Parenting children with selective mutism: parenting behaviours and individual, child, and contextual factors

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Edison, Shannon C.

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University of Guelph


Selective mutism (SM) is a childhood psychiatric disorder characterized by a failure to speak in select situations (e.g., at school), despite normal speaking in others. Little research has been conducted on the parenting behaviours among families of selectively mute children. As such, the current two studies examined parent-child interactions among three groups of children: those with SM ('n' = 21; 'M' age = 7.0 years), those with an anxiety disorder ('n' = 17; 'M' age = 8.8 years), and those without an anxiety disorder ('n' = 25; ' M' age = 7.8 years). The first study aimed to compare parent and child behaviours among the groups, across varied contexts. Results indicated that: (1) children with SM spoke less overall and made fewer remarks that were unsolicited by parents than children in the comparison groups, (2) children's verbal participation varied by context, (3) parents of children with SM demonstrated more controlling behaviours than parents in the comparison groups, (4) parental control varied by context, and (5) parental warmth did not significantly differ between any of the groups or contexts. To better understand the finding from Study 1 that parents of children with SM demonstrated greater controlling behaviours than parents of children in either comparison group, the relationship between parental control, select child factors (i.e., age, anxiety, frequency and comfort with speaking), and parent anxiety was investigated. Correlation analyses indicated that an 'increase' in parental control was associated with: (1) a 'decrease' in child total and self-initiated speaking, (2) a 'decrease' in parent ratings of children's typical degree of verbal participation in the home, school, and community, (3) an ' increase' in observed child anxiety, (4) a 'decrease' in child age, and (5) an 'increase' in observed parent anxiety. Regression analyses indicated that observed parent anxiety and observed child spontaneous speaking were the strongest predictors for parental control as measured by granting of autonomy. Observations of child anxiety and child speaking, as well as parent ratings of children's typical degree of verbal participation outside of the laboratory, were the strongest predictors for the form of parental control as measured by high power parent remarks.



children, selective mutism, parent-child interactions, parental control, parental warmth