Parents Guide: How to Help a Child with Selective Mutism


Tips for Helping Kids Talk

  • Wait 5 seconds: We often don’t give kids enough time to respond. Waiting five seconds without repeating the question or letting anyone answer for a child is a good rule of thumb. It also helps kids learn to tolerate their anxiety.
  • Use labeled praise: Instead of just saying “Great job!” be specific: “Great job telling us you want juice!” This way kids know exactly what they’re being praised for, and they feel motivated to keep doing it.
  • Rephrase your question: Instead of asking questions that can be answered with a yes or no — or, more often, nodding or shaking her head — ask a question that is more likely to prompt a verbal response. Try giving her choices (“Would you like a puppy sticker or a star sticker?”) or asking more open-ended questions (“What should we play next?”).
  • Practice echoing: Repeat or paraphrase what the child is saying. This is reinforcing and lets her know that she’s been heard and understood. For kids who speak very quietly, repeating what they say also helps them participate in bigger groups.
  • Be a sportscaster: Do a play-by-play recap of what the child is doing: “You’re drawing a flower” or “I see you’re pointing to the picture in the book.” This helps convey interest in what the child is doing and is a good technique to fall back on when she is being nonverbal.