January 15, 2018
Adolescence is a trying time. They need us daily even though they seem to despise our ideas and overtures. We need to be aware that the family structure that provides support for many children has changed. Work often interferes with parenting. Recognizing these changes as they exist in each child's world is the first step in identifying a potential lonely child in need. Changing the family, work or local social structure may be impossible, however, being aware of these differences can lead us to find ways to mitigate the child's lonely feelings.
Red Flags: If you note that your child struggles with making friends, is not getting invited to any parties,is getting in trouble or seems disconnected with the school, check in with them patiently. You will likely meet resistance to your first inquiry. The truth is painful for them. Be a listener and let them own their reality. Ask them, "how can I help?" They likely just need your time, but will not ask for it.
Giving of your time is probably the greatest tool in your toolkit. Spend it as often as you can. After that psychological love base is reestablished, then proceed with other interventions.
Consider joining different groups that will offer a source of friendship that aligns with your child. The easy one is a sports team, but equally beneficial can be a faith based teen group like Young Life or a vocational approach where giving is a priority. Increase the frequency of family hikes and outings. Consider adding peers to come along to challenge and encourage your child to make friendships.
In a book by Dale Carnegie called How to Win Friends and Influence People, he lays out some interesting albeit simplistic ways to attract friends. The basic principles are what is lost in those that cannot perceive emotion or social cues well.
Teaching your kids simple truths about friendship can be very powerful. I think of the character, Alan Turing, played by Benedict Cumberbatch in the movie the Immitation Game. He lacked all of the basic tools for friendship and seemed not too care. Over time that reality proved false. He would have certainly benefited from some emotional quotient education.
Helping children at very young ages can change a life for the better as they can acquire basic tools for friendship development.
1) Smiling often and calling people by their first name are simple and valuable tools to being a friend.
2) Avoid the argument that is unnecessary. It is a rare day that you prove someone wrong and they enjoy the experience. Teach your children wisely when it is ok to argue a truth and when it would be best to let it go. This is especially true when it is opinion of truth as in the case of politics or religion. Facts that are known are a place to set the record straight if it is necessary. If it is in a work environment, then showing the truth if it is provable in a way that is not aggressive and cocky is recommended.
3) Teach them to listen often. Most people enjoy being listened too. It is not necessary to understand why they feel as they do so much as they feel heard. It is not your job to make anyone feel better or fix their problem. Frankly, that is often counter productive as the obstacle that they are facing is the way to happiness through self success. Trial, error, failure, trial, error, failure, trial and success! Listen. guide and do not do for them.
4) Try not to criticize. Teaching someone in a loving way is far different in its reception than criticism. The value in your critique is low versus the negative backlash that comes with it.
5) Appreciate the little things where you can. Everyone has a quality that can be admired. Find it in the person and let them know. I find this to be extremely powerful in life. If someone is lonely and feeling under appreciated, this simple act is beyond powerful.
6) Learn about what someone likes and desires. Identifying with someones wants and desires is a great way to start a relationship.
7) Admit when you are wrong. Period!
Hopefully, teaching techniques of behavior related to friendship, joining peer groups and having more family time, will begin the process of avoiding loneliness. However, when the lonely world is not disappearing for them, get involved with a psychologist that can offer tools and management help.
Since we know that lonely children go on to be lonely adults, let's stop the cycle before it begins.
Loving and teaching,