Many of the families we work with are often at a loss as to what questions to ask their children’s teachers to better understand whether anxiety is impacting them in the classroom and school setting. Parents are frequently receiving comments from the teachers like the ones listed below.
“He is still coming out of his shell, but it is clear he’s more comfortable”
“They volunteer in front of the group.”
However, it is unclear whether the above-described students are participating verbally or nonverbally, or what exactly the teachers mean when they say the student is comfortable, or what kind of tasks that student is volunteering to do in front of the class. Especially when it comes to children suffering from anxiety, it is imperative to know and understand the details of their presentation in the classroom to inform whether intervention is needed or to update your child’s clinician or other service providers (e.g., speech therapists) who are closely working with your child on their bravery goals. Below are a series of questions that will better enable you to get a clear picture of how your child is functioning in the school setting verbally and nonverbally.
Questions to Ask About Your Child’s Anxious Behavior
While speech may not be an issue for your child in the classroom, they may present as inhibited or excessively shy. Such children have a tendency to want to please others, so they may not stick out to their teachers as in need of help since they are not being disruptive or showing problematic behaviors. So, if you have observed your child to be more reserved or more of an observer with peers at playgrounds, birthday parties, or playdates, we encourage you to ask the questions listed below. These are also great questions for parents of children with social anxiety to assess progress and potential setbacks in school.
- Is my child participating in class activities (e.g., raising hand, on task vs frozen in place)?
- Do they present as being fearful of embarrassment or perceived negatively by their peers?
- Are they able to make eye contact with others? If so, any differences between peers and adults?
- What is their body posture like? Are they able to face the speaker or do they face away, avoiding interactions with others?
- Are they able to work or play in small peer groups without adult support? What have they been observed doing during recess?
- Do they participate in gym class? Art class? Musical performances?
- Any issues with using the bathroom in school?
- Is my child eating at lunchtime?
- Any issues with getting their picture taken?
- Is my child able to make their own choices or do they have a tendency to follow or copy others?
Questions to Ask About Your Child’s Speech
Due to unfortunate misconceptions about selective mutism, it is not uncommon for families to receive news about their child’s inability to speak in school until months into the school year. So, if you have observed your child demonstrate inconsistent speech in community settings (e.g., pediatrician office, homes of extended family or friends, restaurants, birthday parties) in comparison to home, we encourage you to ask your child’s teacher the questions listed below. These are also great questions for parents of children with selective mutism to assess progress and potential setbacks in school.
- Is my child speaking in the school classroom?
- Do they speak to adults, peers, or both?
- Do they only respond to others’ questions, or have they spoken to others independently without being prompted to do so?
- What is the quality of their speech in the classroom?
- How is the volume of their voice (e.g., whispering vs full voice)?
- Any issues with articulation?
- How detailed are their verbalizations in school (e.g., 1–2-word responses vs full sentence, detailed responses)?
- Do they speak in the group setting (e.g., circle time, during class instruction) or only when one-on-one with others?
- Are they able to speak in front of the group for group presentations?
- Have they been observed saying hello, goodbye, please, and thank you?
- Are they able to ask questions, seek help from others, advocate for themselves, or request bathroom or other needs?
- Any observed differences with their speech with less familiar adults (e.g., specials teachers, principal) or different areas of the school (classroom vs recess, lunchroom, gym)?