If there’s anything more painful than being a chronically lonely person, it’s watching your child suffer from chronic loneliness: never being with friends, complaining that “nobody likes me,” becoming increasingly depressed and withdrawn. You long to help, but no amount of advice or matchmaking seems to do any good. What else can you do?
First, Don’t Mistake Natural Introversion For Loneliness
Real loneliness has little cause-and-effect relationship with being physically alone. If you’re the talkative, social-butterfly type, you may worry to see your child sitting alone, reading a book or building a model, on a regular basis. But if your child is absorbed and attentive, chances are the solo activity is what’s right for her—and that pestering her to “go out and spend more time with friends” will create loneliness by planting thoughts of, “Something’s wrong with me. People won’t like me because I’m different. I have to force myself to be someone I’m not.”
Help Children Learn to Like Themselves
If your naturally shy child—or your overly boisterous one—is in fact feeling hurt and shut out, he’ll likely seem bored and/or restless most of the time: to the lonely person, “no one to do anything with” is the same as “nothing to do.” Sadly, people with this problem reinforce their own loneliness because they feel unworthy of being liked and too dull for anyone else to be interested in; so they avoid or even antagonize others, to cut off the pain of rejection before it has a chance to happen.
You can’t solve this problem by handing your child “how-to” advice, especially advice that reinforces his negative self-image by implying he should be more outgoing/active/leadership-oriented than fits his natural personality. He needs to learn to appreciate himself for who he is—and to build confidence in his own initiative so he can learn to be alone without being lonely. Rather than trying to solve his lonely-and-bored problems for him, encourage him to seek out activities that build on his true interests. Combine this with going where other kids with those interests go (which can be anywhere from an online forum to a hobby shop), and much of the loneliness problem will solve itself.
Be There All the Way For Your Child
If your child doesn’t feel you are “with” her fully, it’ll be harder for her to become close to others. Kids vary in what sorts of attention they respond to, but there are certain habits to avoid with any child:
- Being obviously preoccupied when she’s talking
- Brushing off her interests with such comments as, “You’ll grow out of it”
- Being “too busy” to attend any of her games/recitals/performances—or showing up physically, but focusing on your phone/laptop instead of the program
Loneliness begins at home—and so do confidence and relationship skills. Are you building an atmosphere of acceptance and openness in your household?
Blessings to parents and children of all ages!