WLNS-6: Social Withdrawal: How it hurts kids and how to spot the signs

(Source article here)

LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – It’s a routine many school-aged children are now used to waking up at home to attend virtual school, at home. Eating lunch, at home. Spending free-time alone, at home.

This grind is all too familiar to local 3rd grader Xanna Duran. She has amassed more than 125 screen-time classroom sessions since the pandemic forced her to isolate from her teachers and friends.

Mental health experts say this is quite possibly the worst scenario for a young mind.

What kids are missing out on.

“It’s been a lot to adjust to, especially for kids,” said Janae Chavez, a mental health clinician for the Wellness Institute of Michigan.

She says a year of online learning and physically being away from most friends and family is chipping away at this very sensitive mind.

“I have noticed issues with self-esteem coming up in kids 10 and under, self esteem issues related to online learning,” said Chavez.

Chavez said this can lead to young kids feeling lost, unliked, or unsupported.

Add other heart-breakers, like Xanna not seeing her grandpa in person for more than a year. He lives in Colorado. Children have lost many things they look forward to. The annual family vacation to Myrtle Beach: cancelled. Her return trip to Cedar Point for her birthday: cancelled.

In fact, Xanna hasn’t been inside one restaurant, retail shop or convenience store since March of 2020. A whole year ago.

Xanna’s candid response to visiting the 6 News studio is quite understandable.

“I just haven’t been out a lot, maybe even enough,” said Xanna.

The harmful effects

“We don’t have the research about that, we’ve never been through a global pandemic where we’ve been isolated to this degree so we don’t know the possible long-term impact on children,” said Chavez.

This uncertainty is tough for parents to hear. Many are desperate to know if their kids will be okay when this is all over. That’s why 6 News’ Jorma Duran chose Xanna, his own daughter, for this story. She’s an extremely social girl that misses her friends.

What parents and guardians can do

Until real playdates and school return, child developmental expert Kylie Rymanowicz says parents need to step up and fill the gaps.

“The best thing an adult can do for a child right now or in any stressful situation is to be present, to be tuned in, and be responsive,” said Rymanowicz.

This involves paying attention and picking up non-verbal cues — like noticing withdrawal or acting out.

Both are serious, but one can go overlooked.

What to look out for

“I tend to worry a little bit more about the kids that withdraw because their changes in behavior aren’t quite as apparent to us as adults,” said Chavez.

Signs of withdrawal in children include:

  • Sleeping a lot to avoid being around anyone
  • Showing no interest in things they used to love
  • Refusing to do activities or chores
  • Or flat-out saying they are sad

“If a child responds with nothing makes me happy anymore or I don’t want to do anything anymore, then that might be cause for concern,” said Rymanowicz.

Experts also say parents need to think about getting back to normal. A year of isolation on young kids will likely mean they will need to relearn some social norms, like

“How do I raise my hand in class to get called, how do I initiate play with a child, especially for a younger child who may not be having those free play experiences. I think it’ll require some grace, and some coaching from parents, like, this is how we do things here,” said Rymanowicz.