Becoming Friends with Your Withdrawn Child

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Withdrawn or shy children often prefer to spend time by themselves. Although they might freely talk to people who are close to them, they are often careful not to share things they consider too personal. They tend to avoid being the center of attention and entertaining people. In some cases, parents worry that they are doing something wrong. And they wonder if there is anything they can do to change the situation. This is sometimes the case, especially as the child grows older and the parents feel unloved. A child’s emotional withdrawal from parents hurts their relationship. Any hope of connecting with their withdrawn child seems to vanish.

What Causes a Child to Become Socially or Emotionally Withdrawn?

Recent studies indicate that “Socially withdrawn children frequently refrain from social activities in the presence of peers. The lack of social interaction in childhood may result from a variety of causes, including social fear and anxiety or a preference for solitude. From early childhood through to adolescence, socially withdrawn children are concurrently and predictively at risk for a wide range of negative adjustment outcomes, including socio-emotional difficulties…“–Social Withdrawal in Childhood

As indicated above, there are a variety of causes for social or emotional withdrawal. Speaking with a professional about withdrawal behavior is the recommended course of action. Let them determine the cause and best treatment options.

It has been noted that in some cases, parents tend to compare the relationship their child has with them to that of neighbors and their children or to someone they see on TV. Sometimes they might even ask their child why they cannot be “clever” and “normal” like other kids. These children may not react immediately when such things are said to them. Instead, they may reprocess every word once they are alone and break down. This experience further validates their reasons for keeping to themselves.

Why Withdrawn Children Exhibit Certain Behaviors

More often than not, children who tend to be withdrawn are “over thinkers.” They fear being judged. Overanalyzing things is a common trait too. When looking at their environment, they calculate their every move to avoid certain reactions that could be directed toward them.

It is hard to believe that a child can suddenly wake up one day and decide they are uncomfortable around people and decide to hide from them. The truth is, something creates that kind of fear in them. Mainly it is what people say to them or others, or about others, among other things. Some children grow up in the absence of biological parents and lack attention and support. Being withdrawn can be the result of believing that no one cares about them or owes them their time.

Connecting with Your Withdrawn Child Takes Effort

Build Trust

To win the heart of such a child, the parent must be understanding. Building trust with a withdrawn child is very important. This is the most effective way to get the child to feel they are in good hands. Then they will eventually open up. Understand his or her view of the world. Where you strongly disagree with their belief system, allow the child to consider a different view of the matter. Avoid making them feel stupid about it. Rather, simply state how you understand the topic by presenting facts. Avoid passing any judgment. Then leave the child to decide if what you say makes sense to them.

Help your child understand that they can confide in you without fear of damage to their self-esteem. Basically, as with any other person, understanding how the world operates triggers the need to develop coping mechanisms. And for someone who has learned to not trust people, it makes sense to either withdraw completely or tread carefully where people are involved.

Show Respect

Of equal importance is the need for parents to respect the way their child chooses to do things. This is especially true if he or she does not pose a threat to the family with their particular choices. Even when planning family fun events, it is important to have plans that suit everyone’s character. And understand that it is okay for a family member to just watch some of the activities.  They may feel that participation would put them in the spotlight, which is uncomfortable for them. Forcing children to participate in some activities would be a bad idea. Although this family fun is meant to be the best time for them, it could be the worst ever.

Be Considerate of the Child’s Feelings

The parent might ask the child to allow them to do things together. The child may enjoy coloring, reading books, or just quietly relaxing in the shade, to mention but a few. A considerate parent could ask the child if he or she would be okay with having some company. The goal is to understand why the child prefers to do some things alone or spending time alone. And do this without making them feel that they are being judged or interrogated. The last thing a parent should do is make the child feel that he or she is not normal. It would be better to keep the conversation mainly about the activity. The parent could mention to the child what he or she likes about the coloring books and allow the child to talk too. However, one should be careful to avoid being a distraction.

Final Thoughts

When dealing with a younger withdrawn child, you may be the only friend they have and would like to keep. If you want to maintain that relationship and make it easier for the child to interact with others, show them love and support. This includes introducing them to life skills that best suit their personality and speaking positively to them. It is important to allow them to see the world for what it is. Teach them how a positive attitude makes it bearable and even better. Where self-confidence is the issue, help the child learn to love and appreciate themselves. If your efforts do not seem to bring the desired result,  do not hesitate to seek professional help.

Recommended Reading

131 Conversations That Engage Kids: How to Get Kids Talking, Grow Their Friendships, and Inspire Change

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Johnston, Janet R., Marjorie Gans Walters, and Steven Friedlander. “Therapeutic work with alienated children and their families.” Family court review 39.3 (2001): 316-333.

Rubin, Kenneth H., et al. “The best friendships of shy/withdrawn children: Prevalence, stability, and relationship quality.” Journal of abnormal child psychology 34.2 (2006): 139-153.

Kathy Adams, Author

Kathy Adams

Hi, I'm Kathy. Thanks for visiting Your Guide to Parenting. As a parent myself, I understand the challenges that we all face when trying to help our children along the road to maturity. I'm here to help make the journey a little easier for parents and...

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