Lonely or a Loner?
If you are a social butterfly, but you’ve got a kid who’d rather play alone than attend a party, it can lead a parent to wonder if there’s a problem. The real question to ask may be, “Is my child lonely or a loner?”
Lonely kids want to participate, but just don’t know how. They may hang around the outskirts of a game, group of kids, or playground, watching, but too shy to approach the other kids and ask to join. These kids often complain of being bored when they’re home alone with you, and seem unhappy with the level of social interaction they have.
Loners, on the other hand, are perfectly content to be by themselves. They make their own fun — if the lonely child is hovering on the outskirts of the playground watching the other kids enjoy themselves, the loner is content creating to do his or her thing all alone. These kids aren’t bothered by being by themselves, and may in fact thrive on this time without outside distractions or stimulation.
Temperament plays a big part here. While we often think of extroverts as people who are friendly, outgoing, and confident, and introverts as shy, withdrawn, and reserved, those are not generally the definitions used when referring to extroversion and introversion in their truest forms. Being an extrovert means that you gain energy from being around others, whereas introverts may find that kind of activity draining; they gain energy from being alone or being in a small group of people (as in one or two others). So it is very possible for introverts to be comfortable being in groups or speak confidently to a group of people, it’s just that they’ll probably need some downtime alone afterward!
So don’t worry if your child seems perfectly content with his or her own company, even if you can’t make sense of why they don’t want to have a huge blow-out birthday party. If your child is lonely, though, talk with him about ways to connect with others, perhaps chat with his teacher about his or her observations of your child’s behaviour and see if the teacher can offer any suggestions, and be reassuring that these kinds of social skills can be learned with a bit of persistence.
(Wondering if you should be worrying about your child’s behaviour, or looking for more ideas on how to support a child who a different temperament than you? As an Oakville psychotherapist, I’d be happy to meet to chat about your child and offer some parenting advice that might help you to feel better able to support him/her throughout all of the social challenges that childhood brings. You can click here to reach me.)