Speaking to Your Child About SM
It is vital that an individual feels comfortable to talk about their speaking anxieties with someone they trust. This helps them to know that it is not a taboo subject or something that they should be ashamed of.
Some children have a higher awareness of their speaking anxieties that others and some children do not like to talk about it. The main thing is that you let them know that it can be scary to get the words out sometimes but that that’s ok for now.
The first step with SM is reducing all the pressure on the child to speak. Only when they feel comfortable can you then begin to change things to support them to build their confidence – from a safe place.
There are a few books that I have found useful to read with clients or give them to read themselves if they are old enough. These include:
Selective Mutism Resource Manual (2nd Edition Johnson and Wintgens, 2016) - Handout 2 in this book gives a narrative that you can use and amend with your child when talking about SM or treatment programmes.
My Friend Daniel Doesnt Talk – Sharon Longo. This book is useful for reading with young children, particularly those without additional anxieties.
Understanding Katie – Dr Elisa Shipon Blum. This is a day in the life of a child with SM and additional anxieties. Available in paperback or as a downloadable e-book. It is really useful for explaining the links between anxiety and behaviours that may appear naughty.
It can be important not to emphasise “talking” when chatting to an individual with SM. This is because more often than not speaking
confidence may be linked to overall anxiety levels which also need to be addressed. Using terms such as “hard to get the words out”, “the words didn’t come out”, “it feel scary to get the words out” can be more beneficial and reduce the pressure on the child by not focusing on the word “talking”.
Try not to have too much of a focus on the speaking behaviours either, increased attention and cuddles for silence can become a reward. Particularly for an already anxious child who is seeking security. Try to provide cuddles and praise for the things they do well rather than when they have incurred difficulty e.g. use phrases such as “I like the way you were brave and stayed with your friends” rather than “you looked so scared, were you worried?”.
The more you talk about SM with your child the less taboo it will feel to them. However, it’s the way that it is discussed that is important. Talk about it as something that they are experiencing now, but that it will not be this way forever – it’s important that they don’t become to feel like the silence is a part of their identity.