The Loner

The Loner
– why do young people struggle to interact with peers?

Defn: a loner is:
– a child who always preferred to be alone [because of shyness, social communication difficulties]
– a child who is left alone by other children [because of bullying, conduct disorder]
– a child who used not to be alone but now shows a preference for being alone [because of depression/mental health issues; abuse or neglect]

Defn: shyness refers to a feeling of fear/discomfort when a child is near other people, especially in new situations or with unfamiliar people. It is often a character trait, but it can also be a problem for children where English is their second language, there are speech/hearing difficulties, there is a developmental delay, their parents are very shy, the child is not used to interacting with other children. Some children grow out of it – some do not & need assistance.

There is much to be learned from social interaction:
– emotional regulation
– communication
– friendship
– learning to be both social & independent

The child who withdraws from interaction with all peers is a cause for concern – it can suggest the following types of problems:
– emotional
– social
– mental health

Negative impact of social isolation
– social & emotional development can be affected

Help may be needed if:
– child is lonely & seems to not know how to join in
– there is some form of communication barrier the child is unable to overcome
– the child is anxious/frightened
– the child is angry/aggressive towards other children
– the child never interacts with other children

What conditions lead to a young person’s hesitance to interact with peers
– shyness
– social communication difficulties
– bullying
– conduct disorder
– abuse or neglect
– depression/mental health difficulties

Strategies to improve social skills & Wellbeing:
1) Shyness
– address specific barriers [schools can advise]
– ESL [language skills & key words can be an effective first step – greetings]
– assigning a buddy [some to talk to & in process build confidence]
– stretch & challenge [goals in small steps, encouragement, team work situations]

2) social communication difficulties
– taking turns in games/conversations
– making appropriate eye contact
– understanding what others are thinking & feeling
– understanding what others are saying
– expressing themselves clearly
– understanding tone of voice
– understanding body language & facial expressions
[children with ASD often have social communication difficulties; children with ADHD may also have these difficulties; they often feel lonely or alone]
[it is about understanding social cues & how to interact appropriately]
– encourage the child to join in
– start conversations with them
– rephrase what you say if they do not understand
– be patient & friendly
– be forgiving if they act or speak inappropriately

3) bullying
– becoming a loner is a relatively common occurrence of bullying
– other children often avoid contact with the bullied child because:
– they fear being bullied themselves
– the bully forbids peers from interacting with the bullied child
– the bully has spread unpleasant rumours about the bullied child
– the bullied child can withdraw socially as a result of lowered self-esteem/confidence
[bullying should be addressed ASAP; follow school policy – zero tolerance; address any underlying issues – what triggered the bullying in the first place – timid children & those who seem “unusual” are often bullying targets; provide ongoing support to aid recovery – therapy with a psychologist could be a useful option to consider]

4) conduct disorder
– praise good behaviour openly
– do not just focus on the negative (noting this is difficult to do)
– agree behavioural goals
– small steps & achievable
– seek agreement/buy-in
– e.g. Work as part of a group; complete an activity without an angry outburst
– apply fair & consistent discipline
– set clear ground rules
– apply discipline without anger to provide the child with predictable structure
– teaches consequences of poor behaviour / encourages alternative to be sought
– consider behaviour guidelines to be applied consistently across home/school
– provide additional support for trigger situations

5) abuse or neglect
– child is often pre-occupied & may be afraid someone will discover what is happening to them
– can be concerned about being taken into care
– neglected children can be shunned by peers because they appear unclean/unkempt (hair, teeth, clothes, body odour); they can also be hungry/have no food
– if this issue is suspected, contact Cild Protection

6) depression/mental health difficulties
– anxiety
– social withdrawal/apathy – common to depression
– low self-esteem makes them think no one is interested in them
– frequent absenteeism & being “left out of the loop” socially can also be a consequence
– may struggle to express their feelings & understand the feelings of others
– some behaviours (soiling, wetting, angry outbursts) leads to avoidance by others


Beat Bullying @

Young Minds @



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