What to Do When Children Appear to Be Withdrawn Socially?

Learn to tell when withdrawal signals depression

Listless teen boy
Anthony-Masterson/Getty Images

Socially withdrawn children and adolescents may be showing signs of depression. While it is normal for a child to begin to pull away from her parents and identify more with peers as she reaches adolescence, social withdrawal from friends and peers may be a sign of something more.

Learn to spot the telltale signs that indicate a child or teen is depressed with this review.

Why Depressed Children May Withdraw

Children who are depressed may feel misunderstood, irritable, worthless or hopeless.

They may feel like no one can understand or help them -- so why should they bother keeping or making friends?

Having friends to talk to and confide in is thought to be very helpful emotionally, especially for those who suffer from depression. Without social relationships, some children and teens may begin to feel lonely and isolated, two emotions often associated with increased suicide risk.

Additionally, depressed children may lack the ability to experience pleasure in social activities, such as school, group activities or social outings. So, they might avoid these situations.

Social Withdrawal and Other Disorders

Social withdrawal is not limited to depression and is thought to also be associated with other disorders, such as anxiety, schizophrenia and certain personality disorders.

However, social withdrawal was found to be a good indicator of major depressive disorder in children with co-existing ADHD, according to a study that tried to distinguish which symptoms best discriminate cases of major depressive disorder in children with attention disorders.

What to Do If Your Child Seems to Be Withdrawing

As children navigate through childhood and adolescence, they are likely to hit some bumps in the road, and parents are often left wondering what is normal and when they should intervene.

First, talk to your child. Perhaps she had an argument with a friend or is grieving the loss of a romantic relationship by keeping to herself for a few days.

This may be a temporary and normal reaction to an unpleasant event.

Perhaps she's experiencing another conflict at school such as being bullied. She may have been ousted from the social group that she normally belonged to for some reason. Incidents such as these may explain why your child appears to be socially withdrawn.

However, if your child's social withdrawal lasts for more than two weeks, speak to your child's pediatrician or other mental health provider for an evaluation and treatment options. Contact a health care provider sooner if her symptoms escalate or she is experiencing:

Wrapping Up

An effective treatment plan can help your child's depression and put her on the road to enjoying her childhood and those around her. Don't delay getting treatment. Give your the child the help she needs to maintain good mental health.

*If your child or someone else you know is having thoughts of suicide, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255).


Depression and Suicide in Children and Adolescents. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Accessed: 02/20/2011. 

How Do Children and Adolescents Experience Depression? National Institute on Mental Health. Accessed: 02/19/2011. 

Rasim Somer Diler, MD, W. Burleson Daviss, MD, Adriana Lopez, MSc, BSc, et al. Differentiating Major Depressive Disorder in Youths with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. Journal of Affective Disorders. September 2007. 102(1-3): 125-130.

Continue Reading