Need help now?

Ask a Professional: Stressed & Withdrawn Teen

Discussion forum for parents in Australia

Ask a Professional: Stressed & Withdrawn Teen

Community Manager

Ask a Professional: Stressed & Withdrawn Teen

It's been awhile since I've been to the forum. That's not because things have been smooth sailing. Rather, my 15 year old daughter has had a series of health issues and it's been quite full on. It started off with a worsening reaction to MSG and she developed anaphylaxis and now has an epi pen. When she was in primary school, she was diagnosed with a condition called gastroparesis which is basically means it takes a lot longer for her to process her food. This is a physical condition. However, on top of that she has also had rumination disorder, and while this is long standing it was only diagnosed officially last week. This is considered a psychological disorder, and it wouldn't surprise me if it stemmed from long term trauma related to my acute health. We largely have these issues covered in terms of dealing with the specifics. However, she's had a lot of trouble sleeping and can't get to sleep until about 4.00am. She locked away in her room most of the time and the few rare words she says to me have attitude. We're usually pretty close but she's become like a cactus.

We live in Greater Sydney and have been in lockdown for about 6 weeks now. She missed a lot of school prior to that due to being sick and in hospital and so she's dropped off the radar at school and isn't zooming in. I've got medical certificates and school is adjusting her workload but I feel so powerless as a parent looking at this closed door and trying to connect. Given my own health issues, I understand her being angry and having that compounded by covid doesn't help. She refuses to talk to anyone but there is a teacher she's close to. She always dances intensely and I see dance as a way of easing her out of this slump and moving forward.

I know I've given you quite a list of problems there. So maybe looking for help on how to encourage teens out of their room and to connect and also ways to help my husband and I cope better. I must say her older brother has been very patient with her. He's 17 and been hit hard by lock down himself but seems to understand she's struggling. Fortunately, she has a boyfriend. I think it's fortunate.

Best wishes,

PS As I reached the end of writing this, a little voice reminded me of writing down at least one thing that went well that day. I have tried to get that going with the family before but will try again and try in for myself too. I at least have some influence over myself, although I have my own struggles with being a night owl which remind me of my own human frailty.

Update: I have been more successful at taking care of myself in the latter part of this week. I went kayaking with my husband today and feel so good afterwards. With my mobility issues exercise can be a dirty word and it can feel very cosy at home, even though I know it's not looking after myself.

My patience and perseverance with my daughter paid off and she has been spending more time with me and out of her room. So, I've tried to be available. It can be like leaving a little trail outside their bedroom door waiting for them to come out and thankfully she is responding.

Best wishes,


Dear @Birdwings ,

I hope you don’t mind me rather belatedly replying to your post, even though in the meantime it sounds like you have made some really good progress (and also Janine has offered some great support).

It sounds like your daughter has been through so much, and it makes sense that this would be affecting her mood and making it hard for her to participate in school at the moment. It’s good to hear that there are also some positives - her dancing, her relationship with you which is usually close, her brother, the teacher she is close to.

As you know, lots of people (both teens and adults) are finding the lockdown tough. So much of what we usually do to manage stress and connect with others isn’t possible right now. The impact of this isn’t always the same, so often people will have days or weeks which are better and worse. Retreating to a bedroom and not wanting to talk are really common when teens are going through a tough time. In lockdown it can also be a response to the rest of the household being home all the time. Since they can’t leave the house to get time away from family members, and people aren’t leaving for school or work, some teens can feel like they aren’t getting the personal space they need. People also tend to be more irritable and argue more when they are in close contact all the time without the chance for breaks (as you may have noticed pre-pandemic if you’ve been on road trips with your kids when they were younger).

I was really encouraged to see in your second post how you had responded to your daughter - by being patient, providing opportunities to spend time together, and giving her a chance to respond. The way you describe it, “leaving a trail” is such a great description. Aside from making her more likely to reach out, it also sends a message to your daughter about how you want your relationship with her to be - one where you offer support and encouragement, but also provide her with choice. I would imagine that there will continue to be ups and downs in terms of your daughter staying in her room, but I think you are on the right track and doing a great job keeping the lines of communication open. This can then lead your daughter to be more open to address some of the other things that are worrying you (though it may take some time).

I also like how you mentioned noticing something that went well as something you can do when you are feeling discouraged. What a great way to remind yourself of something positive! I’ve also seen people use this as a way to notice strengths and things which help. Done regularly, this can make it easier to identify small steps you can take to make things better.

It sounds like it has been an incredibly demanding year for you as well, so I am pleased to hear that you have been thinking about how you can take care of yourself. Kayaking sounds like a great activity - being in nature can be really emotionally nourishing, and it’s great to have an activity you can do with your husband - worrying about your kids can be tough on the relationship between parents as well, so it is helpful to spend time together.

I know it is really hard to take time for yourself when so much is happening, but I encourage you to do so when you can - it really can help you cope with stressful situations. Sometimes it might be something small, and it can help to pause and think “What do I really need at the moment?”. This might be doing something creative, gentle exercise (when mobility issues allow) or giving yourself permission to be unproductive.

Best wishes,


Linda is a psychologist experienced in working with people across the lifespan, including teenagers and their families, in a variety of settings, and is ReachOut's Clinical Lead.