Everything You Need to Know About Selective Mutism

Selective mutism affects more children than you may believe. It's necessary to detect this disorder in time and do exercises to eliminate it and prevent traumas or socialization problems. Read on to learn more!
Everything You Need to Know About Selective Mutism
María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez

Reviewed and approved by the psychologist María Alejandra Castro Arbeláez.

Written by Yamila Papa

Last update: 27 December, 2022

“When he’s with family, he expresses himself correctly. However, my son doesn’t speak outside the home, especially to strangers.” Does this phrase sound familiar to you? If you’re experiencing the same situation with your child, we invite you to read the following article about selective mutism.

Selective mutism

Selective mutism is a child’s inability to speak in selective social settings. This disorder isn’t always easy to detect. It’s said that it manifests because the child is shy, introverted, or embarrassed because he doesn’t know certain people. The perception most families have is that there’s no problem because the child speaks at home. And they assume that it’ll go away on its own.

Selective mutism is usually diagnosed when children begin kindergarten, as they don’t respond to the teacher’s questions or to other children.

Everything You Need to Know About Selective Mutism

This disorder affects children ages three to eight. It has nothing to do with interpersonal relationships, only speech. This means your child will probably play with other children or pay attention to what happens around him. But he won’t say a word to express himself and interact with others.

Children are usually very curious, intelligent, and sensitive. Also, they’re somewhat anxious and, in many cases, selfish with their toys or personal items. This disorder is more likely to occur in only children than those with siblings.

Detecting selective mutism is very important because, this way, it can be treated to achieve advances as soon as possible. We should note that this communication disorder can impact children or cause trauma because they can’t integrate at school or in the park.

How to help your child

If you suspect your child is suffering from selective mutism, take him to a specialist as soon as possible. Not much is known about this disorder. However, through games, stories, drawings, and other activities, you can get your child to talk in social settings.

It’s necessary for the family to support the child at all times and not pressure him to talk to someone if he doesn’t want to. Your child can manifest frustration, anxiety, and anger when you try to get him to talk in unfamiliar environments.

Avoid social isolation by all means. Keeping your child at home won’t help you overcome the problem. You have to know up to what point to help him socialize and when you’re being too pushy. The most important thing is that you shouldn’t stop going to parties, social gatherings, or playgrounds.

You can organize home parties or gatherings and invite your child’s classmates, cousins, neighbors, or your friends’ children. Take your child to places where he can play, speak, sing, or just say single words.

Everything You Need to Know About Selective Mutism

You can also teach your child how to express himself through drawings that represent common situations, such as going to the bathroom, eating fruit, playing ball, or taking a nap.

Another way to help your child speak more is to buy him a toy microphone or megaphone and make sure he takes it everywhere with him. Perhaps the toy will give your child the confidence to say a few words.

You can also consider coming up with a song you can sing in those moments when your child doesn’t want to talk. For example, the song can be about your child, his pet, or his favorite toy… And when he feels pressured to speak, suggest singing the song together just like you do at home.

Finally, reward your child every time he talks with someone who isn’t part of his immediate family. You don’t need to buy your child an expensive toy nor candy or ice cream.

Simple words of encouragement or congratulating your child can help boost your child’s self-confidence. It doesn’t matter if he just said one word, such as his name. Tell him he did a good job and that you’re proud of them!

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

  • Ahne, V. (2009). “Mutismo selectivo”, Mente y Cerebro, 38: 14-19.
  • Díez Asensio, A. (2013). Identificación de los trastornos del desarrollo del habla en educación infantil y tratamiento educativo. https://uvadoc.uva.es/handle/10324/4604
  • Olivares Rodríguez, J. (1994). El niño con miedo a hablar. Madrid: Pirámide.
  • Olivares-Olivares, P. J., & Rodríguez, J. O. (2018). Actualización de un modelo tentativo del mutismo selectivo. Behavioral Psychology/Psicologia Conductual, 26(1).
  • Urban, C. C.; Gallego, C. G., & Gallo, P. M. (2009). El mutismo selectivo. Guía para la detección, evaluación e intervención precoz en la escuela. Pamplona: Creena.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.