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Navigating Avoidance at Home: Understanding and Supporting Your Child

As a parent or carer, it's not uncommon to encounter moments when your child withdraws into silence, leaving you feeling worried and uncertain about how to help. When a child goes silent and avoids communication, it can be a sign of underlying emotional distress or discomfort.

In this blog, we'll explore why avoidance happens, when it tends to occur, and most importantly, how you can support your child and work together to improve engagement and communication.


Why Can Avoidance Happen?

Avoidance behaviour in children can stem from a variety of reasons, including;

Emotional Distress can mean your child may be experiencing feelings of anxiety, stress, or sadness, and they may retreat into silence as a way to cope with their emotions.

General Communication Difficulties and diagnosis such as autism which affect some children, who can find it challenging to express themselves verbally, especially when faced with overwhelming emotions or complex situations.

Your child may fear being judged or criticised for their thoughts or feelings, leading them to avoid communication as a protective measure. Fear of judgment can stem from overly punitive responses to their general behaviours and choices, or other experiences such as invalidated feelings or other events such as bullying affecting self-esteem.

And just like adults, children sometimes need time and space to process their thoughts and emotions. Silence may be their way of creating a mental and emotional break from the demands of daily life. Sometimes a little space is good for children (and adults), but it’s important to gauge when your support is needed. We can be tempted to avoid difficulties ourselves, and let a child space themselves away from us, but sometimes acting counter intuitively can be highly beneficial in the long run, especially when low self-esteem could be a factor.


When Does Avoidance Happen?

Avoidance behaviour can occur in various situations, including in the presence of conflict or tension. When faced with conflict or tension at home or school, your child may withdraw into silence as a means of avoiding confrontation or escalation, not just involving them, but in their environment of others.

Stressful events such as academic pressure, family changes, or social challenges can cause avoidance behaviour as your child struggles to cope with heightened emotions. Transitions, such as starting a new school year, moving to a new home, or experiencing changes in family dynamics, may evoke feelings of uncertainty and anxiety, leading to avoidance.

Stressful experiences can profoundly impact a child's brain development and functioning, predisposing them to adopt avoidant behaviours (among others) as a coping mechanism to manage overwhelming emotions and perceived threats. Regular exposure to stressors can cause physical difference in children’s brain development making avoidance a more instinctive and natural way of managing heightened emotions.

If your child is prone to avoidance, and heightened anxiety, no matter how old, it is possible to build on and stretch their resilience to tolerate difficulties more robustly.

How Can You Support Your Child and Encourage More Engagement?

First, like with all learning, they need a secure base within you or someone. Creating trust and reassurance. Then with patience in mind you can;

·         Create a Safe and Supportive Environment: Foster an environment where your child feels safe and supported to express themselves without fear of judgment or criticism.

·         Practice Active Listening: Take the time to listen to your child without interrupting or imposing your own thoughts or opinions. Show empathy and validate their feelings.

·         Encourage Open Communication: Encourage your child to express their thoughts and feelings in whatever way feels comfortable for them, whether through verbal communication, writing, or artistic expression.

·         Model Healthy Communication: Demonstrate healthy communication habits by openly expressing your own thoughts and feelings and actively listening to others.

·         Offer Patience and Understanding: Be patient and understanding as your child navigates their emotions. Avoid pressure or judgment and instead offer gentle guidance and support. Help them verbalise their feelings if they need it, and show you have understood them, which may look like repeating back what your heard.

·         Seek Professional Support if Needed: If avoidance behaviour persists or is accompanied by other concerning symptoms, consider seeking support from a qualified therapist or mental health professional who can provide specialised guidance and intervention.


Managing avoidance at home requires patience, understanding, and proactive communication. By creating a supportive environment, practicing active listening, and encouraging open dialogue, you can help your child feel empowered to express themselves and navigate their emotions in a healthy and constructive manner. Together, you can work towards strengthening your relationship and fostering positive communication habits that will benefit your child for years to come.

It might also be, us adults need to manage our expectations, and find other times to engage with our child about their difficulties on their terms a little first and also reflect how we manage difficulties, because we may need to first model emotional responses and managements better ourselves first.


So what do I do with my adolescent who never leaves their room?

In psychodynamic theory, a child's avoidant behaviour, such as isolating themselves in their room, can stem from underlying emotional conflicts and unresolved issues within the psyche. This behaviour may serve as a defence mechanism to protect the individual from experiencing uncomfortable emotions or confronting difficult situations. Here's how one of our therapists at TMH would explain this common question.

One reason could be unconscious conflicts. The child or adolescent may harbour unconscious conflicts related to attachment, intimacy, or fear of rejection. They may have experienced past traumas or disruptions in early relationships that have left them feeling insecure or fearful of forming close connections with others. There may also be persecutory worries they’re processing triggering feelings of shame impacting their self-esteem, and their confidence to be comfortable in the company of others.

As mentioned above, it’s likely to be a defensive mechanism, used to cope with overwhelming emotions or anxiety. By withdrawing from social interactions and retreating to their room, the individual creates a psychological barrier to shield themselves from potential emotional pain or rejection. To Them this could be them creating their containing space, a place of security to them.

Over time, repeated experiences of rejection or disappointment may lead the individual to internalise negative beliefs about themselves and others. They may develop a belief that they are unworthy of love or connection, leading them to avoid seeking out social interactions or forming close relationships. This then become a ritualised pattern to hide away.


Loneliness vs. Solitude

While the individual may appear to prefer solitude, they may actually experience feelings of loneliness and longing for connection on a deeper level. Despite their desire for companionship, they may struggle to reach out due to their fears. Here are some tips to strengthen connections with you and hopefully build on.


·         Create Opportunities for Connection: Initiate gentle check-ins and opportunities for interaction, such as offering to spend time together, engaging in activities they enjoy, or simply sitting with them in their room without pressure to talk.

·         Respect Boundaries: Respect the individual's need for space and autonomy while also expressing your availability and willingness to listen whenever they are ready to open up.

·         Offer Support and Validation: Validate their feelings and experiences without judgment, letting them know that you are there to support them whenever they need someone to talk to.

·         Be Consistent: Consistently offer kindness, support, and understanding, even if they initially reject or resist your efforts. Building trust and rapport takes time, so continue to be patient and persistent in your approach.

Encourage Professional Support if the individual's avoidant behaviour persists or significantly impacts their daily functioning, consider seeking support from a mental health professional who can provide further guidance and assistance.

Thank You for Reading