When Social Withdrawal in Children Is a Problem

When Withdrawal May Signal Depression

Verywell / Bailey Mariner 

Socially withdrawn children and adolescents may be showing signs of depression.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

Learn to spot the telltale signs that indicate a child or teen is depressed and what you can do to help.

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 factors often associated with increased suicide risk.

If your child is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 for support and assistance from a trained counselor. If you or a loved one are in immediate danger, call 911.

For more mental health resources, see our National Helpline Database.

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.

In addition, social withdrawal was found to be a good indicator of major depressive disorder (MDD) in children with co-existing attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), according to a study that tried to distinguish which symptoms best discriminate cases of MDD in children with attention disorders.

What to Do If Your Child Seems to Be Withdrawing

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

First, talk to your child. Perhaps they had an argument with a friend or is grieving the loss of a relationship by keeping to themselves for a few days. This may be a temporary and normal reaction to an unpleasant event.

Perhaps they're experiencing another conflict at school such as being bullied. They may have been ousted from the social group that they previously belonged to. Situations like these may explain why your child appears to be socially withdrawn.

If your child's social withdrawal lasts for more than two weeks, however, speak to your child's pediatrician or other mental health providers for an evaluation and treatment options.

Contact a health care provider sooner if their symptoms escalate or they are experiencing:

  • Additional symptoms of depression
  • Recurring thoughts or actions of self-harm or suicide
  • Inability to engage in normal daily functions or activities

A Word From Verywell

If your child is depressed, an effective treatment plan can help put them on the road to enjoying their childhood and those around them. Don't delay getting treatment. Give your child the help they need to maintain good mental health.

4 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Matthews T, Danese A, Wertz J, et al. Social isolation, loneliness and depression in young adulthood: a behavioural genetic analysis. Soc Psychiatry Psychiatr Epidemiol. 2016;51(3):339-348. doi:10.1007/s00127-016-1178-7

  2. National Institute of Mental Health. Depression: What You Need to Know. 2015.

  3. Diler RS, Daviss WB, Lopez A, Axelson D, Iyengar S, Birmaher B. Differentiating major depressive disorder in youths with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. J Affect Disord. 2007;102(1-3):125-130. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2007.01.002

  4. Cheung AH, Kozloff N, Sacks D. Pediatric depression: an evidence-based update on treatment interventions. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2013;15(8):381. doi:10.1007/s11920-013-0381-4

Additional Reading
  • National Institute of Mental Health. Teen Depression.

  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Mental Health, 1999. 

By Lauren DiMaria
Lauren DiMaria is a member of the Society of Clinical Research Associates and childhood psychology expert.