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Spot the loner

Is your child lonely? How do you spot the signs?

Most parents like to think their child will be popular at school, but not all children are good at making friends. Some kids don’t seem to ‘fit in’ for all kinds of reasons. Why might your child feel lonely?

  • If your child feels that they’re not achieving as well as expected – whether that’s true or not – they can turn inwards. They may be afraid of disappointing you, or simply that they will be a big fat failure and those feelings can take over, blowing a stray remark up out of all proportions.
  • Social media has a lot to answer for. Youngsters often see a glossy version of life online and feel that they’ve fallen short if they’re not happy all the time and living a ‘fulfilled’ life. Sometimes schoolmates can pick them out for teasing because they are different and conversations on social media can be hurtful.
  • If the family has gone through difficulties, whether that’s parents splitting up, money troubles, a move to a new location or a bereavement, children can internalise their worries and cut themselves off from others, either deliberately or simply because they stop communicating.
  • They may feel different, especially if they are LGBT and are going through different feelings at puberty to those of the other young people at school. This can make them feel isolated, confused or misunderstood.

Does your child have a problem?

Given that many teenagers go through that grumpy ‘Kevin’ stage – just because they’re teenagers, it can be hard to spot the difference between a teen who is lonely and one who is simply being ‘hormonal’.

Younger children suffering from loneliness can be easier to see, as they aren’t trying to deal with rapidly changing hormones at the same time.

Loneliness can also trigger mental health issues like depression and have an impact on physical health. There’s some useful information on the BBC Radio 4 Loneliness Experiment.

Watch out for:

  • Changes in eating – poor body image can result in overeating or in developing anorexia or bulimia.
  • Reluctance to be seen in swimwear or revealing summer clothing. Some children who resort to self-harming can be very clever in keeping their scars covered.
  • Any sign that your child may be taking drugs or drinking alcohol, other than whatever you allow on family occasions.
  • An absence of friends coming round and no external activities.
  • Any comments in the teacher’s comments on their school report that may indicate your child is isolated.
  • Signs of depression or the discovery that your child is crying alone in their room.

All of these issues need to be addressed – not all of them indicate loneliness, but all of them need addressing. Often you can’t help, as you are much too close to the problem. If your child won’t talk to you or you find it difficult to have an objective conversation, consult a professional counsellor or, perhaps, a child psychologist.

It’s important to reassure your child that they are loved (no matter how difficult they are being). Without a doubt, being the parent of a child who has problems is never easy, but it’s up to you to stay strong and give your child as much support as possible.