Is your child struggling to speak in public settings?
Does your child or teen speak openly at home but appear to freeze in front of others? Perhaps their teachers have said that your child is overly shy and that they are not participating in class. They are likely talkative at home, while appearing frozen in public settings, school settings, or with certain individuals.
Selective Mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder characterized by a child’s inability to speak in select situations. Children with SM most often communicate at home with family but struggle to speak comfortably in other settings. You may not have noticed that your child had symptoms of SM because they were always talking at home. They often do not speak in social situations, such as in school classrooms or on the playground, or with certain people, such as their teachers, coaches, or peers. SM interferes with social interactions and often interferes with educational achievement as well.
Difficulty speaking is not from a lack of knowledge of the language or due to being oppositional. It’s due to severe anxiety. Children with SM sometimes nod or gesture to adults’ well-intentioned questions, but do not verbally respond to them. When parents see their child in an awkward situation or in emotional pain, they often feel they have no choice but to answer for them, or to tell people that their child is “just shy.” Shy children will eventually warm up to social interactions, but children with SM do not.
Individuals do not grow out of SM, and the best decision is to seek professional help early on. Untreated early childhood anxiety disorders put children at risk for functional impairment, the development of other anxiety disorders and possible depression later on. Even though things are difficult now, there are specific, empirically-supported approaches that can improve your child’s comfort speaking in public. If your child or adolescent is struggling with SM, we can help.
Treatment for SM at Caring Cove
At Caring Cove, we offer a variety of treatment options:
- weekly individual and group therapy for children with SM
- intensive day-long field trips held bi-annually
- summer camp
- intensive multi-day individual treatment
PCIT-SM is the underlying basis of all of our individual and group SM treatments. At Caring Cove, we build a positive, trusting relationship with your child, and then use that relationship to help them develop and practice their brave talking. PCIT-SM is an adaptation of Parent-Child Interaction Therapy.
PCIT-SM Individual Therapy
During individual therapy, caregivers are taught specific strategies to use with their child to create the optimal environment for their child to practice brave talking. Treatment typically starts with a clinician providing live coaching to one or multiple caregivers individually as they interact with their child. The clinician is then systematically faded into this interaction between child and caregiver. From there, we determine ways to practice brave talking in your child’s real world environments – their homes, their schools, and their communities.
Mighty Mouth Kids—New Jersey Summer Camp
The Mighty Mouth Kids Camp in New Jersey is an annual intensive treatment program designed to help children with Selective Mutism quickly make progress in communicating before they return to school in the fall. This week-long camp replicates a school/camp setting with a 1:1 counselor-to-child ratio. It is modeled after the original Might Mouth Kids (MMK) Camp, which was developed by Dr. Steven Kurtz at Kurtz Psychology Consulting PC.
The camp is designed for children ages 4 to 7 with Selective Mutism. Campers have the opportunity to practice brave talking in play situations, at lunch and snack time, in a classroom setting, and in community settings on fun field trips. The goal of the camp is to help Campers be able to engage with their peers, raise their hand and ask questions to adults, present in front of a class, and speak in community settings. See our MMK-NJ page for more information.
Group Therapy for SM and Social Anxiety
Caring Cove facilitates Selective Mutism & Social Anxiety Groups with a focus on interactive and relevant activities to target your child’s increased verbalizations and positive interactions with adults and peers through using evidence-based approaches.
This group is typically held in-person at our Chatham Township, NJ, office for children to practice skills in a real-life setting with peers. Each week, children apply skills to specific anxiety-provoking situations, such as asking and responding to questions, taking attendance, reviewing the date & weather, and participating in an activity. Each child’s individual goals will gradually increase in difficulty, working up to a group presentation (e.g., Show & Tell).
Caring Cove periodically facilitates a group for teens ages 14 to 18 to learn evidence-based techniques to cope with anxiety in social settings. Teens apply learned skills to specific anxiety-provoking situations, such as asking questions, initiating conversations, and presenting to groups, providing opportunities to overcome anxiety while engaging in fun, interactive activities.
See our Group Therapy page for more information.
If you are interested in learning more, we invite you to call our center at (973) 370-9944 for a free 15-minute phone screen to see if we are a good fit. We look forward to hearing from you.