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Understanding Childhood Selective Mutism

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The sound of their child’s voice is something most parents love to hear. No doubt will the sudden cessation of that voice cause most parents to feel fear and confusion. Selective mutism is a form of anxiety which 7 out of every 1,000 children experience. There is no difference in the rate of prevalence by sex or ethnicity but it is more common in younger children than adolescents.

Symptoms of Selective Mutism:

  • Your child continually refrains from speaking in situations where speech is needed
  • He or she will speak in situations where they are more comfortable (e.g. at home or with family members) but will not speak in situations that are new or cause stress
  • Failure to speak doesn’t have to do with lack of fluency in the language that is being spoken
  • If this speech disturbance has lasted more than one month with the first month of school excluded

When you have noticed that your child is exhibiting these symptoms, the best course of action is to take him or her to their pediatrician so Autism can be ruled out. If it turns out selective mutism is the case, there are some solutions to try to help relieve your child’s anxiety.

1. Make an Appointment with a Child Psychologist

A trained mental health professional will be able to make your child feel comfortable and discover the underlying cause of their mutism. They will coach you and your child on techniques to make speaking more comfortable.

2. Don’t Call Negative Attention to Their Mutism

Trying to get your child to talk by threatening punishment or blaming them for their silence will only cause your child to retreat further inward. Even if you have the best of intentions, try not to joke or mention it to others in front the child as well. The world is scary enough, your child needs to know you are a safe place to land.

3.Take Baby Steps

Encouraging small interactions like waving, smiling and making eye contact is a good way to warm your child up to socializing. Eventually they will be able to say a word or two and it will grow from there.

4. Remove Pressure and Give Them a Sense of Agency

Children with selective mutism respond best when they are not pushed into social situations and when they are given more control over their daily life. Asking open questions like “do you want the red marker or the blue marker?” require them to communicate their preference. It will also give them a sense of choice and control in this seemingly big scary world.


Throughout the month of May, RtoR.org will release a daily Post
of the Day in observance of Mental Health Awareness Month

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