Loneliness and being alone are two separate concepts. Loneliness can be quite distressing. One may feel isolated, uncared for, despondent. It can lead to depression. One can feel lonely even when surrounded by people. Some people may feel lonely because they are alone.
However, being alone can be a positive state, as well. For example, you have loved ones in your world, but for a particular moment in time, you enjoy a time of quiet reflection, an opportunity to recharge your batteries or just a quiet moment to read. In fact, we all need a little alone time once in a while.
For children, however, being alone can feed into the sense of loneliness, especially when friendships are forming on the playground and in the lunchroom. Children want to have a sense of belonging and feel connected, especially in school.
Get out the tissues…
I remember when I was a new student in high school; I did not know a single person. At lunchtime I was faced with that all-too-familiar scenario: Where do I sit? Thinking perhaps I might meet someone, I plopped my awkward, shy self in the middle of a string of tables in the center of the vast lunchroom. Within minutes it became painfully obvious I was sitting at the table “reserved” for the football team. Ouch. Not only was I alone, but an intense sense of loneliness swept over me. Not to mention a little panic. Eventually, I found a lovely group of friends, however, I’m not sure I fully recovered from that experience!
What students are doing to address loneliness…
Perhaps by cultivating school communities of inclusion rather than exclusion (as bullying and judging others), our youngsters will grow to be equally caring, kind adults. There are some wonderful organizations within schools that are working on combating loneliness.
At the elementary level, Buddy Benches are gaining popularity. If a student does not have anyone to play with at recess, they sit on the Buddy Bench and another student will include them. I love this idea, however, I might suggest the “buddy” student already be seated on the bench so the lonely child will not feel even more awkward sitting alone waiting for a buddy to join. (I told you I never fully recovered from my experience.)
At the high school level, We Dine Together ensures that everyone has someone to dine with at lunch. Clearly, I am a champion of this concept.
Remember, our kids learn what they are taught and by what is modeled by adults. Be aware of your words and actions relating to inclusion and kindness.
My newsletter has more information:
My latest newsletter offers more information about what school communities are doing to further this anti-loneliness campaign. Click here to read it, then subscribe for future issues. Meanwhile, smile at a stranger – it may be the only kindness they are shown.
Links to Love:
The Conversation: Why addressing loneliness in children can prevent a lifetime of loneliness in adults.
The Campaign to End Loneliness
“No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.”