How to help a child with selective mutism cope with family gatherings


The festive period, Easter and other family gatherings can be lovely, but can also be very anxiety inducing for children with selective mutism. Why?

1. Visits from extended family and family friends who the child has previously been unable to talk to.

2. Visiting 'non-verbal' environments, extended families homes', that the child has found it difficult to be verbal in in the past.

What can we do to help a child with selective mutism to be at ease and enjoy these events?

These situations can be a great opportunity to help the child to feel at ease and potentially start to be verbal with new people BUT some planning is necessary.

1. Brief everyone about selective mutism – they should ask the child no questions at the start and make no comments about the child not talking. People may be well meaning but may unintentionally put pressure on the child to speak by making comments such as

“Are you going to talk to me this time?” – these comments do not help and actually make it harder for the child, so it is best if visitors are briefed in advance.

2. Warm the child up by helping them to be verbal with you at home before visitors arrive; perhaps play a game in the living room. I have a list of games that I use here

http://www.confidentchildren.co.uk/games

3. If everyone arrives at the same time, this can be overwhelming for the child. It is best if visitors arrive in a staggered way, so the child can get used to each visitor’s presence before the next arrives.

4. When the visitor arrives, it’s fine if they say hello to everyone and are friendly but they should not put too much focused attention on the child at the start.

5. This situation could be a good opportunity for fading in (sliding in) a new person, provided it is done in a careful and non-overwhelming way for the child. The key is that the situation should be focused on the child having fun and talking with the person they are comfortable to talk to, with the new person discretely in the background, and gradually getting closer and joining in when the child is ready.

I discuss this method in this video