Tips for parents

With more than half of parents telling us that loneliness is a problem, we want to help to make sure that parents have the support and confidence they need for their child and themselves. 

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In our recent poll of over 2000 parents, more than half had experienced a problem with loneliness, with a fifth feeling lonely in the last week and findings from a 2017 Mumsnet survey found that more than half of parents said problems with low self confidence was a cause of loneliness, with well over half feeling lonely at the school gate or at playgroups.

There is some support available. Parenting classes, children centre and home visiting schemes can help people to make small changes that enhance people’s sense of competence as parents and satisfaction in parenting.

If you'd like to find some support in your area, you can use the search below to find your nearest Action for Children service.

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Tips for parents

As well as parents struggling with their own loneliness, we know that many are concerned about loneliness being an issue for the children. We've provided some top tips below to help your child if you're worried about them being lonely.

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How can you tell if your child is feeling lonely?

As a parent or carer, it can be heart-breaking to see your child feel lonely. Even if a child or young person doesn’t say "I'm lonely", you are likely to pick up signs, for example:

  • Always comes out of school alone.
  • Isn’t invited on play dates.
  • Doesn’t go out with mates or have them round.
  • Seems to have a cloud over their head and sighs to themselves a lot.
  • Says that they feel sad or depressed.
  • Spends a lot of time by themselves/ in their room.
Loneliness - young people

Talking to your child about loneliness

Your child may be able to articulate the source of their sadness – ‘no one played with me today’, ‘I’m finding it hard to make friends’, ‘I don’t fit in’. However, they may also not be so self-aware or may be unwilling to talk to you about it.

If you are worried they might be feeling lonely, ask them whether they have people they consider close friends, who they spent time with during the school day, or whether there is anyone that they would like to spend time with outside of school. You could also change the focus to other children at school who might seem lonely, and think together about what kinds of things would help.

Alone but not lonely

Almost everyone enjoys at least some alone time, some people more than others. This includes children and young people. This may be due to being introverted, being interested in solitary activities like reading, or a host of other reasons. If your child is spending a lot of time alone but seems content, it may well not be something to worry about.

However, if a young person would like to develop friendships but is anxious about this or finding it difficult, they may feel that spending time alone is an easier option but would benefit from support in building social relationships. The key is how the individual young person feels about what they do with their time. There is no set rule for how much social time is 'normal'.

Lonely but not alone

The number of friends you have is not the same as whether you feel lonely or not. Some people may only have a very few close friends but feel happy that way, while others may be part of a broad social circle but feel isolated within that.

Talking to your child about healthy relationships isn't just about romantic relationships, and can be helpful at any time. Whether it's about how to share and be nice to others or what to do when a friend is unkind, teaching your child how to be a good friend and how to know when someone else is being a good friend to them can be a good way into discussing and addressing these issues. Remember the importance of being a positive role model by showing how your own friendships and relationships 'work'.

Social skills can take practice just like anything else, and you can help your child learn how to strike up conversations with new people, maybe by modelling this yourself when you're out together.

The Internet

Recent research looked at the impact of different popular social media sites on young people’s wellbeing. Some platforms ran higher risks of having a negative impact due to potentially promoting unrealistic ideals of lifestyle and body image, while others had a higher chance of making young people feel part of a community of shared interests3. A recent Royal Society for Public Health study found that 16 – 25 year olds saw as having a positive impact on their health including reducing feelings of loneliness, while Instagram was rated most negatively4.

Make sure you are having ongoing conversations with your children about using the internet in a responsible and age-appropriate way and that you have parental controls set up as necessary. The internet can be hugely beneficial in allowing young people to form friendships with people from all over the world, which may be particularly useful if they’re struggling to make friends closer to home.

However, there are also risks that the internet can expose young people to harassment and harm, as well as making them feel more isolated rather than less. Try to keep an open communication channel with your children about their internet use – showing interest without judgement and making them aware of potential pitfalls.

If they express interest in meeting a friend from the internet, make sure this is safely facilitated.

Here’s some advice on keeping your children safe online.

School

School is a huge part of most children and young people's social life. Schools should provide you with information about their pastoral care, including anti-bullying policies and so on. If you have a concern, a teacher who knows your child should be able to tell you more about how they're getting on.

