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Silent child – Selective Mutism

My son has started going to our village garderie (daycare). He has been three times so far and he loves it. We pack his backpack with his house shoes (children do not wear shoes inside) and tissues for his runny nose. He puts his backpack on with his sisters and after we drop them off at gym, my son and I head up the hill to the garderie.

It is only once a week for a few hours but it is beginning to make a big difference in my son’s confidence.  He has started to play with other children even if it is only a little. He will not let me leave without him but as long as I am there he is as happy as he can be. He loves it.

We have, also, started going to a gymnastics class for Moms and kids. I take my four year old daughter (she is not in school at this time) and my son. The cost is only twenty-five francs for three months no matter how many children the mother brings with her. I think that is super cheap for one child let alone my two. The quality of the program is super and my kids can’t wait to go.

I am doing all of this not only because I think it is good for the kids to get out and be active. It is because my children are shy. They are shy enough that it is a concern. So, I want to do all that I can to give them every opportunity to socialize with others.

My son made the bracelet shown above at the garderie.  He will not sit down to paint.  However, he likes to put puzzles together, play cars and make things.  So, even if it is a slow start he is progressing.  The first time he went he wouldn’t go near the activity table.  Since then, he will as long as there is no painting involved.  For some reason that scares him.

My oldest daughter has an appointment to be seen by the school psychologist because she isn’t talking in school like she should be.  She stays with her best friend and doesn’t play much with the other children.  She does answer her teachers this year but did not last year.  Her teachers told me that she will not sit without the teacher telling her where to sit and assuring her it is OK.

Her sister (which is in the same classroom) is having similiar issues and I will check with the school psychologist about evaluating her as well.  I do not want to let it go for too long.

When I was a child I was so shy that I never had more than one or two friends.  I was terrified that I may have to talk to someone and hated when the teacher called on me.  It wasn’t that I was a little shy and would outgrow it.  I never did until I was in my thirties.  I spent years dredding any social interaction with others.  It was stressful when it should have been fun.

I do not want my children to suffer (yes, I did suffer) like I did.

My son is to the point that if someone even looks at him he will scream and hide behind me.  I believe that if we (my husband and I) do all that we can for our children now they may be able to beat this.

The kids will play with other children here at our apartment and do talk with adults they know well.  So, I hope that they will be able to be more social.

After my daughter’s teachers informed us about her silence at school, I looked online for what may be causing it.  I did a quick Google search and found out about Selective Mutism.

It was like a door opened.

I do think that this is what my five year old has.  I am pretty sure that both my four year old and son have it too.  But, time will tell.  It was hard for me to come to terms with this because I wanted my daughter to be like all the other kids.  I still do.

However, she is who she is and that is OK.

I am positive that I had  Selective Mutism all throughout my school years.  I am happy that more is known about Selective Mutism today so that my children will get all the support and help they need.  They will not need to sit in the darkness alone.

I read on a Selective Mutism website that if a child is not talking after a month in school the child should see a psychiatrist to be diagnosed.  I only found out the severity on my five years silence at school when the school year was almost over during a parent-teacher meeting.

When my daughter’s teachers first talked to us about it I felt they were being silly.  That she was just shy and would outgrow it.  Since then, all the memories of my own silence in school has come back to me.

I remember sitting in class feeling like I was screaming inside because I was so afraid.

Afraid to talk.

Something that is easy and simple for most everyone.  For me, it was the same as asking me to jump off of a building.

I was terrified…completely terrified.

I know my five year old must feel the same way and I am happy that her teachers brought it to our attention and insisted it wasn’t something that she would outgrow.

We are lucky that we are living in Switzerland where things like this are taken care of.  I don’t think that in the States or in France the teachers would have been so concerned at such a young age.

I can’t tell you how impressed I am with Swiss schools.  We do not pay one cent to the schools.  Not even for supplies.  And, our children are getting a wonderful education with all the support they need to succeed in life.

If your child is not talking at school (even if they talk at home) I recommend that you visit the websites below for information about Selective Mutism.  Talk to your child’s teacher about what can be done to help your child overcome his/her fear of talking in the classroom.  Don’t wait to see if they outgrow it.  They may not without some help.


Selective Mutism – Wikipedia

www.mutismeselectif.org (fr)




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  • ckmunson September 24, 2008, 5:55 pm

    I have a friend who’s daughter is 9 I believe, either 9 or 10, and she was diagnosed with Selective Mutism this past spring. Her older sister was diagnosed with having autism, and her youngest too – this spring it changed from a diagnosis of autism to selective mutism. I know she worries about her youngest a lot. We can’t be with our kids 24/7 and how can they keep themselves safe if they cannot communicate? Her daughter also dances with Thea, and its hard even for me to watch how this little girl is so isolated. At first her peers would talk to her, and when nothing came out, they just kind of quit. Selective mutism is socially devastating. I wish you and your children the best of luck in dealing with this hurdle, I am a firm believer that knowing and being aware of things is the best thing you can do to overcome it!

  • expatraveler September 24, 2008, 6:02 pm

    Oh pumpkin, I do hope they all will get help. From my own experience, I do think the activities thing will help the most. See how much you can put them in sports also! If they can do tumbling or dance. I wonder if you can experiment with trying to add more people into your environment too, especially for little boys for boy blue?

