Everyone gets lonely once in awhile. However, more and more children are suffering from chronic loneliness, which can lead to more serious mental illnesses like anxiety and depression. In fact, a recent study has shown that nearly 50% of modern kids suffer loneliness; thousands of children are receiving counseling for it in the U.K., and even more in the United States.
The reasons vary from child to child – sometimes social media can contribute, while other times it’s bullying. Despite the cause, it’s important to support your children as much as possible to help them navigate their feelings and keep them from developing more serious issues. Here are some ways you can help a child who’s struggling with loneliness.
To fully help your child work through their feelings of loneliness, you’ll need to understand the root cause. In general, loneliness can be divided into two types: emotional loneliness, which tends to happen when a kid suddenly loses a source of emotional support like a parent, and social loneliness, which is when a child feels alienated from a group of friends or family.
Social media can be a significant contributor to social loneliness. Since many young people only present the best aspects of themselves on Instagram and Facebook, and children tend to not understand that, they can feel unattractive and unpopular compared to their peers. Social media adds a high level of pressure for kids to conform – and if they can’t, they feel isolated.
The rising number of single-child households also contributes to loneliness. The most recent figures suggest that nearly 25% of American families have one child, contributing to the rising number of kids being counseled for their issues with loneliness. Without siblings to interact with, kids can feel a sense of isolation – especially if they don’t have many close friends.
It’s possible that the reason for your child’s sense of isolation is neither of these issues. If that’s the case, then you will need to talk with them to find the cause; this way, you can really help them find a sense of belonging.
One key to beating loneliness, especially emotional loneliness, is for a kid to learn to enjoy their own company. If a child is content being on their own, they often develop a sense of self-confidence and less of a desperate desire to be around others. This, in turn, is an attractive quality that will help them build a social circle. And this makes sense, in a way – it’s usually the happy, self-assured people who draw in others, even among adults.
To help kids build self-confidence, help them recognize their own abilities. Give your child praise for working hard and performing well, and don’t criticize failure; instead, help them figure out another way to approach the task. This will help them develop skills and feel confident about those skills, which will then help them feel confident in themselves in general.
Many parents jump to this part first – they see a cure for loneliness as just getting more friends. However, if you skip over the confidence-building, it might be difficult for your child to hang onto the friends you introduce them to. This is why it’s important to help your kid feel self-assured before moving on to providing social support.
Once you reach this stage, however, helping your child out with making friends can be extremely valuable. Consider throwing a small party and inviting families from the neighborhood, and introducing your kid to the children who show up with their parents. You can also invite children over for playdates if your child expresses interest in being friends with them.
The trick here, though, is to not be overzealous – there are few things more embarrassing for a kid than their parents desperately trying to find them a friend.
If your child seems to have trouble connecting with other kids, consider introducing them to new activities. This will keep them busy, help them develop new skills to build confidence, and possibly introduce them to new social networks.
To be most effective, ask your child about any activities they may be interested in. Gently try to steer them towards more social ones – instead of piano lessons, maybe they can try out the school band. Instead of reading alone, maybe they can join a book club. As long as your kid enjoys the activity, they are more likely to make natural connections with others without too much of your interference.
It can be heartbreaking to see your child standing alone on the playground or avoiding social situations. By paying attention to the root causes and taking careful steps to help them out of their shell, you can make sure your kid builds confidence and has a healthy social life.