And now Childline has revealed the extent of loneliness in young people, as new data made public shows that the charity receives more than 4,000 calls every single year because of loneliness. With girls five times more likely than boys to contact the NSPCC helpline over this issue.
“Although most kids will feel lonely for short periods as they grow up and negotiate how to handle friendships and relationships, when it becomes an ongoing issue, then it’s time to gently take action and provide the support they need.”
So we spoke to Ranson and Amanda Gummer, child psychologist at Fundamentally Children, to learn about eight steps parents can take if they are worried that their child is lonely and not able to make friends.
1. Establish whether this is “true” loneliness.
Before you go ahead and turn this into a bigger issue than it may be, you should establish whether this is a period of isolation that is circumstantial, rather than an ongoing problem.
Amanda Gummer, child psychologist Fundamentally Children, said: “There’s a big difference between true loneliness (feeling that you have no one to share things with) and not having any friends available to play with when you want to.”
2. Talk to their teachers.
Ranson says it is a good idea to make contact with your child’s teachers or other guardians who can help, after all - a problem shared...
“Talk to school or nursery about your concerns, they are the experts and will be able to reassure you or give you strategies to help,” she said.
“In some cases children who say they are lonely and don’t play with anyone are exaggerating and the truth is very different! In other cases there could be playground politics/bullying happening that can be addressed. Always talk to the professionals in the first instance.”
3. Avoid victim mentality.
Even if it is the case that your child is suffering with being lonely at school (or at home) do not go down the path of letting them claim victimhood. This won’t help them in the long term.
“Try to avoid the victim mentality and talk to them about what a good friend is and how they should act to be a good friend to others,” said Gummer.
4. Rely on family.
The first solution that you can try stems from family. Ranson says “our cousins are our first friends” and instead of relying on peers and classmates, family is generally easier to organise and more reliable.
“Organise plenty of family activities so your child has a chance to socialise with other children they know well and trust,” said Ranson.
5. Be proactive inviting friends to your house.
If you don’t have any family you can ask, then do take the initiative in inviting your child’s friends round to play. If you don’t already know who these people would be, then ask your child to name them.
“Organise a playdate/dinner at your house each week for the next few weeks,” suggests Ranson.
“Schedule them for the weekend if you’re working. If your child is shy and lonely they might need help and encouragement with activities at the playdate so have ideas. For example, board games or crafts that they can get involved in.”
6. Give them solo projects.
As well as helping to surround your child with other children their own age, make sure you are not just plastering over the problem with a short-term solution. If you think that the loneliness might be a product of them never having learned to spend time in their own company, then work on that.
Gummer said: “Help children engage with projects that they can do on their own (not on social media) and help them feel good about themselves by giving them space to just ‘be’.”
7. Don’t be overbearing in your help.
In the same way that your child never having to spend time alone can ironically make them feel lonely, being overbearing won’t help either as it doesn’t allow your child to develop the tools and coping mechanisms needed when they inevitably have to spend time alone.
“Resist the urge to get involved and let the children play themselves,” said Ranson.
“See who your child gets on best with and invite them back.”
8. Don’t force your child to do anything they don’t want to.
Finally, no matter what you see the problem to be, don’t force your child to do anything that they aren’t comfortable with.
“Don’t force your child to do anything you think would be good for them. Take the time to bring them around to the idea if they’re initially resistant,” Ranson advised.
“Don’t push your child to go back to the other child’s house if they don’t want to - keep the playdates at your house if that works best for your child.”