Sm: where does anxiety come from?

October is the selective mutism awareness month and I always try to post videos, write blogs, put posts in social media to make people aware of what is selective mutism (SM).

SM stems from anxiety and the child doesn’t choose not to speak but the vocal cords are frozen because these children are anxious and scared, although we don’t see that all of the time. So in order to understand SM, let’s take a step back and let’s start understand anxiety.

So why is your child anxious?

No one knows the complete answer to this question, the research has identified a number of factors that they are likely to play a role in some way full


There is little doubt that anxiety runs in families and it’s pretty common for at least one parent of anxious children to also be somewhat anxious. Obviously the level of anxiety is different from person to person and you might have a parent that tends to worry a little more than average.Research has shown that what his passed on from parents to child is not a specific tendency to be shy or to worry about something in particular, but a personality that is more emotionally sensitive than other people’s.

Negative thoughts

Once a child is anxious and has a sensitive style, the way that he or she behaves play an extremely important part in keeping the anxiety going.

This thoughts and behaviours are the key to understanding the child’s anxiety, anxious children focus on:

  • Any possible danger in the world
  • Physical danger like parents will die
  • Social danger at the children will laugh at me
  • Focus on bad things

Children with selective mutism focus on other people’s reaction to hearing their voice other people asking questions other people focusing on them getting and desired attention.


Anxious children avoid things. This is a basic and automatic part of their personality, and it might include obvious avoidance like not wanting to go to school or to a party, it might include less obvious avoidance such as taking ages to decide what to wear so they don’t look bad. Avoiding keeps those thoughts real as they never learn the they are not true. By avoiding anything that is a little frightening, children are not able to learn positive lesson sat as I can cope or it won’t hurt me.

Parents reaction

The way a parent react to or handle their child fears I also play some part in maintaining the anxiety. Although all parents are different, some parents react in an overly protective way and I totally understand that because parents love their children and so when their child is scared and vulnerable they only naturally rush to help them. But in some cases this helping behaviour allows the child to avoid and parents begin to anticipate their child anxiety and will start to help them even if when it isn’t necessary.

Children tend to copy their parents, so if we think of a little girl who puts the mummy makeup on or wears high heels and jewelry. It is then reasonable to expect the children may also copy their parents way of coping with the world. Therefore if the parents are anxious and avoid situations, then the child may learn that this is the way to handle fears.

I’m obviously not suggesting the parents are entirely responsible for their own child’s anxiety however if the child already has an anxious tendencies and the parents or one of them is anxious, the child might pick up a few of this behaviour and this my strengthening his or her already anxious nature.


Those are situations that have affected their child’s confidence so for example when a child is bitten by a dog, the child will become weary of dogs for a period of time.

These are natural responses that happens to most children after a stressful event. If a child experiences stresses like these and is already sensitive and anxious, then the stresses may have an even bigger impact than usual in my add to his or her anxiety.

It is important to understand the factors but not all of these factors will apply for every child. However with selective mutism avoidance is key and it is a part of any anxiety problem.

My blog doesn’t want to be an exercise for parents to blame themselves, but a way to give everyone an opportunity to observe and understand a little bit about the causes of anxiety.

When it comes down to the real problem it doesn’t matter where it comes from, but what matters is that we are doing something about it.

Anna Biavati-Smith

Specialist Speech & Language Therapist

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