Child Psychopathology

By Eric J. Mash; Russell A. Barkley | Go to book overview

CHAPTER EIGHT
Social Withdrawal
in Childhood

Kenneth H. Rubin

Kim B. Burgess

Amy E. Kennedy

This chapter concerns a topic unlike most that appear in this volume. Social withdrawal is not a clinically defined behavioral, social, or emotional disorder in childhood. Indeed, some individuals appear perfectly content to pass the better parts of their lives removed from others. These individuals include those who spend their days and/or nights tending to their computers; designing homes, automobiles, or space modules; writing scripts, poems, lyrics, or book chapters; and so forth. Often these individuals have a distinct need for solitude. Conversely, there are individuals who avoid others when in social company and those who choose solitude to escape the initiation and maintenance of interpersonal relationships. Lastly, there are individuals who have little choice in the matter of solitude, because they are isolated or rejected by others in their social community. In the latter two cases, social solitude could hardly be construed as normal or as psychologically or socially adaptive. But the display of solitude per se is not the problem; rather, the central issue is that social withdrawal may reflect underlying difficulties of a social or emotional nature.

To some researchers, the expression of social withdrawal reflects particular temperamental and/or personality characteristics or traits (e.g., Fox, Henderson, Rubin, Calkins, & Schmidt, 2001; Kagan, 1989). Others view withdrawal as a behavioral index of a child's isolation or rejection by the peer group (e.g., Hymel, Bowker, & Woody, 1993; Parkhurst & Asher, 1992). Still others believe that social withdrawal in childhood, depending upon the age at which it is observed, reflects the lack of a social approach motive and a preference for object manipulation and construction over interpersonal exchange (Asendorpf, 1990, 1993). Finally, there are those who believe that social withdrawal is linked to psychological maladaptation, as it represents a behavioral expression of internalized thoughts and feelings of social anxiety or depression (BellDolan, Reaven, & Peterson, 1993; Nilzon & Palmerus, 1998). As the reader may quickly surmise, then, social withdrawal is an extremely slippery construct that has defied precise meaning and understanding. It becomes immediately evident why there has not been general agreement among traditionally trained clinical psychologists concerning the relevance and significance of social withdrawal vis-à-vis the development and expression of psychologically abnormal emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in childhood.

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