How to help your quiet child
Some children are naturally quiet, others are really noisy! But sometimes, being quiet can be a sign that there is something else going on.
My child is talking with me at home but they’re not saying anything at nursery. Is this normal?
There are lots of things that can affect your child’s confidence to talk in school or nursery.
- Is your child learning to speak English? If they are, then maybe they’re taking time to listen to conversations and are watching what’s happening around them – we know that lots of children do this. Have a look here for information on supporting children who speak more than one language.
- Has your child just started school or nursery? If so, it may take some time to help them settle and find their feet. Talk to your child’s keyworker or teacher about how they are helping them to feel comfortable and make friends in the setting.
- Perhaps your child is a little shy and needs some time to build their confidence.
Some children have selective or situational mutism. This means they may be happy to talk at home, but feel anxious about talking in other places or with other people. This can affect their ability to make friends, join in play and games, and also to ask other people for what they want and need.
What does it mean if my child has selective mutism?
Children who get a diagnosis of selective mutism can be scared about interacting and talking to people in social situations. They can be so scared that they find it difficult to answer questions and they appear to ‘freeze’ or don’t respond. This is different from children who are reluctant, quiet or shy, as those children will usually join in with time and encouragement. Children who have selective mutism will need a structured programme to help them feel more comfortable talking to other people.
Where can I get help?
If you are worried that your child may have selective mutism, you should talk to your child’s school or nursery. It is helpful to make a plan together to support your child and discuss ways to help them. If your child needs more support, your school or GP can help guide you about how to make a referral. In some areas children are supported by the speech and language therapy service. In other areas they are referred to Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) or an educational psychologist. This link has a guide about where to get help.
We also have a free speech and language advice line, which is a confidential phone call with an experienced speech and language therapist. During the 30-minute call, you will be given the opportunity to talk through your concerns and questions regarding your child’s development. You can book your phone call here.
What can I do to help?
There are lots of things you can try:
- Try not to put pressure on your child to talk. Children often talk most when we take the pressure off. Be positive about any way they try to communicate, even if it’s just a glance, a gesture, or offering an object to another child. This way you can show them that you’re valuing what they’re saying, even if they’re not using words at this stage.
- Acknowledge with your child that you know that talking can be difficult for them, and that you understand, and that you just want them to be happy.
- Try to be positive about your child’s talking in front of them. Reassure them that their challenge with talking won’t last forever.
- Let your child see you socialising and talking to other people.
- Follow your child’s lead when you play together, and plan activities that they really enjoy doing. Children are more likely to open up and talk about something they really love and things that fascinate them. They will also have more to talk about.
- Encourage your child to make noises using musical instruments. This can get them used to the idea of making noise and being noisy.
- The Selective Mutism Information and Research association (SMIRA) have lots of really useful information and links to books, toys, games and also training courses for parents and professionals together with insightful blogs written by adults who had experience of selective mutism in their childhood. Click here to learn more.
- My Friend Daniel Doesn’t Talk by Sharon Longo. Speechmark publishing, 2006
- The Loudest Roar: A book about selective mutism: Amazon.co.uk: Maskell, Clair: 9781548019617: Books
- The Selective Mutism Resource Manual, Maggie Johnson & Alison Wintgens, 2016.
- Speechmark Publishing Ltd
- Tackling Selective Mutism Edited by Benita Rae Smith and Alice Sluckin, 2015 Jessica Kingsley Publishers