How Shy Is Too Shy?

January 25, 2018
How Shy Is Too Shy?

This week’s tip is provided by our friends at the Child Mind Institute


It is common for young children to be a little shy sometimes, especially when they are around strangers.

Young children might seem withdrawn or anxious in new social situations, but after a brief warm-up period they are able to join the other kids in the playground, or share details about their new favorite toy with an unfamiliar adult. However, some kids develop an anxiety disorder known as selective mutism, or SM. Children with SM are talkative at home but unable to speak in other settings, such as school. The level of anxiety they experience is very impairing, and without help they may spend a whole year in preschool without saying a word.

Parents often first notice signs of SM when a child is 3 or 4 years old. The selective mutism experts at the Child Mind Institute give these signs to watch out for:

  • Talking freely at home, but becoming completely or mostly nonverbal at school or with strangers

  • Being unable to speak even to familiar adults (such as parents) in the presence of others

  • Difficulty talking with peers in school

  • Seeming “shut down” or “paralyzed” in social situations

  • Using gestures, facial expressions and nodding in place of verbal communication


If you are concerned that your child might have SM, an evaluation will determine if your child has the disorder.

The good news is that selective mutism is very treatable with the right care. Kids with SM respond best to behavioral therapy that is focused on helping them learn to speak in new settings, during new activities and with new people.


To learn more about SM, read the Parents Guide to Selective Mutism on the Child Mind Institute’s website,

For more information on helping your young child develop confidence, visit The Mount Sinai Parenting Center 




Photo courtesy of Conquering Challenges of Interprofessional Treatment for Selective Mutism