Research confirms that many young children understand the concept of loneliness and report feeling lonely.
Children of all ages who feel lonely can feel excluded, sad, bored, or even sick. They often have trouble making friends. These children need the support of the caring adults in their lives so they can develop the social skills and confidence to overcome loneliness.
Difficulties Lonely Children Face
Many children who describe themselves as lonely may be experiencing any of the following:
- Low self-esteem
- Awkwardness with others
- Harsh self-criticism.
All of these issues make children less likely to join in activities and form friendships, isolating them further and making it all the more difficult for them to improve their self-esteem. It can become a self-defeating cycle.
When lonely children do make friends, they can be more vulnerable to negative peer pressure to use drugs, alcohol or tobacco, hoping to please their new acquaintances so they will keep on being friends.
A lonely teen is at greater risk for making unhealthy choices about alcohol or seeking comfort in “togetherness” drugs like ecstasy.
Adolescence, especially, can be a roller-coaster ride. So many aspects of a teen’s life are changing, including his or her body, his or her relationships with friends and family, academic challenges, and plans for his or her future. This could test anyone’s confidence and self-esteem.
Here are some tips for helping a lonely teen:
- Listen: Be there to listen to your child with acceptance and compassion. Too often, children learn from peers and adults to ignore or discount their own feelings. They may think there is nothing you, as their parent, can do to help them, but your attention and encouragement can make a real difference.
- Suggest new activities: You can help your child meet new friends and build confidence in his or her abilities by encouraging him or her to try new activities, such as volunteering in the community, joining a hobby club, participating in a musical group, acting in a play or joining a sports team. Find activities that bring out the best in the child, and introduces him or her to new people. Let the child choose an enjoyable activity, and encourage him or her to balance between activities and new or challenging pursuits.
- Help practice social skills: Children may feel unsure about the “right way” to act to fit in. A parent or other trusted adult may be one of the few people who can have an open discussion with him or her about this, and your advice about social conduct and healthy relationships may provide the encouragement and preparation that is needed. Let a child observe your relationships, especially those that are longstanding. Talk about your friendships openly – the good times and the not-so-good times, the ups, and the downs. A child should learn how putting effort into relationships is what contributes to their value and longevity. It is also helpful to practice refusal skills and provide insight on how to say no to alcohol, tobacco, and drugs. This will allow the child to be more confident in the face of negative peer pressure.
- Seek help for persistent problems: If your child always seems sad, withdrawn, anxious, or self-critical, he or she may be struggling with depression or anxiety. Talk about feelings, and keep communicating. Note the behaviors or other symptoms that worry you, how long they have been going on, how often they occur, and how severe they seem to be.
I hope this helps.
- Administration for Children & Families: www.acf.hhs.gov
- American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry: www.aacap.org