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Selective Mutism: What to do when your verbal child refuses to speak

Updated: Nov 16, 2021



Sometimes parents come to us with this scenario, wherein their child who has been saying words and asking for things suddenly seems to stop wanting to talk. They are anxious that their child may be developing a speech delay or can't seem to grasp why this is happening.


A lot of the time, children who are only able to speak in certain settings such as at home and instead of school are experiencing some form of anxiety. When this occurs, your child may be displaying symptoms of selective mutism. Experts stress that although the discussions around selective mutism are centered around themes of a child's refusal to speak, we remind parents that it may not feel like a choice from the child's perspective.


Over the years we've found that children with selective mutism will talk in spaces or with people they feel the safest or comfortable with.


What you can do to help


While it can be frustrating for you as a parent, it is important that you do not shame or embarrass your child, as this would probably make them choose to be more silent.


If you find yourself in a situation where your child has stopped talking you can say what you think they might be feeling. For example, you might say "I know you might be scared to say hello to people you don't know.


When your child is talking on their own, you should say encouraging things like "I loved how you explained the rules of the game to Alex!". Encouragement goes a long way in helping your child feel safe to speak freely and boosts their confidence.


How Play Therapy Helps Children with Selective Mutism


Play therapy is a great tool for children with selective mutism because the therapy in itself is centered around play! It is a gentle and safe environment for a child to become comfortable and most importantly it needs no talking! The main goal of Play Therapy is for the therapist to build a relationship with your child. Using "Play" your child experiments with being in control of their entire environment, this is a very empowering moment for your child and creates a special space for your child to explore their inner world with the therapist and learn the root causes of their anxieties.


Over these sessions with the therapist, we understand the issues that may be holding your child back and we start to make sense of them so that their selective mutism no longer manifests outside the Play Therapy room.


If you would like to speak to a qualified Play therapist to learn how your child could benefit from play therapy, click here to schedule a complimentary consultation today or take our quiz!


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