Parents and children coping with selective mutism are often met with questions like, “Why are you so quiet?” or, “Doesn’t he/she speak?” or encouraging — yet invalidating — statements like, “Don’t be so shy!” or, “I’m nothing to be afraid of!” While these individuals mean well, they are communicating the wrong message to our children, which can end up reinforcing nonverbal behaviors.
Talking about your child’s difficulty verbalizing is personal and something that does not need to be shared with people around you. However, without overextending yourself, there are ways to jump in during these moments.
Some helpful lines when correcting individuals may include:
- “Actually, he/she is not shy.”
- “Yes, he/she does speak.”
- “We’re working on ‘brave talking’ right now.”
- “We’ve been practicing talking to new people."
For people you are more comfortable with, you can take these explanations one step further and explain that selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that you and your child are bravely challenging together.
From there, meet your child where she is. If your child is ready, you may want to try coaching people in a question they can ask your child, or ask your child a question in front of them yourself. Openness and transparency allow for your child to better understand and predict what is taking place.