Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder in which children selectively choose situations in which they will not speak. According to the American Speech-Hearing-Language Association, children freely interact with close family members, but are hesitant, anxious and silent in social situations. Finding activities for a child with selective mutism can be challenging; however, it is recommended that families not shy away from placing the children in social situations. Gently encouraging them to interact with others and develop friendships is an important part of therapy.
1. Introduce Your Child to Social Settings
Helping your child adjust to social settings can decrease the anxiety she feels. The American Speech-Hearing-Language Association suggests role-playing communication in different settings to boost confidence. Therapists agree that any type of communicative behavior should be rewarded. The Selective Mutism Group advises parents not to force social behaviors, but instead, learn how your child is comfortable communicating and encourage and reward her when she interacts with others. SMG recommends choosing social activities that enhance your child's strengths and interests to promote healthy communicative behaviors.
2. Encourage Friendship
Children in elementary school often have lots of different friends. As you can imagine, it may be hard for a child with selective mutism to develop friendships. According to the Selective Mutism Group, it is important for parents to help their child grow friendships one at a time. Because your child openly communicates at home, you can ask her about other children with whom she would like to become friends. Selective Mutism Foundation recommends inviting potential friends over for play dates to establish a peer group in a safe environment. Once friendships have developed, you can try meeting at the park or going over to her friends' homes.
3. Sign Up For Extracurricular Activities
Finding activities your child enjoys can help her be more at ease in social situations. It is important to remember to gently encourage participation, never forcing her to talk to other kids or criticizing her lack of communication. According to Selective Mutism Foundation, creating opportunities for your child to explore different extracurricular activities helps her to find pleasure in social settings, practice her strengths and fosters self-esteem. The foundation advises that making your child feel safe in environments outside the home builds hope and reassurance, leading to the feeling she can overcome her anxiety.
4. Be Supportive in Every Situation
No matter the activity, what children with selective mutism need most is understanding and support from their parents, caregivers and teachers. The Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario recommends you accompany your child in new situations and set up meetings with teachers and other caregivers to explain the symptoms and behavioral expectations associated with selective mutism. Creating an educated team of adults that surrounds your child on a daily basis helps to decrease uncertain situations and encourages feelings of security.