Kids who learn and think differently aren’t the only ones who can feel lonely or “apart” from other kids. Most people feel that way at some point.
But research shows that kids who learn and think differently are more likely than their peers to struggle with loneliness. And they often have a harder time dealing with those feelings when they have them. Learn more about loneliness and kids who learn and think differently.
Why kids who are different might feel lonely
They may feel like nobody understands them or their challenges. And they might even withdraw. Kids with certain challenges are most likely to feel left out and isolated. These challenges include trouble with:
The difference between being lonely and being alone
Some people like spending time alone. That goes for kids and adults. As long as they have the ability to make friends and connect with other people when they want to, being alone is a preference, not a problem.
Being unhappy when alone doesn’t necessarily mean someone is lonely, though. Having a hard time entertaining yourself and feeling bored aren’t the same thing as feeling socially isolated.
How loneliness can impact kids
When kids go through the occasional lonely spell, it usually doesn’t have a lasting impact. Feeling lonely all the time is different, though. It can affect kids in lots of ways. And it can lead to other difficulties.
Kids who feel lonely might be:
More likely to have low self-esteem. They might feel like others are rejecting them. Kids might lose confidence in themselves and eventually believe they have nothing valuable to offer.
Less likely to take positive risks. Trying new things can build confidence and lead to new interests and skills. But kids who are already feeling rejected and vulnerable may not want to take this leap. They may be afraid to call attention to themselves and risk failing.
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If your child is struggling to make friends, there are ways to help. First, try to figure out why. Some kids need help with social skills. This is common for kids who are immature or have ADHD, autism or non-verbal learning disorder. Other kids are anxious. They may feel overwhelmed in new social situations or big groups.
Kids who are depressed often want to stay in their rooms. They may interpret things negatively and doubt others want to see them. Finally, some kids may have a hard time fitting in because they have different interests.
If you think your child is lonely, ask them. Start by describing a time when you have felt lonely. If they don’t want to talk, try again in a few days. Don’t push them.
If your child says they are lonely, try to be a good listener. Show that you’re listening by reflecting back what they’re saying: “It sounds like you’re having a hard time.” You can also say supportive things like: “That sounds tough. Would you tell me more about that?”
Once you know more, you can try to help. For kids who need practice with social skills, you can break things down into small steps. Then you can role play them with your child. For kids who have a hard time putting themselves out there, acknowledge how they feel. Then remind them that they’ll probably have a good time once they’ve made the effort. Give them lots of support and praise for doing something tough.
Some kids tend to misunderstand interactions. You can give a reality check: “What makes you think he’s mad? Are there other explanations?” For kids who interpret things negatively a lot, pointing it out each time can help break the pattern.
Finally, help kids find a group or activity that is interesting to them. Many kids find success online, where there are lots of virtual groups for kids with specific interests. Getting excited about something will help them feel more confident, too.
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