My Anxiety Plan (MAP) for Selective Mutism
The following strategies are designed for you, the parent, to use with your child as s/he begins to tackle selective mutism (SM). These strategies are best used for children in preschool and early elementary school when lack of speech has not been a longstanding difficulty. For children with more severe symptoms, who have been unable to speak in certain situations for many years, and/or who struggle with other areas of anxiety, we recommend assessment and treatment with a mental health professional. However, strategies outlined in the MAP below can be used at home to support your child’s therapy work.
Step 1: Teaching your child about selective mutism
For elementary aged children, reading or explaining some of the information outlined on the selective mutism main page can help your child to feel more in control of what is happening to him or her. Knowledge is power.
Explain to your child that everyone sometimes feels uncomfortable talking in certain situations and to certain people, such as a teacher or new friends. Having a little bit of this worry some of the time helps us prepare and do our best. However, your child is likely feeling very uncomfortable or very anxious in situations where most kids are not. This type of worry is actually stopping your child from having fun and enjoying life. You can provide some specific examples that exist for your child, such as not being able to get help from a teacher when she cut her knee, or missing out on going to a play date because he couldn’t say “yes” to the friend’s mother. Explain that your child’s worry about talking in front of others is like a thermostat that is set too high and the temperature is no longer comfortable. Tell your child that you will work together, as a team, to give him or her tools to help cope with anxiety and gradually face his or her fears to get the thermostat back to a comfortable setting.
Let your child know that SM happens to other kids too, and h/she is not the only one who feels this way.
Step 2: Creating your child’s MAP
The best way to help your child deal with selective mutism is to provide tools and support to increase confidence with speaking. For selective mutism, you might want to use any or all of the following tools to create your child’s My Anxiety Plan (MAP). Optional tools are marked with an asterisk*. If your child also has anxiety about other situations or seems to need more tools than outlined below, consider reviewing the main list of MAPs including the Mini-MAPs.
- Talking to Your Child about Anxiety
- When Anxiety Becomes a Problem: What’s Normal and What’s Not
- Naming the Bully*
- Brave Talking Exposure
- Facing My Fears*
- Rewarding Bravery
- Talking to Friends and Family about Selective Mutism
Final point: Although increased knowledge and the many tools available on this website can be very effective in helping you to manage your child’s anxiety, sometimes it is not enough. Sometimes children have very severe anxiety and longstanding selective mutism, and despite all your best efforts, your child might still be struggling daily with these symptoms. If this is the case, seek some professional help through a consult with your family doctor, psychiatrist, or a child psychologist/mental health worker.