Selective Mutism in Kids: Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Selective Mutism in Children

Selective mutism is a physiological disorder that may affect your child. It is characterised by a child’s inability to communicate in social settings. Children with selective mutism may also have social phobia. It can be hard for parents to see their child suffering from selective mutism. If you wish to know more about selective mutism in children, its symptoms, causes and treatment, then read the following article.

What is Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is an anxiety disorder that usually develops in childhood. If your child has this order, then he may find it difficult to speak effectively in certain social situations. However, he may behave completely normal and talk comfortably at other occasions. You may notice your child go completely mute at various occasions such as school, soccer practice, or dance lessons and on the other hand may talk normally or even be a chatterbox when he’s in the park or at home with family and friends. Selective mutism may adversely affect the life of your child and thus require medical intervention.

Symptoms of Selective Mutism in a Child

Following are the signs of selective mutism in a child:

  • Your child may look paralyzed or frozen when asked random questions by strangers.
  • Your child may speak in certain situations, but he may refuse to talk or even utter a word in other situations or places.
  • Your child may make use of hand or facial gestures to ask or tell things, even when he knows how to talk.
  • Your child has selective mutism disorder if he exhibits the above-mentioned behaviour for more than a month.
  • Your kid may show excessive shyness.
  • Your child may feel or fear embarrassment in front of a group of people.
  • Your kid may exhibit negative behaviour.
  • Your kid’s behaviour may start interfering with his educational achievements and social communication.
  • Your kid may seem isolated and aloof.
  • Your child may behave all needy and cling to you most of the time.
  • You may notice compulsive traits in your child.
  • Your child may show signs of anger.

A child isolated in school

What Causes Selective Mutism

Selective mutism is a rare disorder, and it is more frequent in children than in adults. Usually, it starts affecting a child at around five years of age, but it may get diagnosed when a kid starts going to school. Here are some of the causes of selective mutism in children:

1. Genetic Factors

Selective mutism may affect a child because of genetic factors. In 75 percent of the cases, a child with selective mutism may have either of his parents suffering from an anxiety disorder.

2. Temperamental Reasons

Sometimes temperamental reasons may also cause selective mutism in children. This may happen when a child exhibits shyness, social anxiety, or social isolations.

3. Environmental Factors

Sometimes the behaviour and attitude of parents may also decide the behaviour of kids. Therefore, if you have social inhibitions or you are overly protective or controlling towards your child, your child may develop this anxiety disorder.


It is very important to diagnose and treat selective mutism in children as it may lead to more psychological disorders, low self-esteem or isolation. Therefore, if you are wondering how to diagnose selective mutism in your kid, it is suggested that as soon as you suspect any kind of symptoms of this anxiety disorder in your child, seek doctor’s help immediately. Your doctor will diagnose whether or not your child is facing any developmental delays. After checking for developmental issues, your doctor may refer your child to a psychologist. The psychologist will conduct a selective mutism test, where he will evaluate various situations that is he would want to know when your child is verbal and when he is not. He may also look for other psychological disorders if any.

Common Problems Experienced By a Kid with Selective Mutism

Here are some of the common problems that your kid may experience due to selective mutism:

  • Your child may exhibit shyness and high levels of anxiety.
  • Your child may experience language delays or disorders.
  • Your child may face social isolation.
  • Your kid may experience articulation difficulties.
  • Your child’s inability to speak at certain occasions may impact his academics and other co-curricular activities at school, which are very important for a child’s overall development.
  • It may take a toll on your child’s confidence and self-esteem, especially when he is with his friends or peers.


Here are some options to treat selective mutism in children:

1. The Behavioural Therapy

Behavioural therapy is an effective way of treating selective mutism. The emphasis is laid on understanding the behaviour of the child and establishing the reasons for their anxiety. The child is exposed to a safer environment, which involves encouraging the parents to take their kid to school when there are fewer people present and help him practise speaking. The aim is to gradually increase the circle of people that your child can interact with. This way the child feels less anxious and feels more comfortable.

2. The Social Communication Anxiety Therapy

This treatment involves individual treatment plans for a child. A team consisting of child, parents, school, and professionals in the field work together in collaboration. Various therapeutic techniques and tactics are used in treating the child. It is often seen that the anxiety levels of your child may vary as per situations and persons that he may interact with. Thus the treatment method may include various techniques to overcome the different types of anxiety levels of your child.

3. The Cognitive Behaviour Therapy

The cognitive behaviour therapist will help in modifying the behaviour of your child. He will help the child get rid of negative thoughts and worries, and try and get positive thoughts in your child. Generally, children who have this anxiety disorder dread to face the strangers and may get petrified of certain sounds or voices. This therapy aims in building confidence, emphasizing positive attributes, and reducing anxiety and worries of the child.

4. Boosting the Self-Esteem of a Child

You never know but a child suffering from the anxiety disorder may only need support from his family and friends to fight the disorder. A few words of praise can work wonders for a child. For instance, if your child is good at playing a musical instrument then let him display his talent in front of family and friends. Encourage him to talk about his passion with people he is comfortable. Talking to people about his hobbies and interests will not only help him build his self-esteem and confidence, but it will also help him practise speaking.

5. Parental Acceptance and Involvement

It is very important that as a parent you get completely involved in your child’s treatment. Along with that be patient and empathetic towards your child at all times. If he does not wish to speak or react, do not force him to do so. Forcing your child may further lead to more anxiety and stress in your child. Talk to your child about his feelings and ask him about his fears and worries. Let him open up to you and relieve his stress.

6. Medication

The best approach for the treatment of selective mutism is a combination of both, that is behavioural therapy and medicines. In cases where behavioural therapy is not proving effective in controlling or reducing the stress levels of a child, medication may be used for the purpose. Your doctor will help you know what may work for your child.

A mother supporting her daughter

Tips for Parents to Handle a Child with Selective Mutism

Here are some tips on how to help a child with selective mutism:

  • Never force your child to speak if he is not comfortable in doing the same.
  • Tell your kid that you understand his situation. Let him know that it is okay to feel scared or uncomfortable at times. Encourage him to talk, whenever he is comfortable.
  • Keep reassuring your child that you are fine when he explains with hand gestures or facial expressions until he is ready to explain it by talking.
  • If your kid makes an attempt at speaking in public, do not shower him with praise there and then as this may cause him embarrassment. Wait till you get back home and are alone with him before you praise him for his efforts.
  • If your kid feels uncomfortable at a family gathering or at parties, avoid taking him there until he feels comfortable.
  • It is very important that you shower your kid with love. You must give him verbal support and be patient with him. Assure him that everything will be fine.
  • Talk to your family and friends about your child’s condition and ask them to give him some time to talk or until he feels comfortable in talking to them.

It is very important that you report your condition to your doctor as soon as you suspect any signs or symptoms of selective mutism in your child. Proper treatment and support will help your child to get better and lead a normal life.

Also Read: Aggression in Kids

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