Preschooler doesn't talk at school or with new people - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 6 Old 10-19-2012, 06:25 AM - Thread Starter
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Hi.  I could really use some advice/help/perspective with my 3 year old son.  I have no clue what is going on with him, it is like he is a completely different kid at his preschool than he is at home - and we didn't have this problem at his last preschool.


At home he is generally a really happy and pretty talkative kid.  At school it seems like he completely withdraws.  He speaks nonstop at home and at a conversational level, but then at school, he only says a few basic words (and even that took him a week or so to get there).We're also having an issue with potty training because he has been completely potty trained for over a month at home, but they still put him in pull-ups at school because he seems to refuse to use the potty there (even though he has only had 3 accidents at school).  He has also had a few incidents with being aggressive and pulling on kids at school, whereas I have never seen that behavior from him with any other kids I have taken him around.  It seems like social anxiety to me (at least the withdrawing and not talking part), but I'm worried about how it is going to impact him developmentally and he has already been at this school for a month now, so I would have hoped he would have adjusted better already. 


His school sent home a referral today and I am really confused about what to do.  I want to get him evaluated, but I don't know how that works because I know that he will most likely not be willing to talk to a stranger at all (or at most he will say a couple words).  I actually do have a few concerns about his pronunciation that I want to get checked out, but I don't know how they would even get to that point of being able to see those concerns without him talking freely and willingly (which he still doesn't seem to be doing with his teachers after knowing them for a month).  I've talked to his doctor and she told me not to be concerned at this point - as long as he talks to me conversationally and I am able to understand him.  I've filled out the paperwork for the evaluation, but I'm worried about how much they will really be able to assess and help my son (or if it would more just be a drawn out practice of getting to trust someone new).  I am also worried because he is a little perfectionist - so if he feels like he is being tested, he is much less likely to do or say anything that he doesn't think will come out perfectly and I worry that speech therapy might actually make him less confident in speaking, by confirming for him that there is a right and wrong way of speaking and that people are judging the way he speaks.


Sorry for rambling.  All of this is a really long way of asking:

Have any of you had any experience with a child acting completely different at school than at home?

Has anyone gone through these evaluations with a stubborn child who doesn't like to perform if being tested or who doesn't speak to new people at all - despite their abilities with familiar people? If so, how did that work, and what was the evaluation like?

How would a speech therapist work with a child who has such drastic differences in speech levels in different situations?


Thank you for any help!

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#2 of 6 Old 10-19-2012, 05:38 PM
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I have a 3 year old and she does not talk much at school either. Some kids are just shy. Mine took over 3 months to open up at school. In the beginning she just watched- and if anyone asked her a question they got a blank stare in return. 3 can be like that. My sister was the same way. If you want to follow up with the eval- great. Can't hurt. But don't be too worried about the school thing, what you see at home is the real indication of his development. 


Take videos of your child at home and bring them to the eval- or give them to the teachers. That's what I did with my dd when the teachers asked me to consider getting her an aide. (she has CP and is in a mainstream school, I felt like they were trying to blame the CP for her shyness) The videos will give the evaluator a better idea of your child's development, especially if he is less than cooperative with new people. 

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#3 of 6 Old 10-20-2012, 05:55 PM
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Originally Posted by askew View Post

Take videos of your child at home and bring them to the eval- or give them to the teachers. That's what I did with my dd when the teachers asked me to consider getting her an aide. (she has CP and is in a mainstream school, I felt like they were trying to blame the CP for her shyness) The videos will give the evaluator a better idea of your child's development, especially if he is less than cooperative with new people. 

This is a great idea!

Op, my five year old is similar too. Talks non stop at home, but very quiet outside unless his elder brother is there. He just started preschool early this year because I felt he was not ready to be away from me any earlier for emotional and health reasons. When I wanted to start part time work outside of home, he was very worried and verbally regressed to baby talk.

He is extremely self conscious and is terrified of making any social mistakes outside of home. Dropping a coin at the cashier embarrasses him. Show and Tell is something he dreads. I feel like I really have to persevere and coax him to push his comfort zones little by little because this fear is holding him back from activities he will otherwise enjoy. I am now making an effort to get him to do little interactions away from his brother's shadow. He had very bad eczema when he was younger and often attracted unwelcomed attention from complete strangers of all ages who would tsked and shake their heads at him - I do wonder if this has somehow led him to be so self conscious and terrified of any attention. Sigh.

His teachers have been helpful, allowing him to just stand and watch in the first few months, and as he grew more comfortable, gently encouraging him to think of himself as part of a bigger group to ease the self consciousness. This has been a very helpful idea for him. A school concert is coming up and he actually spent sleepless nights over it, begging to be let off it. The teacher managed to make him feel better by telling him that the camera will be on everyone, not just him, and by placing him at the side with familiar friends instead of near the center. It was a great relief to me when he finally came home one day and declared that he has decided the concert will be "ok". So, little baby steps I suppose...
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#4 of 6 Old 10-26-2012, 12:37 PM
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If you look up information about "Selective Mutism" you will find it helpful. It is important not to force, coerce or pressure a child to speak. (If pressure worked, selective mutism would be easy to fix!) Give them non-verbal ways to participate in activities such as making a choice by pointing or participating physically without having to talk. It is important to reduce pressure and stress. When they realize the pressure to talk is gone, they will become less anxious. Make not talking a "non-issue".

I hope these suggestions help.

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#5 of 6 Old 10-27-2012, 06:30 PM
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Yes sounds like selective mutism or social anxiety to me.  He may do better in a class with fewer students if it is social anxiety.

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#6 of 6 Old 10-27-2012, 06:53 PM
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My son is similar!  He was in preschool at age 3 last year and when I dropped him off I could see the wall go up.  His posture changed, his facial expression changed.  He totally withdrew so much he wouldn’t even say goodbye to me.  He chose not to participate in much of their group activities, yet each day he told me he loved school and was even sad when it was not a school day, so it wasn’t that he hated it.  He was also so timid he refused to ask to use the bathroom.  They would see him doing a dance and have to prompt him to go.  


I hoped it was just because it was a totally new experience and he’d eventually open up but he did not.  The teacher suggested an evaluation.  He’s in our district’s preschool now and they are really bringing him out of it.  They are excellent with him.  He’ll most likely always be an introvert (like his mama!) but now I feel he has improved confidence, helping him to function in a school setting.  I feel he’ll be ready for kindergarten next year.

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