Feeling Lonely

“Once there was a boy and one day he found a penguin at his door... the penguin looked sad and the boy thought it must be lost... and the more he thought the more he realised the penguin wasn't lost. He was just lonely” (JEFFERS).

It's not just penguins who feel lonely! Children as young as six years old have been getting in touch with Childline, which has reported an increase in loneliness in young people as they struggle with the pressures of growing up in today's society.

Feeling lonely image

A key reason given to counsellors for these feelings of loneliness and isolation was pressure from social media. Children compare themselves to online images of others and they feel “ugly” or “unpopular”. Lack of confidence and low self esteem follow so they withdraw, isolating themselves and becoming more unhappy. Other common reasons for loneliness are falling out with friends, struggling to fit in after moving house or school and losing someone close. (NSPCC).

It may be difficult for a child to put their feelings of loneliness into words but some signs to look for are that they always come out of school alone, they aren't invited on play dates or don't have friends around. They may sigh a lot and say they feel sad. They might spend a lot of time by themselves or in their room, but It's also important to remember some children may be content to spend time on their own, and that having company doesn’t always prevent loneliness (ACTION FOR CHILDREN). Children can be surrounded by their classmates at school but still feel lonely. Loneliness is a lack of meaningful relationships; it's quality, not quantity that counts.

The NSPCC suggests that we support children who are feeling lonely by talking to them about their feelings in a relaxed and neutral environment and ensuring we are really listening to what they say so that they feel valued in what they are telling us. We should be careful not to overreact, as this might stop them confiding in us again, and give it time – if they are not ready to talk straight away then try again in a few days time. If social media is an issue, then it's not as simple as taking your child's phone away, but a “ social holiday” might be a step in the right direction. However maybe this should apply to everyone in the family...we need to practice what we preach and it can be as hard for parents to unplug as it is for kids (WICK).

As a mum it's reassuring to know that another key factor protecting children from loneliness is the early experience of having what is called “a good-enough mother” (WINNICOTT). A good-enough parent or carer may not be perfect, but they care deeply and value their child for who they are, flaws and all. Children with good-enough parents are lucky to grow up with a deep rooted sense of contentment, carrying with them an ongoing sense of their parent's caring and attentive presence that protects against feelings of loneliness throughout their lives (TILLINGHAST).

Above all, we should try to build up our children’s confidence and self esteem. If they see themselves as unworthy, then how can they make friends? Feeling good about yourself helps you to build meaningful relationships with others, and crucially can also help you to value your own company and protect against feelings of loneliness. If we equip our children with a healthy dose of self esteem then they can better deal with whatever life throws at them: “I am not afraid of storms for I am learning to sail my own ship!” (ALCOTT).