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Selective mutism

  • 1-5 Years
  • 5-11 Years
  • 11-19 Years
  • Behaviour, emotions and mental health
  • Speech, language and communication
Young girl on mobile phone with a younger boy peering over her shoulder to look at the mobile phone.

We do not actively treat selective mutism. The best support your child can receive is from sensitive and informed carers who are with your child every day. This can be at your child’s preschool or school.

The speech and language therapist can assess any other underlying communication disorders.

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Some children will not speak in pre-school or school, even though they’ll happily talk at home. This is referred to as selective mutism or reluctant speakers.

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder. It is where a person who is able to speak, cannot speak in specific situations or to certain people. Selective mutism will often come with shyness or anxiety.

How to help your child with their selective mutism

It’s important to try to minimise the amount of pressure on your child when encouraging them to speak. You can reward your child for speaking up by continuing the conversation. Try not to make a big deal out of them speaking. This will help reduce some of the anxiety they may feel around talking. 

Give them lots of chances to talk. It’s important to give your child lots of opportunities to speak to you. Try to show interest in what they say by commenting rather than asking questions. Lots of questions can be intimidating to children.

Make less direct eye-contact. Children with selective mutism can find direct eye contact threatening. Try to look at a shared object like a piece of paper or a toy. You can also sit or stand next to the child when you talk to them.

Accept nonverbal responses but don’t encourage these all the time. Your child will have a range of non-verbal responses to questions such as nodding or shaking their head, pointing, tapping or writing.

Reword questions to be closed questions. This can encourage your child to respond by speaking. For example, if you are reading a picture book with your child, you can ask a question based on the picture. Instead of asking “can you point to the answer”, ask “Is it A or B?” whilst pointing to the two possible answers on the page. This gives your child the option of answering verbally or by pointing.

Encourage your child to try new things and take risks in a safe way. This could be trying new foods or going to new environments like the swimming pool if they’ve never been. Working with your child to complete something difficult is better than someone doing it for them.

Last reviewed: 1 November, 2023


Who can help

If you have concerns about your child’s speech development you may want to discuss this with:

  • your health visitor, if your child is under 5 years old
  • the staff at your child’s school, if your child is in school
  • a professional, if your child is homeschooled visit the Speech and Language Therapy service page

They may have helpful suggestions to improve your child’s understanding.

You can Call Us on 0300 029 50 50 or Text Us on 07520 649887 to start a conversation.

Open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm (excluding bank holidays).

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