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What is Loneliness?

Loneliness is a significant concern that can make young children susceptible to immediate and long-term negative repercussions. For a lonely child, it might be difficult to gauge that state of mind. Their usual responses would be “feeling bored”, “nothing to do” etc. Older children might not even want to share for the fear of being judged or being misunderstood.  For a disabled child, they could lack friends despite their family’s best efforts. 

Research suggests that children who report feeling lonely experience poor peer relationships and therefore express more loneliness than their peers with friends. This leads them to feel excluded, which can be detrimental to their self-esteem. Additionally, they may experience feelings of dejection and isolation. Besides, these early childhood experiences that contribute to loneliness can also continue during adolescence and adulthood.

As a result, lonely children may lose out on important chances to interact with their peers and to learn important lifelong skills of relationship building. Many such skills which would be required in the corporate world to be successful and build one’s career. Several behavioural problems while growing up could also in part be attributed to loneliness.

Peer interactions and friendships are necessary for a children's development; thus, it is essential for parents to look out for any such early signs of loneliness and take effective steps to help their children thereafter.

Signs to identify Loneliness in your Child

Participating in careful observation of youngsters may be a necessary initiative to realize insights into children's loneliness. Below are some of the signs that parents can look for-

  • Talks a lot – one among the primary signs of a lonely kid is that he/she talks a lot. Children who feel a requirement for social interaction tend to speak constantly. If at all, this is not reciprocated by parents and at school they do not have friends; they can resort to make believe friends, imaginary friends whom they play with or even have conversations with at length.
  • Seeks attention –When children are constantly seeking attention, it is another important clue to look out for. Sometimes the child might do certain acts that bring attention to them – this could be purposefully being naughty or even difficult.
  • Lacks social skills – Most lonely children lack social skills that they need to get along with others. Some situations to look out for would be, if your child is coming out of school alone always? Is he or she invited to birthday parties/play dates with other children? Does your child have others to play with in the neighbourhood?
  • Sad – Lonesome children can feel very unhappy. They may sometimes start crying for no apparent reason and would not want any consoling. This site can be heart breaking for parents who often have no clue as to the underlying problem.
  • Interactions with other children - Does your child show a lack of interest in their surroundings? Do they seem to be rejected by other children?
  • Says so – The most definitive sign your kid is lonely is when he/she says so. They might not come right out and say “I’m lonely”, but may use phrases like “Nobody likes me”, or “I don’t have any friends.” These kids are really seeking help and their pleas shouldn’t be ignored.
  • Personality - Does your child appear timid, anxious, unsure of himself or herself, or sad?
  • Duration - Does your child's apparent loneliness seem to be a consistent pattern over time, or is it a more of a recent phenomenon?

When a parent recognises that their child is lonely, it would require intervention in the right direction. The first step would be to sit with your spouse and talk about what you have observed. For instance, have they too noticed something similar?

Thereafter, it will take some extra attention and time from busy schedules to look at options to consider dealing with this concern.

Essentially, parents are not going to be able to pressurize other children to like their child, but can help their child in gaining required support and understanding what could be going on at their end.

Sometimes loneliness cannot always be observed in children, for example, there could be children who appear to have friends but can report to feel lonely. In this case, spend time with your child. You might want to speak to them to check in on how they are feeling and even ask them specific questions like “What does being sad and lonely mean for you?”,  “Are you feeling sad or lonely?” Parents can also share their observations and allow their children to let them know on what they would like for them to feel happier.

Research also suggests that children who have secure attachments with their parents have better quality friendships and that parents play a big role in teaching children how to make friends. Such children eventually build skills like caring, sharing, being helpful and have strong verbal skills to keep their aggressive impulses in check.

Most of all, popular kids are good at interpersonal skills: empathy, perspective-taking, and moral reasoning (Slaughter et al 2002; Dekovic and Gerris 1994).

However, it is natural to feel worried if children don’t seem to fit in a particular mold. Instead what needs to be remembered is, like any other skill, social skills can be learned, and, besides that, being social or outgoing isn't the end goal in itself. The most important aspect here is to ensure if children are able to form meaningful bonds with others, can empathize and interact with others appropriately, and have the skills to adapt in uncomfortable situations.

Strategies to help your child build social skills

Talk to your child- Show an interest in their friends and relationships. Talk to them about what healthy friendships are and ask them how they feel about their friendships.  Try not to be dismissive or discouraging when your child wants to fit in with the culture of their peers, as long as this doesn’t carry any kind of risk.

Show by example- If you were a lonely child, or are a lonely adult, your child might be mirroring this. Make more friends of your own, for example through groups, activities, other parents. Organise play dates at home. See if there are groups or activities in your local area that your child would be interested in.

Support your child- To building their resilience, such as celebrating achievements, taking on responsibilities, understanding other people’s feelings, and facing fears. Remember that loneliness is a feeling, not a measure of number of friends or time spent interacting socially.

Speak to a teacher- Talk to your child’s teachers and other members of staff at your child’s school – they may be able to help but also look out for signs once they are aware of the difficulties your child is facing.

Find alternative methods- Help your child become aware of ways by which they can enhance their communication and confidence with all sorts of people. e.g. texts to friends and relatives; chatting with neighbours; telling jokes; learning magic tricks.

Coach children on how to cope with tricky social situations- As parents, you could advise them by helping them think through certain questions.

  • Before making their approach, ask them to watch what the other kids are doing. What can they do to fit in?
  • Ask them to try joining the game by doing something relevant. For example, if kids are playing a restaurant game, suggest them to see if they can become a new customer.
  • Help them to not be disruptive or critical or try to change the game.
  • And if the other kids don’t want you to join in, not trying to force them but to find something else to do.

Everyone feels lonely sometimes, but if your concerns are going on for a long time, you may want to step in and help. Seek advice if you suspect there might be underlying concerns which you’ve been able to observe in your children.

If you would like to discuss this further or need some help or support in this or any other area, our counsellors would be happy to help.

Online Counselling Place an online request for an Appointment Call 1800 270 1790

If you would like to discuss this further or need some help or support in this or any other area, our counsellors would be happy to help. 

Online Counselling     Place an online request for an Appointment    Call 1800 270 1790

 

 

 

 

References:

https://www.parentingscience.com/kids-make-friends.html

https://lifehacker.com/how-can-i-help-my-kids-develop-better-social-skills-1557575829

https://www.parentingscience.com/friendship-in-children.html

https://www.actionforchildren.org.uk/media/9724/action_for_children_it_starts_with_hello_report__november_2017_lowres.pdf

https://www.mentalhelp.net/articles/loneliness-in-young-children/

https://www.parentingscience.com/kids-make-friends.html

 

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