Parenting a child with selective mutism.

Published on 14th September, 2019 by Dr. Sanveen Kang

Parenting a child with selective mutism.

Selective mutism is a complex anxiety disorder where the ability to communicate is hindered in settings where a child or individual does not feel comfortable. Often times, individuals with selective mutism face challenges in communicating effectively and confidently within a social setting. They have an actual FEAR of speaking and of social interactions where there is an expectation to speak and communicate.

More than 90% of children with Selective Mutism also have social phobia or social anxiety. As such, the disorder is debilitating and painful to the child.

Not all children manifest their anxiety in the same way. Some may be completely mute and unable to speak or communicate to anyone in a social setting, others may be able to speak to a select few or perhaps whisper. Some children may stand motionless with fear as they are confronted with specific social settings. They may freeze, be expressionless, unemotional and may be socially isolated. Less severely affected children may look relaxed and carefree, and are able to socialize with one or a few children but are unable to speak and effectively communicate to teachers or most/all peers. These behaviors tend to interfere with educational or occupational achievement and, may lead to clinging to caregivers, temper tantrums, oppositional behaviour, compulsive traits and negativity. Needless to say, these sets of behaviours can present as being incredibly confusing and distressing for parents or caregivers of a child with selective mutism.

In addition to seeking support from a trained professional with experience in working with children with selective mutism, parents can consider the following strategies to support and encourage their child in social settings:

  • Remove all pressure and expectations for the child to speak.
  • Convey to your child that you understand he/she is scared and it is hard to get the words out and that you will help him/her through this difficult time.
  • Praise your child’s efforts and accomplishments, support and acknowledge the difficulties and frustrations.
  • Allow for hesitation.
  • Ask choice and direct questions to the child with focus on the prop.
  • Accept nonverbal communication (e.g., pointing, nodding, gesturing) without an expectation for speech.

At Psych Connect, we support families with children with Selective Mutism using a range of bespoke individual and group based treatment. Our treatment approaches comprise of emotional processing, parenting skills training, behavioral intervention and other skills trainings.

Dr. Sanveen Kang

About the Author - Dr. Sanveen Kang

Dr. Kang is a Clinical Psychologist by training and has more than 14 years of experience in treating mental and physical health issues for clients in hospitals, private practice, educational and corporate settings.

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