Every child needs time on their own now and again - even those who are very social. Some people feel very happy this way. But sometimes a young person will feel some sadness about being alone. They might want to spend more time with others, or wish they were closer to others.
It’s helpful to know that loneliness is just a feeling, not necessarily a measure of time spent socialising or number of friends. But there are also things you can do to give your child a feeling of belonging.
What causes loneliness?
When someone feels lonely, there is probably a mismatch between the relationships they want and those they have. Feelings of loneliness can also be linked to:
A change like moving house or starting a new school
Being away from friends and family
Feeling different to the people around you
Having an illness or disability
Losing a loved one or ending a relationship
Being bullied or abused
Social media can also contribute, if used in the wrong way. Social networks allow young people to connect with others, But they can also make them feel more distant from peers - if they see friends doing things without them, for example.
What are the signs of loneliness?
If a young person is feeling lonely, they may:
Be unlikely to talk about having friends
Seem quiet or withdrawn
Lose their appetite
Mention that they have no one to sit with at school
Use social media a lot but never out with friends
Are sad for no obvious reason
How can I help give my child a sense of belonging?
Try having a chat about positive relationships. Keep it light - show an interest in their friends or peers, and ask how they feel about them. Let them know it’s OK to be alone sometimes. Simply spending time with your child will also help them feel loved.
If you’re worried that your child is lonely:
Remind them that loneliness is a feeling, not a measure of number of friends or time spent interacting socially.
Celebrate their achievements. Help them learn to take on responsibilities and face fears.
Show by example. If you’re feeling lonely, your child may be mirroring this. Consider trying to meet more people through groups, activities or other parents.
Try not to be dismissive when your child wants to fit in with the culture of their peers, as long as it doesn’t carry any risk.
Suggest they take note of how their social media usage affects their mood. If something is making them feel more lonely, could they use it less and focus on sites that make them feel positive about themselves?
See if there are groups or activities in your local area that your child would be interested in. If they have a disability, find out about the local offer in your area for disabled children.
Speak to a teacher or other member of staff at your child’s school – they can look out for signs once they’re aware.
Encourage your child to watch out for other children who seem to be lonely - for example, in the playground - and chat to them.
Tips developed by Action for Children and Young Minds.