    I think the best thing is that you are right, you are in a great place to get the help! :)

  • Frédé September 24, 2008, 10:51 pm

    I read with great interest and concern the french link you give about selective mutism. I also recognize me for the first… 15 school years. I was shy, for sure, and could communicate without difficulty inside my family or with close friends. But could’t at school. And I also did suffer from that. Quite much. In my mid 20s, it turned OK and today (I’m 41 :o)), I have to talk in front of ~ 30 persons, professionaly, without any problem. But how hard the way was, by myself.

    I think you’re right to care about this and I’m pretty sure your diagnostic will help to do something for your kids. Nice that school feels concerned, too.

    Have a nice evening

  • Sean September 25, 2008, 9:12 am

    This must be hard for you and the children. I am no expert but being shy myself at school, and my wife, we were very concerned about this issue also, and thankfully so far it seems ok. I am a firm believer that with love and support children and family can achieve anything, and reading your blog it seems that they have this…. reality is that if I cast my mind back I recall many children who were seemingly “slightly different” (sorry for the phrase but I dont know how else to put it), who have been extremely succesful in their lives. In fact often more so than those who fitted into the mould we have identified as “perfect”.

    I guess as parents all we want is for our children to be “perfect” and yet they are a product of so many things of which we have no control of and can only do our best. Keep being thankful and keep giving your children your love and support and regardless of what condition they have or dont have, they will be fine. Most of all dont worry about it too much as hard as that may be, dont listen to too many opinions (because there will be many), keep sending them for conselling and it will be resolved, simply because you are doing the best you can. No more can be expected of you and from you. Good luck.

    Nice blog by the way, reading it makes me realise that people from so many walks of life are inherently the same. Restores my faith in human kind… keep blogging…

  • sissi September 25, 2008, 3:45 pm

    Hi Pumpkin,
    Yes, you’re lucky to be in Switzerland, in France, the teachers would not have noticed (or cared).
    I hope the evaluation goes well, your children are still young, in the end, with the right support, love and care they outgrow or learn to deal with whatever issues they may have. We all have issues, as Sean said, the most important is, as parents, to try and do our best. And I think you do just that.

  • Pumpkin September 25, 2008, 10:31 pm

    Thank you everyone for your comments.

    I am finding out more and more people had it when they were young or have children with it. I think that more children have it than we think but are not diagnosed with it. They just plow along through life doing the best they can in spite of their fear to talk.

    I will let eveyone know how the visit goes with the school psychologist. Until then I am anxiously waiting.

    It was funny because today my five year old daughter said Bonjour to at least two adults without my prompting her and salut to several children that she knows. She has never ever done that before.

  • Susie Vereker September 28, 2008, 6:47 pm

    My neighbour’s child was very shy and had speech therapy as a young child – she certainly speaks out now she’s grown up. Of course, your children have two languages as well which must add to their shyness. I’m so glad the school is taking care of it. It’s a worry, but it’s a worry they will grow out of. I hope you are able to stay and keep them at their current school.

  • Pumpkin September 28, 2008, 7:11 pm

    We have thought about moving but now with the kids we are think it is best to stay here. They have moved a lot for such a young age…three countries to be exact…so, I think they need to have some stability as well. I think they will be fine. It is funny because since I posted this my five year old is telling EVERYONE hello when she passes them. I am not so worried now and think that as long as we do all that we can for the kids they will be fine.

  • Torun September 28, 2008, 10:27 pm

    Dear Pumpkin!

    I’m so impressed with you and the way you can speak openly about the problems you have had. I wouldn’t have guessed that you were even a little shy from the way you blog. I’m sure your kids will be fine. A diagnose is a double-edged sword. On one hand it’s a great tool and starting point for treatment and explanation for uncommon behaviour. On the other hand though, it can be stigmatizing and cause further problems. I don’t know. I’m not a child psychologist (My dad is, by the way, so my hunches may be not so far off after all), but my chief rule for my own mothering is – don’t teach, just model.

    I’ve made my mind up to try to avoid showing too much worry about things I can’t control. I sincerely believe for instance, that if you are on a constant diet and show your impressionable daughter how much you hate your body and how hard it is to diet, guess how she will feel about hers in 15 years! Likewise, I think the advice I would dare to give to you, if any, is to try not to worry too much, but talk lots to them and make them feel that they master social situations. Maybe give them extra credit even when you’re not particularly impressed. I did this to my 3-year old, when she was a little smaller and was really behind on the physical stuff. She only started running this summer, and she can still not balance on one leg. Sometimes I feel really silly telling her how great she is doing physically, but I haven’t seen any signs of shame about it yet, so I think it might be working….

    Sorry for this long rant, but this topic interests me a lot. I wish you a lot of courage and good luck, and it sounds like things are already working in the right direction.

    Lots of love to you and your three wonders!!

  • Alison September 29, 2008, 7:33 am

    Pumpkin, I’m not sure what to say! I’m so glad you may have an answer, both for your daughter and yourself, so many years later.

    My kids are so shy, but they loosen up when we (their parents) are not around. I’m not sure what that says, but after reading the FAQ on the Selective Mutism site, I don’t think SM is their problem. Sigh.

    My hat is off to you. Just for everything. Chapeau, sérieux.

  • Pumpkin September 29, 2008, 9:47 am

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment. I will take your advice to heart and have been trying to not make a big deal out of it. I do think that it will get better and that being bilingual and moving so often has a lot to do with the problem. They need stability and time.

    Thank you. My kids are anything but quiet around Vilay and I. It is only at school that the girls are so silent. My son is the worst so I am trying to get him in as many social situations as possible.

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