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Gifted Child Becoming Withdrawn
Q: My nephew began at a new school for the gifted this year. The school seems to be very good, but my nephew has been going through a lot of changes in terms of personality. Formerly a very outgoing child, he is becoming withdrawn, preferring solitary activities to the ones he used to engage in. He has quit helping in the library, claims he no longer likes doing crafts, has quit the chess club, and says he wants to quit karate. He seems to be pulling away from my sister, and they have always been remarkably close. She is understandably upset and doesn't know what to do. She intends on having his friends over more often for sleepovers and playtime to encourage social interaction, and limiting his time with gameboy and the TV so that he will be forced to find alternative ways of spending his time. Is this a normal stage of development, or a sign that something else is wrong?
A: It's important to consider a child's age and developmental stage when their behavior begins to change. It is not unusual for an older boy (you do not state your nephew's age) to begin to become more selective about their extracurricular activities based on preference and skill. It is, however, a warning sign if they try to drop out of everything. Older boys also tend to be less verbally open with their mothers than when they were younger. This is part of the process of growing up. He should still be involved with friends, and hopefully talking with male relatives and male family friends.
Too much seclusion is also a warning sign. What does your nephew think about the new school? Is he making friends? Does he talk favorably about classes and activities? How are his grades? Is he unaccustomed to challenging academic demands? Have his appetite and sleep habits changed? If your nephew truly appears to be unhappy and withdrawing from everything -- then he may be experiencing some depression.
His mother's plan to involve him in more peer events seems like a good idea. If it does not "jumpstart" him to get back on track, then it may be wise to have him talk with a school counselor about how he is feeling about the new changes in his life. Professional counseling is always an alternative, but start with talking to the school to get firsthand information about his adjustment there.
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Noreen Joslyn is a licensed independent social worker in the state of Ohio and is a member of the Academy of Certified Social Workers. She has a master's degree in Social Work, specializing in family and children, from the University of Pittsburgh. She is a psychiatric social worker in private practice with Ken DeLuca, Ph.D. & Associates, where she counsels parents and children.