Selective Mutism: anger, anxiety or both?

One mum posted on facebook something about their child being quite aggressive: screaming, shouting, biting (just before going to school) and she wondered if there was a link with SM or was this just bad behavior?


What you are you are describing it is really normal generally for a child of her age, and for a child who has anxiety. Anxiety doesn’t mean that the child is going to only feel sad or cry or looking depressed, but anxiety has different faces different way of presenting itself.

So the first thing to understand is WHAT IS BEHIND TE MISBEHAVIOURS?

We have a different type of behaviors so what we see is a SENSITIVE child that cries over the small things, gets sad when you leave.


  • The child lacks self-regulation
  • is worried about new things
  • needs help gradually been introduced to them
  • has an inner fear that is unable to vocalize

Or you have an ANGRY child that yells and screams often, throws things and is distractive, crosses arms and shuts down, and shout I hate you go away


  • The child is unable to recognize emotions
  • does not have appropriate coping strategies
  • he or she needs help with coming strategies

Or you have a SHY child, in this situation, we see a child that hides behind your legs, scared of new people, is fearful of change, doesn’t like going to new places, and prefers planes with familiar friends.


  • Your child is unable to verbalize what is the fear
  • your child is cautious of anything new
  • wants to understand the situation fully
  • needs help making plans for new things

So the most important thing is to create a plan and above all, we need to focus on the adult.

How you can stay calm and confident, and in control when your child acts out to no matter what the behavior is.

Because when we lose it while our child is flying off the handle, we just add fuel to the fire. But if you are feeling like I got this, then you’ll be able to work through the problem.

We need to look deeper and find a reason why they have certain behaviors.

So if your child hides behind your leg might be unable to verbalize your big fears or worries.

This is very common with children with selective mutism or if your child cried over the smallest things might actually be struggling with skills and to give themselves time, and a child that jumps on the furniture and plays too rough with others might like the ability to recognize when he is overexcited or nervous but actually the truth of the matter in every situation is behavior.

Everything your child does is a clue to what they are thinking and feeling, they are pointing you to what they need and all we need to do is to decode those clues.

As a speech or language I know that language is not the only way of communication and behavior is communication.

Your child is either in pain or has some needs that aren’t been met and they don’t know how to express it or work through it and we need to start changing our own thoughts.

Children with Selective Mutism and have anxiety that doesn’t always show in the same way.

When your child is screaming you might find yourself thinking

  • my child is giving me a hard time,
  • or my child doesn’t respect me
  • or my child never listens to me.

When you notice these thoughts STOP.

Then put the focus on that instead of saying my child is giving me a hard time you need to say

  • my child is having a hard time.
  • What is my child trying to tell me?

This can immediately release stress and pressure.

It is also the first step to connection and understanding, so it puts you on the path of solving this problem.

  • First reducing and illuminating difficult behaviors come down to understanding, connection and empowerment. You’ve got to understand the root cause, connect with your child so they’re willing to work with you and empower them to find a solution with you.

Then you can stop all kind of unwanted behavior before they start.

  • Second, all behavior is communication. The next time your child act up don’t get caught up thinking my child is doing this to me but saying what is my child trying to tell me.
  • Third, remember the big win isn’t fixing issues as they arise but it’s stopping them from happening in the first place and that comes from using all the suggestions above.

Connection is the key to getting your child to open up and work with you.

I have been working with children with anxiety and selective mutism for a long time to understand that we need to be open, we need to be clear, a lot of them don’t understand why you’re feeling this way.

A lot of parents say to me:

She is so quiet and she doesnt communicate at school, and when she comes home she is raging or she is going up and down the house.

They do this because they don’t understand why they’re feeling like that in one of the first thing I see is we need to be open and explain to them why they’re feeling like that.

A lot of parents feel that “they are not doing a good job” but you are.

The only thing that I am suggesting is to focus on your child’s strengths, not hammering on their problem or weaknesses, it is how we get them to flourish into the best version of themselves.

Your child is way more likely to follow a plan if they had a say in creating it. That’s why we create a small step program. You are creating the best plan ever with connection, understanding, and empowerment.

Everything your child does is a clue to what you’re thinking and feeling, they are pointing you to what they need and all we need is to decode those clues.

Connection is the key to getting your child to open up and work with you, it’s the secret ingredient to getting your child to do what you ask, because the more connected, valued and loved the field, the more receptive they will be to everything you say and they will believe that you’re not forcing them into anything.


Please feel free to comment and ask any questions.

Anna Biavati-Smith
Specialist Speech and Language Therapist
© Copyright 2019
All rights reserved.

3 thoughts on “Selective Mutism: anger, anxiety or both?”

  1. my teenager has SM she screams and shouts, bangs doors and kicks furniture, also on a few occasions she has kicked adults in the house. Her outbursts last about one hour and a half every morning before going to school and again in the evening . I would do anything to help her. Please can you advice on how I should handle this

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