Educators and parents alike are often faced with a modern day conundrum: How to support a lonely child.
A lonely child may be a grade school or high school age student that expresses loneliness on a regular basis.
It is important to distinguish the difference between solitude and loneliness.
Solitude is a state of being alone that is welcomed and enjoyable while loneliness is an unwelcome state that is often accompanied by anxiety, fear and sadness.
A lonely child left unnoticed and the loneliness untreated can contribute to increased social problems and even depression.
Often educators are on the front line for noticing and helping a lonely child.
According to child physiologist Steven A. Szykula, Ph.D. helping a lonely child is one of the most difficult and important things any educator or parent can do.
Children often feel lonely due to anxiety and excessive shyness. They may have trouble with social interaction with their peers, which is causing them to feel lonely, and they may feel lonely because they are not getting enough attention from their parents at home.
Some, like Susan Newman, Ph.D., have argued that in the digital age it is almost impossible for there to be a lonely child. That somehow the Internet connects children with one another like HDMI cables connect machines.
However, digital loneliness is also a growing issue. For example, there are Get Friends Websites for gamers who need to have Facebook friends to play certain online games but lack them.
These websites basically allow a lonely child to adopt a group of fake friends so that they can play the games even if they don’t have any real Facebook friends. The sites are very popular.
From an educator’s perspective, alerting parents to a lonely child is the first step in dealing with the problem.
Often busy parents are unaware that their child is a lonely child and may need more of their time and attention.
In the best cases just a little effort on the behalf of a parent to spend more time with their child doing things their child enjoys can cure a child’s loneliness.
For more difficult cases of loneliness that stem for excessive shyness and anxiety it is best to enlist not only the parents’ help but also professional help for dealing with the loneliness.
Often a lonely child will not react well to being pushed to interact more socially with other children because their loneliness is a product of fear.
Pushing a lonely child just increases their resistance and reluctance to engage in social situations. According to Szukula it is better to let the child know that he/she can have help from an adult to facilitate social situations like playing with other children.
Ultimately a lonely child is still in control of asking for the interaction but the adult helps to facilitate it. Working as a team to increase socialization gives the child increased confidence and added support.
The first step in helping a lonely child is to recognize the problem and start a dialog to address it. Our youngsters need and deserve to have happy full social lives just as much as they need food or warm clothes.
Educators and parents can help a lonely child find friends and new beginnings.