You want your child/teen to speak in social settings. Have you ever said or thought of saying, “Honey, if you talk to your teacher today, I’ll buy you that video game you’ve been wanting!” or “If you speak to your friends at soccer practice, you can stay up late to watch American Idol.”


Does this sound familiar? Before making these types of statements to your child/teen with Selective Mutism, be mindful that “rewarding for talking” can be harmful. Here at the Selective Mutism Anxiety & Related Disorders Treatment (SMart) Center, we teach families how to reward their loved ones with Selective Mutism in a manner that is helpful to social communication progression.


Continue reading to learn how to reward social communication efforts the “SMart” way!


A core principle of our world-renowned, evidence-based treatment, S-CAT®, is removing the expectation for speech; therefore, it is the completion of the game or goal the child/tween/teen is rewarded for—NOT for speaking.


Outside motivation by way of rewards is often a great way to facilitate progress during treatment of Selective Mutism. Rewards can be given to the individual after they complete therapeutic games and goals. At the SMart Center, we choose motivational strategies and rewards in the form of games and goals based on the individual’s anxiety level and social communication comfort. As a reminder, it is the completion of the game or goal the child is rewarded for—NOT for speaking.

Things to Remember When Choosing Games and/or Goals to Motivate Speech:

  1. If the child or teen perceives you are trying to get them to speak then it will reinforce mutism and anxiety will result, often leading to secondary speech phobia.
  2. Although social comfort and verbal communication is the ultimate goal, we need to take our time and accomplish this in a comfortable manner.
  3. For younger children, therapeutic activities and strategies should be presented as a Older children and teens are aware of their strategies and so you can refer to them as goals.
  4. The specific games/goals are chosen based on your child’s beginning or baseline level of social communication.
  5. The Social Communication Bridge®is a useful tool when determining what games to use. For example, one child may begin with simple Handover/Takeover™ games while others may begin with transitional games, such as using a tape recorder, verbal intermediary, or different sounds.

SMart Tips for Rewarding Progress Towards Social Communication: 

  1. Don’t push the individual to complete games/goals when they are not comfortable.
  2. Do have a plan to give your child suggestions to complete games or goals in a positive, motivating manner.
  3. For children who are self-motivated to feel more comfortable, the reward of their accomplishments are enough. However, for those who are not so motivated to do the games, motivation in the form of concrete rewards can be used.
  4. For very young children, such as preschoolers or kindergartners, stickers can be very motivating! Especially when charts are used to display progress.
  5. When older children complete their goals, dollar store items and other small trinkets are great options for concrete rewards.

Remember: It’s not about focusing on talking, it is about building comfort and implementing communication strategies (based on your clinician’s recommendations) to help the child progress across the Social Communication Bridge® into speech.

To effectively overcome Selective Mutism and all anxieties, a child needs to be involved in a treatment program, such as the evidenced-based Social Communication Anxiety Treatment® (S-CAT®). Developed by Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum, this holistic or “whole-person” treatment approach is designed to reduce anxiety, build self-esteem, increase social comfort and communication in all settings.

As a physician, Dr. Elisa Shipon-Blum (“Dr. E”) views SM as a social communication anxiety where mutism is merely a symptom. The key to an effective treatment plan is understanding factors into the development and maintenance of SM as well as understanding a child’s baseline level of social communication on the Social Communication Bridge©. Then, working as a team, the treatment professional, parents, and school staff members help the child build coping skills to combat anxious feelings and to progress across the Social Communication Bridge©.