I have to admit that as I was thinking about approaching this subject, I had mixed emotions. Loneliness is probably the most painful emotion I have ever experienced. But, there is something about loneliness that hurts so much.
Loneliness can also be dangerous. Lonely kids are more likely to be influenced by those who do not have their best interests in mind. This could be an article in and of itself. But, if they don’t have someone appropriate to connect with, they will find someone else—serious stuff.
The fear of our children experiencing loneliness is one reason many parents have opted to send their children to a physical school despite the pandemic. Should you feel wracked with guilt by that statement. The answer is a very clear and definite “no.” But, you do need to be smart and take the subject seriously. Very seriously.
Lonely kiddos can end up developing other, more severe issues. Behaviorally, you may see them withdraw, lose motivation, act out, cry without apparent reason, be extra clingy, or even fearful. My children have been a little more clingy during our quarantine.
The thing about loneliness is that it has little to do with how many are physically present. It is about connecting emotionally with others. Unless you are incredibly extroverted, you have probably had the experience of feeling alone in a crowd. I know I have, many times. I have also experienced times with just me and a loved one, especially a child, where I have thought, “this moment is all I need–there is enough love here to fill the world.” I suspect many parents have had these tender moments with their children as well.
Children that are learning at home may be at a higher risk for loneliness because they don’t have as many playmates that are the same age as them. But, they are also at less risk for things like peer rejection and bullying. So, it’s impossible to say whether or not avoiding a physical school is a problem.
As parents, it is our responsibility to make sure that our children have plenty of chances for emotional connection every day. When your child has the emotional connections, they need they won’t feel lonely, will be emotionally healthier, be more likely to succeed academically, behave better and be physically healthier (yes, loneliness is bad for your health.)
If connecting with your child is so important, how do you fit it into your life without getting overwhelmed, especially when you are likely dealing with your own emotional struggles?
I wish I had all of the answers, and I think that as you are more aware of the issue, you will find ways of making it work for you and your child. However, I have a few suggestions for things that have worked for me with my limited emotional, physical, and mental energy.
***Be physically close. Even if you have to work on something, grab a cuddly blanket, and work on the couch next to your child while they read or watch something appropriate. Have them use earphones if you have to focus, but this way you can monitor what they are doing on their device, which is very important, and you can take time to ask them about what they are reading or watching and connect that way as well. No, I am not saying you should let your child sit on a device all day, but every child that can read should have some of their own independent reading time daily. You can find a lot of books for kids for free on Kindle. I will try to post those as I find them. You can also purchase books or check them out at the library.
***Work in a time of day that you connect with your child into your daily routine. The benefit of this is that it will become a habit and something that your child counts on. Kids that have predictable routines feel more secure. For me, I have times of day that are less predictable than others. I know I will be home with my kids pretty much every night, so that is when we talk a lot, snuggle and read a book or scripture, say family prayers, and tuck them in. It’s simple, but the routine is essential.
***If you are going to be spending a lot of time at home with your children, you can either be trying to get things done in spite of having them around, or you can involve them in these tasks. Have your child help you fold laundry and talk together while you multitask by connecting and doing chores. If your child is having a need met, while doing a chore, they are far more likely to help. This, of course, needs to be adapted to your child’s ability levels, but you may be surprised what your kids can do if you are patient with them. No, they won’t do a perfect job. But, you will be teaching them vital life skills and helping them enjoy them. Win-win.
***Learning and school can be a bonding experience. I know it can feel like a battle to get your kids to do something they don’t want to do. No, really, I make a career of it. As a teacher, I stand in front of a group of kids every day and have to convince them to do things that they wouldn’t choose to do on their own, and I have to do it kindly and enthusiastically, it’s a bit crazy if you think too hard about it. That being said, teachers and students bond with each other, at times, and can enjoy school–at times. Reading together, talking about what your child is learning, watching science videos together, and writing stories together, racing with math facts, can be bonding experiences. Remember that the goal of your child’s education is to help them learn to love learning, learn how to think and solve problems intelligently, and it can also be to bond with you. Battling with your child and drilling facts into them is counterproductive, so don’t fall into that trap. By understanding what the end goal is, you relieve unnecessary pressure.
***Furry friends: A pet can be a great companion. Kids that connect with animals generally experience increased emotional health. Be wise about the pet you choose, and be sure that you can provide it with the care it needs. If you can, a furry friend is an excellent option.
***Cooking: We all have to eat right. Cooking with your child is a great time to talk together, teaches them an essential life skill (you can even throw a little math in), and can be a chance to develop healthy habits. Yes, it is more work, but it gets easier with practice.
***Give your child the chance to connect with others. There are programs where you can have a penpal in a nursing home–connecting and compassion. Awesome.
***Safely connect with friends and family outside of school.
***Help your child set up google meets with friends, pen-pals their age, etc.
***What have you found that helps? Please share it with us.