent, or careful.” (2)
Oh how I wish they had said “instead of” instead of “as well.” So close, but yet so far away. (Check the addendum at the end of this post for more examples.)
I seriously cannot fathom any scenario where it would be appropriate and safe to praise a child for fluent talking. It’s just not worth the risk.
Keep them talking and keep talking fun!
Doreen (Dori) Lenz Holte
Addendum: Additional examples of suggestions in professional publications to praise fluency.
“The child’s disfluency should serve as an additional reminder to the parents to compliment the child’s fluency.” Page 345, Stuttering Intervention: A Collaborative Journey to Fluency Freedom, Shapiro, David
“Children may be especially fluent when they are talking to parents at bedtime, providing parents with the opportunity to comment on this “smooth speech” and to let the child know that they can imagine how good it feels to talk easily.” Page 306, Stuttering: an Integrated Approach to Its Nature and Treatment, Guitar, Barry
“Praise your child’s talking; for example, “You are a good talker,” “I like the way you said that,” or, “It’s fun talking with you.” (Actually, I don’t object to that last one — it is referring to the content, not how it is being said.) Page 73, Fun with Fluency: Direct Therapy with the Young Child, Walton, Patty and Wallace, Mary