Stop talking! Please, say something!
I had no idea that one person could be a complete chatterbox but also dreadful to pull words out of. It’s a collision of Social Anxiety, Selective Mutism and ADHD.
This middle child of mine has pulled at my heart from the moment she was born and hasn’t stopped in 8 1/2 years. She is the most thoughtful, helpful, witty, wise, creative child. She has helped me to become more patient, more discerning, more observant and more willing to go with the flow. She has taught me how to rally behind a loved one and also how to research and seek answers.
The most important tip I can give for helping a child who deals with extreme social anxiety is to be prayerful. I am constantly praying for guidance, inspiration and discernment when it comes to knowing how to help Lena. I often get seemingly random ideas - sometimes I follow through and sometimes I don’t. But, always, when I look back I can see how the thoughts were not random at all and that God sees the big picture.
My second tip is to give the child a task in a social situation. They need something to focus on besides all the noise and people surrounding them. This is something I just recently became aware of but has been super impactful! Social situations have always been a huge source of stress for both Lena and me and often impacts how our entire family is able to enjoy an event. Lena’s anxiety is so bad that it causes her to completely shut down (this is Selective Mutism at it’s finest). No amount of bribing can pull a response from her and in most cases the attention on her causes her to retreat even more. I’m not going to sugar coat this - it is perhaps the most frustrating thing I have ever dealt with. There have been many times we have either just not gone to something in anticipation of her shutting down or we leave before we’re able to enjoy anything. As she has gotten older, however, we have started to figure out how to ensure that we can all have some fun.
As an example, I took all three kids to our church Halloween party this past Friday night. Lots of people, noise, chaos, costumes - all things that a party should be. I always try to get to stuff like this a little early because it gives my kids a chance to get settled first instead of walking right into the madness. So, we got there right at the beginning and found an empty table. Lena immediately went into hypersensitive mode and I could see her eyes darting all over, her voice got a little harsh, she wouldn’t leave my side and her overall demeanor was just rigid. I decided that she needed something to do to divert her attention. I put her in charge of her little sister. So, instead of shutting down, Lena made sure that Myla was having a good time. Crisis averted.
Third tip for today is to give your child an escape. I will often bring an iPad, notebook and crayons or a book for Lena. Something where she can go sit in a corner, do her own thing without drawing attention to the fact that she’s not participating. The more I try to force her to be a part of things, the more likely she is to shut down and that is what we are trying to avoid at all costs.
This combo of Social Anxiety and Selective Mutism has been the hardest for me, as a parent and as I’m having to teach those around us how to interact with L. I do the wrong thing - A LOT. But, I’m learning and as I implement new ways to live with her disorders, I am happier, she is happier and there is less contention surrounding us. My goal is not to change who L is, but to help her learn to navigate life as she is. These diagnoses don’t define her and I’m pretty certain they give her a more empathetic perspective of other people. And THAT will bless the lives of everyone around her.