Loneliness in Young Children
Loneliness is a significant problem that can predispose young children to immediate and long-term negative consequences. However, only recently have research and intervention in educational settings focused on young children who are lonely. It is becoming increasingly clear that many young children understand the concept of loneliness and report feeling lonely. For example, kindergarten and first-grade children responded appropriately to a series of questions regarding what loneliness is ("being sad and alone"), where it comes from ("nobody to play with"), and what one might do to overcome feelings of loneliness ("find a friend") (Cassidy & Asher, 1992). In a more recent study (Ladd, Kochenderfer, & Coleman, 1996), kindergarten children's loneliness in school was reliably measured with a series of questions such as, "Are you lonely in school?"; "Is school a lonely place for you?"; and "Are you sad and alone in school?" These studies suggest that young children's concepts of loneliness have meaning to them and are similar to those shared by older children and adults. This Digest presents an overview of loneliness with suggestions for practitioners on how they can apply the research in early childhood settings.†
Consequences of Loneliness
Children who feel lonely often experience poor peer relationships and therefore express more loneliness than peers with friends. They often feel excluded--a feeling that can be damaging to their self-esteem. In addition, they may experience feelings of sadness, malaise, boredom, and alienation. Furthermore, early childhood experiences that contribute to loneliness may predict loneliness during adulthood. Consequently, lonely children may miss out on many opportunities to interact with their peers and to learn important lifelong skills. Given the importance placed on the benefits of peer interactions and friendships to children's development, this potential lack of interaction raises many concerns for teachers who work with young children. Peer relations matter to children, and lonely children place as much importance on them as do other children (Ramsey, 1991).†
Reprinted with the permission of the Education Resources Information Center.
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