Selective Mutism: Freeze the moment technique

W​hen I start working with families with children with Selective Mutism I work with supporting them with changing behaviours that may confirm the silence.
One technique is called FREEZE THE MOMENT… what does it mean? It is NOT speaking on behalf of your child, but in little steps… I know ​that it is difficult, most parents things that I am asking to go to the moon as it is a challenge.

M​any parents experience a sense of panic as soon as ​their child is ​asked a question and ​they have to create that quiet space, so I ask them to take into little tiny tiny steps, which is leave unimportant 5 Second gap for the child to respond.

​I want to reassure everyone than every parent say that it is difficult and they feel terrible, however it quickly g​ets​ easier.
​Children and young people are often more phased by the ​appearance and ​their parents’ face expressions th​a​n by the question which they may or may not be able to answer​.
Realistically here is what happens, steps by steps:
  1. another person asks them a question
  2. parent counts for 5 seconds (initially and then gradually increase it) and waits (yes just waiting)…your child is going to feel the anxiety and this is when the teaching starts as their brain will start learning how to cope with stressful situations.
  3. Look at your child and encourage him/her to give you the answer, hoping that they will do so in front of the other listener (maybe it is a simple question and your child can just nod or shake their head for just now)
  4. If your child is frozen, ALWAYS out loud suggest to move away from that person and they can answer to you
  5. If your child is not ready yet (and they cannot even move their head) explain to the other person that your child is finding speaking out loud just now but will be able to do speak soon, when he/she is ready.

This is to underline that communicating is not scary, but we always need to communicate, maybe we are not ready and we need to move to another room, but YOU as the parent are not going to speak on their behalf. It’s going to be quite a shock for them because they are used to someone answering for them and they will be silent whenever another person is around.

This is not a punishment, but as everyone needs to speak and communicate fr themselves. Remember that this is NOT just about speaking but it is about COMMUNICATING.

Here are an alternative strategy:
  • ​SMILE, because a simple active ​s​m​ile even a fake smile sends a message to the brain which triggers the release of the feel good hormones called endorphin ​. So if your anxiety rises at the thought of not answering​, ​try to relax your shoulders very slowly and smile while you say one of the following sentences to yourself​​:
  • ​​my child needs me to do this 
  • they don’t want to become dependent on me 
  • this is worse for me than my child 
  • they will survive a few seconds 
  • we are working through this together

It is also important to let your child know that is fine if the answer I’m fine if they don’t answer especially because you are acknowledging the fact that they are trying hard and doing their best no matter what the outcome will be.

If later on they say that they feel punished or they feel that they can do it because they’re doing it in the wrong way if you feel that is appropriate you can explain to your child that is all about trying and on the moment the person is asking the question you can explain that your child is not being rude but they are trying really hard and it is really hard for you the other people don’t see your daughter awesome as they really are.

Maggie Johnson has created a very comprehensive step by step which looks like this

  • New person asks your child a question
  • you are going to wait for 5 second (increase it with time)
  • child nodes or shake their head
  • you add a comment to move on the conversation or look away from your child

WAIT FOR FIVE SECONDS and FACE YOUR CHILD your child so they can speak quietly in your face

download (2)

  • if your child answers or gestures you need to smile and add a comment to move things on (keep any acknowledgement of this great achievement for a private moment because your child will not want attention)


late talker or language delay article

  • move the conversation on without whispering
  • say to your child will have a think about that one or you can tell me later
  • ask the other person a question to divert attention from your child
  • change the subject
  • and say goodbye

​Should we allow our child to whisper?

​​I​f your child is not comfortable in speaking to you in front of other people maybe suggest to whisper. ​W​hispering is perfectly acceptable but this is not something that we want to encourage the rest of the time what I mean by that that whispering is acceptable as long as the whisper is public which means not a private whisper in someone’s ear so we recommend ​to move just far enough away so ​she can talk quietly to​ you.

Important points

    • ​phobia can be overcome
    • the first step is to talk about and understand the phobia
    • applying pressure make phobias worse
    • facing fears is the key To Success
    • avoidance from your child is not an option
    • ​Educate everyone around you about sm so there are no expectations and no questions
    • Make sure that all the adults around your child w​i​ll not say that she can’t talk or
      ​won’t talk as this is a not an adequate description​. It is important for you to clarify or say​:
  1. ​that she wants to talk but cannot always speak out freely
  2. she find talking easier in certain situations than others
  3.  she is trying really hard to be brave about talking

This is an important step to help your child’s communication. I am here to support parents and children.

Anna Biavati-Smith

Specialist Speech & Language Therapist

© Copyright 2017 . All rights reserved.

Johnson, M. and Wintgens, A. (2016) The Selective Mutism Resource Manual (2nd Edition). Routledge: Taylor and Francis Group, London and New York

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