SELECTIVE MUTISM: how to explain to children their fear of talking

One of the questions that I’m often asked by parents of children with selective mutism is: “how do I let my child know that he or she has selective mutism or how do I approach the subject?” 

I think that by the time parents come to see me, the child has noticed that they are not talking like everyone else. Obviously the child has not been speaking for a while, and then they talk around it, parents don’t really say in front of their child “oh she doesn’t really talk in front of anyone”, so we’re kind of talking around the subject.

I find that being honest with your child or teenager is really important.

Obviously it might not work with every child but it shouldn’t be a secret because once it is out in the open, everything feels more natural.

For all the younger children I would use a very simple language and I would say:

“Do you know darling, mummy and daddy have noticed that when you are out at the nursery or when we go to the supermarket, you are very chatty at home, and then you become quieter and quieter and your voice hides away. 

Do you know it’s something that we have inside and it’s like when we get scared and it moves up to the throat. When we need to say something and we’re outside our home, we get scared and the words do not come out, because we’re scared.

This happens to everyone and a lot of children feel scared of talking and the good news is it will not last forever. 

Taking very little steps helps, until you will notice that your voice is going to come out gently and perhaps you will be able to use it, you’ll be chatty at home, as well as at the nursery and it’s just about taking little steps. You know, nobody expects you to do anything, we’ll just see how it is” 

I noticed that when parents talk about this, children relax and they start realising what is happening. This happens as you as the adult will also explain that it will not last forever.

Think of a name for this, whatever you want to call the silence, professionals call it selective mutism, what shall we call it? 

When I work with older children or teenagers, they liked to understand the anatomy and physiology of the brain, as well as identifying physical symptoms like sweaty palms, closure of the throat.

In this way they understand what is happening. 

As adults we are not saying that how they feel is wrong, but you are commenting by saying: “I can see that it’s happening, it will change. I can see that you’re not happy but you will feel more relaxed”.

These are very little steps and being open helps brainstorming especially with older children and helps identify where they are and where the changes can happen.

There is a lot of literature and a lot of books in terms of behavioral modification that helps the child understand what’s happening.

Also I’ve designed a specific video course online to help parents, here you can find more information about it:

https://www.edinburgh-speech-therapy-wordsteps.co.uk/courses/selective-mutism-online-video-course/

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