Problems with social interaction can lead to further isolation for children.

Why Doesn't My Child Answer People?

by Barrett Barlowe

Good manners in children can be a priority to parents. Answering an adult's question is sometimes viewed as common courtesy, so when a child does not respond to another person, the child might appear rude to some. Children might not answer for reasons other than bad manners, though, and it can be critical for adults to analyze the cause of the reticence.

1. Situations

When and where a child refuses to answer people can help determine why they do so. Kids who do not answer people asking questions, or talking to them on the street or in other public places, might simply be following school safety instructions. Sometimes, it is good for kids not to talk with anyone they do not know well. Even parents might not be aware of the instructions imparted by school officials, so ask the principal about any safety workshops recently given. Contradicting what teachers or school officials say can be confusing for a child, and the child might not be able to explain the situation clearly. Clear guidelines made in coordination with school officials, religious teachers and parents help avoid confusion.

2. Effects

When a child does not answer a person or refuses to speak, she can give people the wrong impression about herself. Some adults might view the child as impudent or rude. Other kids might look at the child as snobby, and start picking on her or bullying her. The negative reaction that lack of verbal response from a child can elicit can make the situation even worse. The more people judge the child, the more likely they are to distance themselves from him, or tell other people to avoid him--further isolating an already hesitant speaker.

3. Conditions

Many different conditions can cause a child not to answer when spoken to. Some children are introverted and might have difficulty socializing. Not every kid has something funny to say at the tip of his tongue. Some children simply do not feel comfortable interacting with others all the time. Rudeness does not enter into an introverted child's head--she simply has no response to offer. Extreme cases of introversion can lead to social phobias. The National Institute for Mental Health states that social phobias cause the sufferer to have an exaggerated fear of any social interactions. Naturally shy children can develop social phobias following traumatic events, or even because of continued harsh criticism at home, or an environment full of stress. Some kids literally withdraw into themselves and become mentally and physically unable to respond to questions or to join in any conversations with anyone who is not a close and trusted friend.

4. Solution

Identifying the cause of a child's reticence is key to finding solutions. Talking quietly with the child in a non-judgmental way--after, not during the event can help. Asking questions such as "Did you feel comfortable talking with Jane?" rather than asking "Why don't you ever answer people when they ask you questions?" can prevent making a child defensive. Some simple words of encouragement and gradual exposure to an increasing wide circle of strangers might solve the problem. With a parent's tender care, many children develop self-confidence and literally find a voice. When parents feel unable to help, or if the child does not improve, making an appointment with the family physician and seeking out a referral for a behavioral therapist or mental health specialist might be necessary.

5. Considerations

Before assuming that a child has behavioral issues, schedule a physical check-up with a pediatrician or with the family doctor to eliminate any possibility of hearing, visual acuity or speech impediments. Something as basic as fluid build-up behind the eardrum can result in speech delay, according to the Children's Hospital of Boston. Sometimes, ready access to medication, prescribed to adults for social phobias or other mental health issues, can create a reliance on pills for quick fixes. Prescription drugs dispensed without a thorough analysis of all potentially contributing factors can do more harm than good.

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