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Is your child lonely?

August 22, 2003|by LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

As school doors open next week, most students will be busy seeking out their friends. Sports and music practices have started and September calendars already are getting full. There's not a moment to spare on the social calendars of some. Parents often have a hard time keeping up.

But for other children, the start of school is just another reminder of the relationships they wish they had. They're not athletic or musical. Mom and Dad work a lot. Other kids are busy or live too far away. They long for companionship.

Oh, they might not appear sad or admit to being lonely, but they are.

"Children cry out for attention in different ways," says Johann Christoph Arnold, author of "Endangered: Your Child in a Hostile World."

They may seem moody.

They may overeat ... or not eat enough.

They may have trouble falling asleep or may sleep too much.

How can a parent help?

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In his 30 years as a family counselor, Arnold has seen parents trying to fill the void with things. He blames materialism in part on the breakdown of relationships.

Children have TVs, computers, video game systems, refrigerators full of food, but no one to greet them when they come home.

An overabundance of clothing and toys leads to selfishness, Arnold says, noting that in many Third World countries the children seem to be happier than those in the United States.

They have very little but are content.

"They are very, very inventive," Arnold says.

What makes the difference? Arnold says it's the affection shared between parent and child.

"Simply taking time for the child is so important," Arnold says. "We make ourselves so busy and then we miss so many precious moments."

As a child of European emigrants who fled to South America during the second World War, Arnold says he grew up in what he now views as poverty.

"Yet, I would find it hard to imagine a happier childhood. Why? Because my parents gave us time and attention on a daily basis," Arnold writes in "Endangered."

"No matter how hectic their schedule, for instance, they tried to eat breakfast with us before we went off to school each morning. They did this for over a decade, until my youngest sister (there were seven of us) graduated from high school."

His father was often on business trips, but "when he was home, he was home," Arnold says. "I had something I could hold onto. I knew my parents loved me. If a child knows that Mom or Dad cares, that goes for miles."

If you suspect your child is lonely, try these tips from Arnold:

  • Ask your child if something is on his mind.

    "Talk with your child and see if the child can verbalize fears," Arnold says.

    Tell him you will try to help get him through this tough time.

  • Talk about times when you felt lonely as a child.

    Tell your child that other children at school may feel the same way, even if they appear to be happy.

  • Encourage your child to reach out to others.

    To have friends, you need to be friendly. Encourage your child to invite friends over so bonds can be formed.

    "The only answer to loneliness is relationships," Arnold says.

  • Tell your child what he's doing right.

    As parents, we're quick to point out the wrong we see in our kids. We need to give them recognition when they're trying to do good.

    "One has to have one's antenna in tune," Arnold says. "If a child reaches out and you see it, it needs to be rewarded."

  • Make sweet memories with your child.

    Yes, you're busy, but even the simple things can make a difference.

    As much as possible, try to be home when your child is there. Plan fun things you can do together.

    "Being able to drop what we're doing takes a lot of discipline, but isn't it worth it?" Arnold says. "There's nothing more rewarding than to bring children into this world and to educate them."






To learn more about Arnold's writings, go to www.christopharnold.com on the Web.




Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page. Send e-mail to her at lisap@herald-mail.com.

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