What to do when our children say they are lonely....
Can we, or should we, save them from that......?
Whilst some children strive for independence and autonomy, others hold back. For those who constantly seek support, their own resources may not feel enough, and their sense of safety is increased when they can rely on others. Whilst in itself this is not always problematic, a child who resists ever being lonely can be over-dependent on peers and parents and fail to develop a sense of being able to manage alone.
Unfortunately, despite our tribe, family and friends, there are things we must do alone. Freaking out when there is a need to be in the bathroom alone, the bed alone or just buying time til the next person to play with, creates tensions in the family home. Others become impatient and over-worked if someone is needy and they get pulled into that child’s ‘wants’ with a sense of conflict – knowing that they are feeding the fears rather than developing the determination to face what is hard – and yet desiring to avoid the emotions and dramas of the avoidant child.
I NEED MY MUM or DAD....
This child usually feels a sense of threat from the world. They may fear ‘bad’ without really having a conscious sense of what could go wrong. Thus they are hedging their bets by having a parent in place who can problem solve and emotionally support them. They may insist that their needs be honored ‘in case’ this or that happens…..but usually the worse that can happen is that the child will come face to face with their own feelings of uncertainty and feel on edge or tip into distress.
I NEED MY SIBLING.....
This child feels a sense of restlessness of ‘not enough’ when they don't have a play companion. They maybe less in need of a person than of ideas, direction, motivation to start and activity or encouragement and fun to see it through. They hover and easily feel ignored or dismissed, perhaps failing to see the needs of the sibling as equal to their own. They get stuck in longing to have something to do and someone to do it with.
I NEED MORE FRIENDS..... This child may not be without friends, they simply seek ‘more’ as an insurance so they never have to play along. This ‘safety in numbers’ approach means they fail to develop deeper connections and best-buddy friendships – their radar for new friends pulls them along to play with a wider group, or their fear of conflict means they tend to leave good friends when things get difficult and seek new play partners.
HOW TO HELP.....
Lots of children who resist feeling lonely are under-powered and over-supported. They have devoted parents who answer every question, help them plan for all their daily needs and sooth things down so that they don't have to get upset about things because they get help before their frustrations grow.
Their parents are really good at anticipating their needs, reading the early signs of inner conflict and finding pathways towards successful and sure outcomes. Their parents are controlling their world so they don't have to to stumble, be sad, be stuck or reach reactive.
Whilst this is admirable, as children grow they need to become more conscious of problems (outside in their world and thoughts and feelings inside themselves) and to be encouraged to face difficulties, find words for them and figure their way through them….. with many different ways of coping (not always the ‘best’ ways but many ways. This encourages a cautious child towards the courage to face life and figure it out.
Asking them to 'HELP YOURSELF' is the start of this process.....
Passing the moments of difficulty back to the child and asking ‘how will you help yourself’ is a useful start point. Looking around at how others help themselves is another. Finding useful thoughts and actions to have the feeling AND do something that works, even marginally, is the beginning of the process of self-support.
So lonely children might – l
look around for someTHING to help rather than someone, a toy or an activity
look within to find their ‘brave’ and decide to manage alone with courage
look to life, to the thing they fear and to know that they have some resources to manage it
look to small steps….like being able to wait, being hopeful of support in a while, being understanding that others cant always be there, being patient until others can be ready to share time, being aware that their need is not always one that can be met and sitting in some discomfort.
Or they could just be encouraged to start their own problem solving so they build a sense of trust in their own ability to manage, even the hard moments of life- like being alone.
LONELY IS A “ME-FIRST” PLACE.....
It does happen that some children are a little self-centred in their needs, but usually they are not the most self-reliant of their peer group. They tend to pull others in because they have not yet grown the strengths to manage better. This looks like ‘selfish’ but really the child has less choice, because they have less means available to manage. Thus their view will be more egoic.
Lets not judge or blame – lets offer the true support of assisting their thinking process to become kids who feel capable and their caution to manage alone will reduce.