Most parents have had this experience ― you go to a store and when the smiling cashier asks your child, “What’s is your name, sweetie?”, junior responds with a blank stare, followed by an awkward silence.
If your child doesn’t like to talk when there are other people, you might be worried that people will think your child is being rude or peculiar.
It’s normal to be concerned, since you don’t want people to get the wrong impression of your youngster. Perhaps you’ve even wondered if your child has a type of speech delay and if they need speech therapy.
Why doesn’t my child like to speak in front of others?
Children can be reluctant to talk in front of other people for different reasons. It need not be due to a language delay or an issue with their speech development.
Just as most of us are afraid of talking in front of a large audience, your little one may also feel embarrassed to speak.
Also, in a new situation, your child might feel insecure being away from his/her parents. Many children decide not to speak to feel more in control of the situation.
Preschool is a phase when children seem more withdrawn. During their preschool years, kids are just starting to learn how to interact with their peers and take part in group activities. They are also testing out new rules of behaviour, so it can take some time before they know what’s what.
At certain ages, especially during the teen years, children tend to become more self-conscious. They are typically preoccupied with “fitting in” and “being accepted” which makes them afraid of saying the wrong things.
“When children interact socially with their peers, they learn certain skills that become the foundation for normal social development…they have a chance to learn important social concepts like negotiation, reciprocity, how to express themselves and so on.”
However, a reluctance to speak might be a cause for concern if it becomes persistent. Children who don’t want to attend birthday parties, visit friends or participate in recreational activities may need professional help.
When should you worry?
Shyness and quietness is a big concern if it starts to interfere with your child’s daily routine or if your family experiences difficulties because of their behaviour. You’ll also know that something’s not right when your child is miserable and if they complain about being lonely.
If you feel like your child is going through a phase or that their shyness will pass, it might be a good idea to give the situation some time to resolve. However, a child who seems to be another person at home as compared to other social situations could have selective mutism.
Children with selective mutism can become extremely quiet around other people, such that it seems that they are being rude. This disorder is more likely in children who have a family history of the condition. Early intervention is key if your offspring has selective mutism, an often misunderstood condition. So, speak to a speech therapist if you think your child needs help.
Why should you worry?
Children who don’t like speaking in social situations will inevitably have trouble interacting with people and taking part in the “real world.”
A child who only wants to communicate with their parents or only chooses to talk to one friend at school, for instance, could face social challenges. They may end up playing alone in the playground while other children are enjoying the company of others.
When children interact socially with their peers, they learn certain skills that become the foundation for normal social development. They appreciate that other people also have feelings and opinions. Moreover, when children play with other kids, they have a chance to learn important social concepts like negotiation, reciprocity, how to express themselves and so on.
If your child lacks verbal communication skills, they are more likely to be excluded from group play.
There are ways to help to boost your reserved child’s confidence and articulate more. When junior doesn’t like speaking in front of others, remember that they are not trying to embarrass you with their behaviour. Nor are they pushing your buttons by not cooperating. In fact, your little one might be dealing with the situation as well as he/she possibly can. So, the best thing you can do is to be understanding and patient.
Consider using these strategies to encourage your child to start talking confidently in front of new people…
1. Don’t shame your child if they don’t want to talk
Children who don’t like speaking in front of other people may feel overwhelmed by the fact that they can’t talk to others and it can be a lot to deal with for them. These kids don’t need your frustration on top of their own feelings of inadequacy.
Don’t keep telling others that your child doesn’t like to talk in front of other people. Instead, help your child feel less isolated and misunderstood by educating them about what they are dealing with.
2. Don’t put your youngster on the spot
Kids generally don’t perform well under pressure if they aren’t easy about speaking in front of others.
If you push your child into doing something they are not comfortable with, you risk triggering feelings of fear and anxiety. The main idea is to help your youngster experience success instead of failure.
“Support your child’s existing friendships. A few good friendships can boost your child’s confidence and help them feel more confident in social situations.”
3. Build on your child’s strengths
The best way to urge your child to move forward is to build on their strengths. Pay attention to your child carefully to identify situations and activities that make him/her feel happy and comfortable, then expand on that.
4. Arrange one-on-one social interactions for them
A good start is to organise one-on-one interactions, so that your child will get an opportunity to open up to one person. Therefore, on a regular basis, arrange for your little one to meet a friend for play dates or a family member.
5. Support your child’s friendships
Another way is to support your child’s existing friendships. A few good friendships can boost your child’s confidence and help them feel more confident in social situations.
6. Foster their passions
Similar interests can help children to bond with each other. Taking part in social activities will give your child the chance to mix with like-minded individuals.
7. Teach your child social skills
As your child may fear social interactions because they are afraid of being ridiculed, show them ways to manage social situations that are challenging to them.
Since children often imagine the worst possible outcome, put these fears to rest. Explain to your child what the likely outcome will be of a situation that seems scary to them.
8. Encourage your soft-spoken child to speak up in class
A child who prefers not to speak up in a classroom setting might start falling behind in school. Additionally, a lack of verbal communication skills many result in rejection, exclusion, ridicule and even bullying.
Through open discussions, your child can:
* Voice their opinion.
* Form arguments based on their opinions.
* Learn that people can have different points of view.
* Gain new insights through constructive criticism.
Such exchanges can shape their ideas as well as refine thought processes and boost interpersonal skills and communication abilities. Turn your quiet little mouse into an eager beaver with these practical tips…
* Work on a plan with the teacher to improve your child’s participation in class.
* Create an opportunity for your child to bring something they are interested in to school.
* Make sure to ask the teacher to provide more challenging tasks if your child is ahead of the curve.
* Or ask the teacher to slow down their pace if your child is struggling to keep up.
* If your child is reserved because their learning skills in class aren’t fast enough, let them practise at home.
What to do if your child isn’t inclined to verbalise
What your child needs most from you is your support and understanding. Sometimes, your child might also need your help to be able to avoid being victimised and excluded. Talk to your child about their friends and encourage them to raise their spirits. Be an advocate for your child when they need you to be.
Over time, your child will become more and more confident as they learn new social skills and settle into relationships.
Along the way, give as many constructive ideas as you can to help your reserved child emerge from their cocoon and become a social butterfly!
Dr Lisa Lim Su Li is the clinical director and senior speech language pathologist at The Speech Practice.
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