Why am I so interested in selective mutism suddenly when MeMe has been talking in school for over 3 years now? Because my youngest son started nursery school this year and has been going through many of the same things MeMe did in nursery. At this point we’re working on getting him to talk to his classmates and maybe even play with them.
So I’ve been doing some research on how to get kids to feel comfortable in the classroom. Here are some things I’ve come up with that work:
1) Slowly earn the child’s trust.
Most kids like to be picked up and played with, they love the attention. Not so my 3 yr old. From the day we stepped into the classroom, he informed me that none of his teachers are going to talk to him or place him on their laps. When the teacher walked in the direction of my son, he literally ran the other way. Obviously, he wasn’t willing to fully trust the teachers. He wanted to stay in school for the day but he wanted to be invisible.
How do you earn a child’s trust? Show him that you’re harmless. Play a game one-on-one, giving the child the lead role, and be patient. It may take a few sessions but eventually the child will learn he has nothing to fear. He may even smile or talk.
2) Be silly!
If the child’s giving you a hard time, be sure you’re playing at his age level. Being silly helps a lot to break tension! Play animal sounds and see if he’ll copy you. If he’s making animal noises, it means the anxiety has started to ease. Concentrate on silly though, more than on sounds. The child smiling or laughing means he’s giving way.
3) Check his repertoire of songs.
Sometimes children who won’t talk feel very comfortable singing a familiar song. If you can get them to sing, they will eventually also relax their guard and talk.
4) Teach him how to breathe.
Many times the child is so adamant in his refusal to be comfortable that he’ll stand awkwardly (like my MeMe) and be stiff as a statue. You’ll likely see his breathing isn’t relaxed either. Have you ever tried to talk, smile, or laugh while being too stiff to breathe? Engage the child is silly blowing games. When the child is blowing bubbles, feathers, cotton balls, flour (okay, that’s messy but it’s silly!), he’ll forget he’s supposed to be a statue. You can’t be stiff and blow at the same time. These blowing games will teach him proper, relaxed breathing for the classroom setting. Eventually he’ll be breathing right on his own and be able to slide into the the next step of his progress.
I’d love to read others’ experiences, if you have any to share.