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Supporting a child with selective mutism - Selective mutism

Children with selective mutism often respond best to treatment when it is diagnosed early.

But sometimes there can be a delay in getting the help your child needs. You can contact the service that your child has been referred to and ask about waiting times.

Your waiting time may depend on the:

  • information in your referral
  • demand for appointments in your area

It may take several months to get a first appointment for your child. Sometimes it can take longer.

The type of therapy your child needs may not be available in your area. You may have to travel for treatment.

Some speech and language therapists (SLTs) treat selective mutism privately.

Find a speech and language therapist who treats selective mutism -

What you can do to help your child

Children with selective mutism are often anxious. They can find everyday situations difficult.

There are things you can do to help ease their anxiety when:

  • you're home together
  • you're out together
  • they're at school or in a social setting

How to help when you're home together


  • talk to them about their difficulty - tell them you understand it and let them talk about it, if they want to

  • reassure them - tell them it’s OK to take small steps to talk to other people, when they feel ready

  • praise them for any efforts they make to talk in school or outside your family

  • show them healthy ways to cope with anxiety - for example, playing fun games or doing exercise

  • be patient


  • do not put pressure on them or bribe them to speak outside of the home

  • do not criticise them for not speaking

  • do not let them see any frustration you may feel

How to help when you’re out together


  • give them time to respond if someone asks them something

  • rephrase a question if you think your child may be able to respond with a gesture, such as a nod

  • get comfortable with silence if they do not answer - move the conversation on

  • ask friends and relatives to focus on fun activities rather than getting them to talk

  • help them to communicate - for example, get them to point at an item on a menu

  • give them time to warm up before joining in activities

  • if someone asks why they do not speak, tell them your child talks at home and is enjoying listening for now


  • do not answer for them - they may get used to being silent when you are around

  • do not apologise if they do not speak - they will feel they have done something wrong

  • do not praise them in public for speaking - this may embarrass them

  • do not avoid parties or family visits, but try to make these occasions comfortable for them

How to help your child in school or social setting


  • tell teachers or preschool staff your child has selective mutism

  • tell teachers or preschool staff what they can do to help

  • work with SLTs, psychologists and the school if there's a treatment plan in place - the healthcare team will guide you on this

  • ask their friends to your home for play dates, and organise non-verbal activities like painting - this may help your child relax

  • tell other adults involved with your child about the best ways to interact with them


  • do not worry if your child’s progress is slow - changing habits and building confidence can take time

  • do not try to fix this on your own - teachers, SLTs and psychologists are a big part of your child’s support network, so it’s best to work as a team

What teachers or caregivers can do to help

There are many things teachers and other caregivers can do to help reduce the pressure on a child to talk.

Teachers should contact the National Educational Psychological Service (NEPS) for advice about how to support a child with selective mutism. Schools usually have a teacher who liaises with the NEPS psychologist.

The main aim is to create an anxiety-free environment for the child.

Teachers can help to do this by:

  • building the child’s 'social comfort' by offering them opportunities to take part in activities without talking
  • using comments to interact - such as “that’s an amazing picture”
  • not asking direct questions but offering choice instead - for example, “I wonder would you like this book”
  • praising their work and not their speech
  • saying to the child that they understand they are having difficulty speaking at the moment
  • accepting non-verbal responses such as gestures - for example, a thumbs-up

Selective mutism - treatment

Irish speech and language therapists

Selective Mutism Information and Research Association (SMIRA)

Page last reviewed: 29 January 2024
Next review due: 29 January 2027