Many primary schools will pay close attention to what happens in the playground, and some have specific initiatives to make sure that children don't feel left out. Secondary schools are less involved in their pupils' activities but teachers will still be aware of friendships and potential problems.

If your child isn't hitting it off with their peers in their class or year group, taking up an after-school activity can be a good way for them to make other friends. This may also help boost their confidence with their own classmates. Ask a teacher if you're not sure what activities your child's school offers, and go through the options with your child to see if anything appeals.

School culture and being able to fit in is vitally important to children and young people, most acutely in secondary school. It might not be clear what kinds of things are 'in' or 'out' to most parents – what computer games/TV programmes/music/fashion they know and identify with and are inextricably linked to acceptance and friendships. Listen to what they say and be open to what is really important to them.

If you’re worried that your child is being bullied, here’s our advice on what to do.

Outside School

Some children and young people will form their closest friendships outside their school. This could be other young people in their neighbourhood or people that they meet through a club or activity. Your local area may well have free activities aimed at different age groups and interests – your local authority website or community centre may be able to tell you more. Encouraging your child to pursue their particular interests may help them find likeminded people

Disabled Children

Disabled children can and do make friends with non-disabled children, but if your child is struggling due to their particular needs then a local service may be able to put you in touch with other families in your area in a similar situation. Making friendships with other people similar to ourselves is hugely beneficial for people no matter their age.

The local offer in your area is key. Look online for your Local Authority’s provision, which must include resources, support and information about provision for children in your area who have Special Educational Needs.

Top Tips

  • Talk to your child. Show an interest in their friends and relationships. Talk to them about what healthy friendships are and ask them how they feel about their friendships
  • Organise play dates at home or in a local activity centre
  • Find out about the Local Offer in your area for disabled children
  • Show by example. If you were a lonely child, or are a lonely adult, your child might be mirroring this. Make more friends of your own, for example through groups, activities, other parents
  • Make sure that your children are using the internet safely and help them find good chat rooms
  • Encourage older young people to notice how their social media usage affects their mood
  • Try not to be dismissive or discouraging when your child wants to fit in with the culture of their peers, as long as this doesn’t carry any kind of risk.
  • See if there are groups or activities in your local area that your child would be interested in
  • Remember that loneliness is a feeling, not a measure of number of friends or time spent interacting socially
  • Support your child in building their resilience, such as celebrating achievements, taking on responsibilities, understanding other people’s feelings, and facing fears5.
  • Speak to a teacher or other member of staff at your child’s school – they may be able to help but also look out for signs once they are aware
  • Find ways of increasing communications and confidence with all sorts of people in all sorts of ways e.g. texts to friends and relatives; chatting to neighbours; telling jokes; learning magic tricks
  • Everyone feels lonely sometimes, but if your concerns are going on for a long time, you may want to step in and help. Seek advice if you suspect there might be underlying concerns.
  • Encourage your child to watch out for other children who seem to be lonely e.g. in the playground and to go and chat to them

Need more help?

Young Minds' Parents Helpline 0808 802 5544

 

What happens when you call the Parents Helpline?

  • You'll get through to a trained adviser who will talk through the problem and listen to your concerns and questions in complete confidence.
  • Your adviser will help you to understand your child's behaviour and give you practical advice on where to go next.
  • If you need further help, they’ll refer you to a specialist whether it's a psychotherapist, psychiatrist, psychologist or mental health nurse. They'll arrange a phone consultation within 7 days.

Many thanks to YoungMinds for their contributions to this project.

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1. Jo Cox Loneliness Commission, https://www.jocoxloneliness.org/loneliness

2. Bullock, Janis R. “Children’s Loneliness and Their Relationships with Family and Peers.” Family Relations, vol. 42, no. 1, 1993, pp. 46–49. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/584920

3. Royal Society of Public Health,"#StatusOfMind: Social media and young people’s mental health and wellbeing." https://www.rsph.org.uk/our-work/policy/social-media-and-young-people-s-mental-health-and-wellbeing.html

4. Ibid.

5. The Boing Boing Resilience Framework: http://www.boingboing.org.uk/resilience/resilient-therapy-resilience-framework/