It can be heartbreaking for parents to see their smart, funny, and loving kid become quiet, withdrawn, and guarded in social settings. It can be particularly confusing if the child appears to have no problem talking at home. In such circumstances, the child might be struggling with Selective Mutism. Every child may exhibit the disorder differently, but some behaviors that could indicate Selective Mutism include:
- Communicating through whispering, pointing, gesturing, drawing, or writing rather than speaking in public
- Not initiating conversations or responding when others speak to them
- Difficulties academically due to their hesitation to speak
- Refusing to talk at school, on playdates, or during after school activities
This behavior can be frustrating for many parents, especially when no amount of bribery, structure, discipline, or support will get their child to communicate. Often, parents will feel like they’ve done everything to support their child through this hard time and are at a loss for what to try next.
Family Connections Therapy is here to support you and your child on this journey.
Understanding Selective Mutism
When a child has Selective Mutism, they will often be talkative at home with their family but become withdrawn if others come into the home or if they are in a social setting. Sometimes parents notice their child becoming quieter in social situations after enduring a difficult or traumatic event. Other times, parents notice their child does not want to engage socially after beginning preschool or kindergarten. Children and teens with Selective Mutism may additionally have Social Anxiety Disorder, which causes them to feel worried about being scrutinized by others or doing something embarrassing in social situations. Other kids may have Separation Anxiety paired with their Selective Mutism and become highly nervous or fearful when they have to leave mom or dad.
Kids and teens with Selective Mutism may feel helpless in social situations. Not talking can feel empowering to them, since not speaking gives them a sense of having control in an otherwise anxiety-provoking situation. Ultimately, nobody is able to force them to talk. Other times, kids feel overwhelmed, frozen, and scared that they might make a mistake in front of others, which can lead to their refusal to speak.
Treatment for Selective Mutism
One challenge with Selective Mutism is that many treatment providers try to conduct talk therapy with the child or teen, even though they feel safer not talking. This makes progress difficult. However, if Child-Centered Play Therapy is used, children and teens can still engage and progress in therapy without talking.
Child-Centered Play Therapy helps children and teens process emotions, learn coping skills, and build self-confidence through play. The therapist is able to facilitate the learning process through the child or teen’s self-directed play, art, or other means, creating a therapeutic environment where talking is not required to make progress. Each child’s therapeutic process goes at an individual pace. Once a child or teen feels comfortable in the playroom, they will often begin to open up on their own. Sometimes a client will feel more comfortable addressing issues through therapeutic play, and other times they will begin speaking directly to the therapist. Either way, the therapy is adapted to comfortably meet their individual needs in a safe environment so the child can feel secure throughout the growth process.
Parents are key to their child’s success–after all, you know your child best. At Family Connections Therapy, we work closely with parents to explore the child’s situation and determine the best strategy for each case. Parent Consultations are offered regularly, as a child’s success in therapy is even greater with parental involvement. Therapists at Family Connections Therapy will teach parents tips and tools to successfully navigate and support their child throughout the therapeutic process.
What if my child never talks in therapy?
Play therapy does not require speech to be effective. The child is welcome to refrain from talking, and can still fully participate and benefit from the therapeutic process.
If my kid starts talking in therapy, how will that translate over to talking in other situations?
Once children and teens are able to process their emotions and anxiety in therapy, they often start to feel more comfortable speaking in social situations outside of the therapist’s office.
What if I think my child also has anxiety or another condition impacting the Selective Mutism?
We work with parents to get a thorough understanding of all concerns related to the child and their therapy. It’s not uncommon to have Selective Mutism with an additional anxiety diagnosis. Both mental health conditions will be addressed throughout the therapy. In cases where there may be Selective Mutism due to social anxiety around speech impairment or language difficulties, the therapist will work with parents to find resources to improve speech and language capabilities, while simultaneously working with the child on processing emotions, learning coping skills, and building the self-confidence to utilize their new language skills.
What if my kid feels nervous about being separated from me while I’m in the waiting room?
This is common at first and something we see frequently with children who have anxiety in new or social situations. The therapist will work with each parent to discuss the individual needs of the child in order to develop a strategy that puts both the child and parent at ease.
Make an Appointment or Call Us Now
Selective Mutism can be extremely difficult for both the child with the disorder and the parents trying to help them. We understand the unique needs of children and teens with Selective Mutism and are passionate about their success.
Mary Puntenney is a child and family therapist at Family Connections Therapy, committed to providing top-of-the-line treatment services for our client community. Mary specializes in Selective Mutism. Her experience and training suit her for working with young children who have emotional and social difficulties.
Your child or teen doesn’t have to live with Selective Mutism for the rest of their life with help from the team at Family Connections Therapy. Contact us today to schedule your child’s first session.
About Family Connections Therapy
Our mission is to help kids and families learn to work well together, find deeper healing, and to empower our community through effective mental health services, one family at a time. Together, we can help children and families live happier, healthier lives.
Sometimes it can be difficult to reach out, but we would love to hear from you! If you have questions or thoughts about our work or would like to sign up for your first session, contact us at (858) 726-5957 or email email@example.com. Our office is conveniently located at 11838 Bernardo Plaza Ct #250, San Diego, CA 92128.