As we all know, the recent pandemic has mandated us all to stay home to prevent the further spread and consequences of COVID 19. Of course, your child with selective mutism is thrilled to be home in their comfort zone. I had to laugh to myself when one client with SM said that this is her dream life! However, if you are a parent with a child or teen with SM, you are likely sitting at home thinking to yourself, what now?!
Among figuring out how to create a structure at home and having everyone coexist in the house together, you may be thinking, “How will my child practice talking exposures? What if they regress?” It’s easy to jump to catastrophizing thoughts about the future. First, give yourself some grace. It is normal to be feeling some anxiety and nervousness about your child’s progress. Check in with yourself and reflect on how you will take care of yourself during this unprecedented time. Then, remember “what if” future thinking patterns will exacerbate anxiety. All we can do is surrender to the reality of the present and focus on what is possible right now.
Your family’s current reality is likely that everyone is home, trying to coordinate work schedules, online school schedules, getting everyone fed and maintaining some type of normalcy. Amongst all of this, here are some ideas on how to keep challenging your child with SM to flex their brave muscles.
3, 2, 1...Action!
● 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. Maybe they 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.
● Maybe your child would like to make a video giving a tour of their room or their home and send it to friends and family.
● 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
● Set up virtual meetings with teachers, extended family and peers.
● 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 and set a schedule for the virtual hangout.
● Ask your 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 also a great opportunity to practice phone calls!
If you have a teenager, they 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.
Fine tune your skills!
● Start a daily special time with your child where you practice your Child Directed PRIDE skills and your Verbal Directed Skills. If you’re thinking, “what are those?!” Check out this online SM Course to teach you valuable skills to use with your child.
● If one caregiver has been more involved in treatment, take this time to teach your partner these skills.
Lastly, take a deep breath, remember these are unprecedented circumstances and you are doing the best you can with the resources you have. Take care of yourself. We will all get through this together and your child will be okay.