Dear SMA Community,
It’s hard to believe it has been almost a year since the start of the pandemic. Although you may have found some routines that work for your family, your current reality still likely involves navigating some version of virtual learning while trying to coordinate work schedules, online and in person school schedules, getting everyone fed, and maintaining some type of structure. While your child with selective mutism may be thrilled to continue to be home in their comfort zone, as a parent you may be feeling worried about how to continue to support their progress and feeling stressed or anxious yourself!
1. Find functional and healthy ways to manage your own anxiety and stress. If you are finding it hard to continue to cope with the uncertainty, know that is a normal response to abnormal circumstances. Many people struggle to tolerate uncertainty and may find themselves jumping to catastrophic thoughts about the future. However, “what if” thinking patterns (e.g., “What if my child regresses and then never speaks in school again?”) will exacerbate anxiety. It is important to take the time to check in on how you are taking care of yourself and how you are modeling calm and coping for your kids. Ask yourself what is in your control in this moment, what you have the bandwidth for in the next hour, day, or week, and focus on that. Also, remember to have grace and compassion for yourself. A mentor said to me, “I feel for the kid who has the perfect parent.” It’s okay to express fear, anxiety, or stress in front of your children sometimes, but make sure to also take the opportunity to use it as a teachable moment. “Daddy was feeling stressed because he misses going to work to see his friends, but then he took 3 deep breaths and went for a walk and now he feels calmer.”
2. Telehealth is effective! There is a lot of research to support the effectiveness of teletherapy in treating selective mutism and other anxiety disorders, and it offers the added benefit of allowing families to learn and practice new skills in their home environments. If in person treatment is not an option for you, check with your treating professional to see if telehealth is a service they offer, and if not, if they can refer you to a colleague who does. Even children who struggle to participate in virtual school often can benefit from telehealth, as a skilled clinician will take an individualized approach to develop a relationship with and best engage your child.
3. There are many ways to keep challenging your child with SM to flex their brave muscles.
● Making, sending, and receiving videos can be a great way to keep up exposures. Set up a little ‘movie’ scene set in your child’s bedroom or your living room. Have them decorate it with an artistic backdrop or pick out special outfits or accessories to wear when they are shooting videos.
● Make a list of people who could be a “video” pen pal with your child during this time. This could include teachers, friends from school, family friends, extended family, or even willing neighbors.
● Help your child come up with things to share or questions to ask.
● If they are feeling nervous and resistant, model it for them by doing a video first or ask a sibling to join in and do it together.
Virtual Meetings and Playdates!
● Virtual playdates are a thing! Children can play games via video, for example, Guess Who, Headbanz, Would You Rather, Heads Up, Battleship, 21 Questions, Charades, Pictionary…. Get creative! Make a plan with the other parent, set a schedule for the virtual hangout, and make sure you are available to provide your child with the scaffolding they may need.
● Ask your child’s teacher if they would be open to doing a 1:1 weekly video check in on how school work is going or to play a game.
● This is a great opportunity to practice phone calls! Ordering takeout? Have your child practice ordering via a phone call.
● Ordering food at a drive thru can be another great brave talking practice. It forces your child to work on increasing volume, but allows them to do so without being seen.
Teenagers can practice all of these activities at an age appropriate level. Also, they can practice initiating these social interactions. For example, set a goal, to “text” at least 1 person in their class each day to ask a homework question. Coach them on how to text or call a friend, and ask to do a FaceTime hangout or a social distanced walk.
Lastly, take a deep breath, remember your children are resilient and you are doing the best you can with the resources you have. If you are feeling alone, leaning on community and support can help. Talk to your therapist about how you’re feeling and ask if they know of any parent support groups.
Christy Tadros, LPCC
SMA Board of Directors