Teachers Guide to Selective Mutism
Tips for Helping Kids Talk
- 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 he is nonverbal.
- Wait 5 seconds: When we ask a question, 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 me 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 his head — ask a question that is more likely to prompt a verbal response. Try giving him 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 him know that he’s been heard and understood. For kids who speak very quietly, repeating what they say also helps them participate in bigger groups.