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8 Ways to Spot Loneliness in Children

Although our job, as teachers, is primarily to impart information and ensure that our students are well educated, most of us would probably admit that the main attraction to the profession lies in the pastoral element of the job. We want to nurture and inspire our children, to help them grow into happy, healthy and well-adjusted adults. Providing this care and attention to each child equally is a difficult balancing act, as not all children require the same attention, and it is very easy to miss a child in need if they are not specifically asking for help, or if they are not one of the children in your class who demands attention.

Loneliness has always been an issue in young children, and it is not always easy to spot. There are plenty of strategies that can be put in place (LINK: https://www.theatlantic.com/notes/2016/09/less-silence-about-silence/498854/) to combat a child’s loneliness with relative ease, the real issue is how to spot it. With so much happening in the average school day, with so many demands from various children constantly coming your way, how do you find time to identify the lonely students in your classroom? By familiarising yourself with these tell-tale signs, recognising and addressing those children’s needs should be a whole lot easier.

Neediness

Often, there will be a child in your class who is constantly chewing your ear off. They ask you seemingly irrelevant questions, they are constantly interrupting you, or they regularly seek your approval for even the most mundane of achievements. This shows a craving for interaction, and any response to anything will do. They are trying to fill a hole in their life, a life which may lack conversation, connection or attention in general.

Sadness

Sadness manifests itself in various ways. Unfortunately, all too often, a child’s sadness will come out as an explosion; a tantrum or breakdown of some kind. Although this is a pretty obvious display of sadness, and hard for you to miss, it is often a result of a lot of built up emotion. This ‘build-up’ will have done much more damage than if you had caught it earlier. Sadness can often be identified if a child is not behaving as they usually would, if they are ‘out-of-sorts’. Perhaps a normally upbeat child has quietened down a lot lately? Maybe a child has started crying or sobbing over small issues, rejecting your help and consoling or showing disinterest in activities they would normally find exciting?

Poor Social Skills

Loneliness is often a side-effect of poor social skills. Children will quite bluntly reject any child that is difficult to get along with. It’s a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation as bad social skills lead to loneliness, but loneliness also leads to bad social skills. As you have likely experienced, the social map of your classroom becomes apparent quite early on in the school year. You will know which children play on their own at break times, which children constantly misunderstand basic social signs and which children you, yourself, perceive to be difficult to communicate with. You must be vigilant about trying to find ways to include these children in your classes social life, and about teaching your other children the values of inclusivity and how to get along with people who are different from themselves. Here are some simple strategies to help encouraging inclusivity in your classroom: 10 Items That Can Make Your Classroom More Inclusive 

Withdrawn

If you notice that a child has become withdrawn, then loneliness is likely the reason. This is easy to see if you are dealing with a child that is normally very involved in school life. You may see this child engaging in solo activities a lot more: reading, drawing, writing or solo play. Perhaps you notice them sitting by themselves at break times, eating alone, or refusing to participate in group activities? You may also see a reduction in their self-esteem; losing confidence in their work, their choices or being reluctant to present to the class. 

Attention Seeking

Alternatively, the child in question may not be quiet or reclusive at all! Through a desperate need for attention and interaction, they may express clear attention seeking behaviour. It may be as obvious as the child constantly requesting that you look at them or engaging in outlandish or ‘forbidden’ behaviours in order to draw you to them.

Behavioural Issues

Bad behaviour is generally reactive in young children. They may not have engaged with the cognitive reasoning that could make their bad behaviour targeted or fully intentional. With this in mind, the reason for consistent bad behaviour tends to stem from a fairly clear source. Lonely children act out, as they do not have the reasoning to identify their feelings or to talk about them. There are a number of different ways in which you might wish tackle bad behaviour in your classroom. Check some out here: 25 Sure Fire Strategies for Handling Difficult Students 

Imaginary Friends

Imaginary friends are not necessarily a cause for concern, they are often a good way for a child to express an active imagination. However, on the flip side, it can also be a sign of extreme loneliness, so keep an eye out for this.

They Tell You

Children are often quite literal, and don’t offer a lot of nuance or subtext. A lot of the time, lonely children will directly inform you that this is the case. They may not say “I am lonely”, but if you recognise the phrases “I don’t have any friends”, “So-and-so’ doesn't want to play with me”, or “nobody likes me”, then you might have a lonely child on your hands.

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