We’re excited to welcome you to the first How to Be Brave newsletter – a collection of strategies and quick tips for children and families in the selective mutism community, sent to your inbox every other month. We hope these resources, which are written by our team of clinicians at the Child Mind Institute, support you while helping your child find their voice.
Rachel Busman, PsyD
Senior Director, Anxiety Disorders Center
Selective Mutism Service

How to Be Brave on Halloween

For some, ‘trick or treat’ isn’t always sweet. Kids may have different emotional responses when it comes to Halloween, including both excitement and nervousness. For children with selective mutism (SM), the activity of “trick or treating” may provide an added layer of anxiety. However, with some planning, this can be a fun opportunity to practice brave talking! Here are some tips:
1. Plan your route
Changes in variables (people, places 
and activities) can affect your child’s ability to verbalize, so setting expectations before the day can help. Map out where you’ll walk, how many houses you’ll visit and who else is trick-or-treating with you. 
2. Prepare verbal cues
Practice ahead of time by having your child say either “Trick or treat!” or “Happy Halloween!” to those with whom they are verbal. Have your prompts ready. You can choose between the command “Go ahead and say ‘Trick or treat’ ” or a forced-choice question like, “Do you say ‘trick or treat’ or ‘Happy Halloween’?” Remember to use gradual steps: try having your child practice at the door before ringing the bell and then again after the person answers the door.
3. Enjoy the moment
It’s okay to have a plan B. If a step is too challenging in the moment, plan accordingly for the next house. Remember to have fun! You can plan to practice brave talking at a certain number of houses, rather than setting the expectation that the whole event should be verbal (especially for some children). 

How to Talk About Selective Mutism

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.

SM Quick Facts
Parents Guide to SM
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