Breaking the Silence in Selective Mutism

Using the “silent treatment” on parents to express displeasure is a strategy many children try at some point. However, when a child refuses to speak for an unusually long period or won’t say a word in certain places, there may be a serious problem.

Behavior of A Child with Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is typically classified as an anxiety disorder. Children who have it tend to speak freely at home but stay completely silent in situations which make them uncomfortable. They usually maintain their silence in school and don’t talk to their peers. Some children with selective mutism will respond to their teacher but refrain from socializing with the other kids in the class.

These behaviors are important to note for parents and teachers. Knowing that the child in question is capable of speaking coherently and is fully able to communicate allows health care specialists to rule out other disorders. Sometimes, selective mutism is caused by speech problems or hearing difficulties. A child who can respond to others verbally but chooses not to is more likely to be suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Overcoming Selective Mutism

Parents of a son or daughter with selective mutism should try to understand that the child is not to blame. Selective mutism is not about punishing the parents or trying to be difficult. While it does bring the child more attention, it’s important to remember that selective mutism is often caused by social phobia and a desire to avoid negative attention.

Children who are frightened of being rejected or ridiculed by their peers may feel safer and less anxious by simply refusing to say anything at all. By doing this, they no longer have to worry about being laughed at by their classmates for saying the wrong thing or for giving an incorrect answer in class.

Treating selective mutism is important for the growth and development of the child. Children with condition “cannot establish friendships and may experience learning difficulties,” according to a large study of children in Turkey. Treating a child for selective mutism can help him or her to recover from an overly strong fear of social interaction. By teaching the child how to manage stress, he or she will be better equipped to deal with future anxiety. It may also help the child with selective mutism to gain more confidence and boost self-esteem.

A child who suffers from low confidence and constant stress in everyday situations may very likely benefit from speaking to a mental health counselor. By educating the child about healthy thinking patterns early on, parents can help their son or daughter to have a more fulfilling social life. The good habits and strategies children learn can also be beneficial later in life.