We’ve all been there. The teacher asks the class a question of which you know the answer. Perhaps you are the only student in the class who knows the answer. But you don’t raise your hand in fear of stuttering in front of everyone. This, in turn, can negatively affect your grades since class participation is included on your report card.
You’re a smart kid. You know the topic. But fear of being made fun of keeps you silent. School age is a time when fitting in is extremely important. You’re judged based on the music you listen to, the clothes you wear, your hair style, even how you play a sort. Actually, this continues on into adulthood. But I digress.
The fear of being ridiculed is a strong force especially for a little kid. As my friend, Lisa Brown puts it, “I let the fear of being ridiculed control my every action for many years. There are only 2 choices, let stuttering defeat you, don’t talk and feel like a victim (as I did), or dare to be exposed, courageous and brave. I wish I had chosen the latter.”
I asked a few stuttering forums for some tips on how to overcome fears in class participation and summarized them into a stragey you can pick and choose from in case this is an area of education you or your child may be struggling to overcome.
Tell your teacher
It’s important to have support from your teacher. Though make sure they understand stuttering! The Stuttering Foundation of America has a great tip sheet for teachers. As does the British Stammering Association including a whole website devoted to teachers!
Having a teacher who understands that all a student that stutters needs is a little extra time to get the words out is a great ally to have. The teacher can respond supportively as well as monitor the reactions of the other students and act accordingly.
Tell your friends
I talk a lot about the benefits of having a support system of friends who see past your stuttering and I believe the same applies in the school setting. It builds a comfort zone for the student which, in turn, can make raising their hand in a classroom of supportive friends.
As you make new friends in your class, be sure to explain your stuttering to them. Try not to feel badly if they ask why you “talk like that”. Kids are curious and are accepting of answers. That’s why they are asking in the first place! They are curious to know!
Telling others about your stutter sends them the message that you are ok with it. And if you are ok with it, they can be ok around you. Now that they understand, they’ll see way past your stuttering and carry on. Of course, some students may act like jerks but this can be due to an underlying issue that is not related to you. There’s really nothing we can do about the way other people treat us. In any case, these kinds of people aren’t useful to us like our friends. And they certainly aren’t cool people by any stretch of the imagination. Stick with those who do see past your stuttering and tell a teacher or your parents if you are being teased or bullied.
Tell the other kids
You know how teachers tend to ask every student in the classroom to introduce themselves on the first day of school? Yeah, loads of fun as we keep track of how many kids are left before it’s our turn to speak. If you’re comfortable, this may be an opportunity to mention your stuttering. Particularly if your teacher is already aware of your stuttering, he or she can support you as mentioned above.
Practicing reading out loud
Another activity I dreaded in school was reading out loud in class. If only I had thought of practicing regularly at home, maybe I’d have built up a skill in controlling my stuttering when reading. But who wants to read out loud at home as a kid? 😉
Get speech therapy
Speech therapy is a great way to learn about, practice and refine methods in controlling your stuttering. It’s important to keep in mind that speech therapy isn’t a cure to stuttering (there isn’t a cure to stuttering) but knowing what to do when a stutter creeps up when answering a question in class, talking to other students, or trying to stand up for yourself to a bully is a great skill to have.
Try to find a speech pathologist who also addresses speaking fears. After all, the majority of the stuttering experience being negative is due to the funny looks and reactions we get. Addressing these fears of rejection can build resilience and stronger, self-advocating versions of ourselves.
Don’t beat yourself up
Stuttering is quite the challenge! We have to keep on top of it every day and that can be exhausting. So don’t beat yourself up too much if you can’t get every teacher and student to understand stuttering. Or if once in a while you feel a little reluctant to raise your hand. The more you take steps out of your speaking comfort zone, the less afraid you will become.
Most importantly, it’s not how we say what we need to say it’s what we say.