Contributed by proud mother and writer, Kelly Harbaugh.
When you have a child who suffers from anxiety, there is a great focus on what they cannot do. Finding an area in which your child excels can be a key to unlocking confidence. Every child has at least one area of special talent, and you can help them to succeed by finding it.
This was definitely the case for my daughter, who had selective mutism as a young child. Selective mutism (SM) is an anxiety disorder in which a child fails to speak in specific social situations. This means that the child may speak easily and fluently at home but freeze up and become silent at school, daycare, or other social places.
It’s not easy to be known as “the child who doesn’t talk.”
People often misunderstand the problem and think that a selectively mute child is not as bright or talented as other children. This is very frustrating for the parent, who usually sees the child full personality at home and knows what she is capable of doing.
My husband and I knew that our daughter had a lot of potential. We were concerned about pushing our child to participate in activities that might make her uncomfortable; however, we also wanted to find the right social situations that would slowly increase her ability to interact with others.
Friends of ours had a daughter with SM who found her social ease by taking dance classes. They said that when their little girl walked onto the stage for a recital, her anxiety melted away. She smiled and performed with unbelievable confidence. They were amazed, and they knew that they had found something essential to her development.
I always dreamed of taking dance classes as a child, so I thought that this might be perfect for my daughter. Her best friend was starting a class, so I thought that she would be eager to go along. I was wrong. She had absolutely no interest in such an activity.
“I just like ball games,” she would say.
So we tried sports.
This seemed like a very strange choice to me. I hated the pressure of competitive sports when I was in school, and I imagined that it would be even worse for someone who had anxiety issues.
My daughter was oblivious to the fact that she was supposed to be nervous about competition. In fact, under that soft, quiet personality was a strong, competitive spirit.
She did not start out as a great athlete. It took a couple of years for her athletic ability to catch up with her desire to play, but she was determined to play well, and her coaches took notice.
“She might not talk to you,” one of them explained, “but she sure does listen to whatever you tell her to do.”
Over time, she evolved from a tiny, timid basketball player to a leading point-scorer. I had to laugh during one game when I heard a parent from the opposing team yell that they needed to keep the ball away from her.
She has also become a talented softball pitcher. My stomach was full of butterflies when she pitched her first inning; but then she struck out two players and threw another out at first to end the inning without allowing a single run.
Competitive sports won’t be the answer to every child’s anxiety problem.
It could be dance, music, art, or anything else that makes her feel like a “winner.” Here are some suggestions to help you discover and develop your child’s passion:
- Take the time to observe what your child enjoys doing. Expose her to lots of options, and see how she reacts. It might take a little bit of trial and error to find the right activity, but the results will be very rewarding.
- When you find that area of talent, let her soak in it. Give her as much time, resources, and instruction that you are able to. Become her biggest fan.
- Finally, be patient with the results. In the beginning, you might see a lot of desire paired with very little skill. However, a child who has the right amount of desire will eventually develop skill.
Help your child find a place where they are a winner, and it will spill out into other activities. The confidence your child will gain through their accomplishments will be a valuable gift that they will carry through the rest of their life.