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How to help a lonely child: A Guide for Foster Carers

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As a foster parent, you might be worried that your foster child might be feeling lonely. Sometimes foster children might need extra help in developing relationships with their peers, especially if they have had an unsettled upbringing or have had strained relationships growing up.

Some children just need help developing their social skills, this is especially common with children who have ADHD, autism or who are suffering from anxiety or depression. In this guide, we’ll explore how to help a lonely child including real-life examples from our foster carers.

Loneliness in young children

How to identify loneliness in young children

Loneliness can present itself in various different ways, and it can be difficult to identify. Some children are naturally introverted and might not necessarily feel lonely and be more naturally predisposed to playing on their own. It is important, however, that young children experience social interaction so they can build relationships in adulthood.

If you’re worried about your foster child making friends, some of the signs to look out for include:

  • Struggles to pick up social cues – While the rules of social interaction might come easily to some children, others may find it difficult to understand their peer’s expectations of them. They might have trouble sharing, engaging in make-believe, or understanding how other children are feeling.
  • Avoids talking about friends – If your foster child avoids talking about friends, this could be a sign of loneliness.
  • Says things like “Everybody hates me” – If your foster child says things like “no one likes me” or “I have no friends”, it might just be that they’re having a bad day. Things can get blown out of proportion, especially in the playground, but it’s important to be aware that if your foster child is being socially excluded is a common occurrence, it’s something that needs to be addressed as it could be a sign of bullying.
  • They seem quiet, withdrawn or sad – Adapting to being in foster care can be a lot for a young child to deal with and can, but if they act very shy, quiet and more withdrawn than normal they may be feeling lonely.

Loneliness in teenagers

Loneliness can manifest differently in teenagers than in young children. If you’re fostering a teenager, you’ll understand that teens have additional pressure such as school performance, as well as the addition of hormones and physical changes to deal with.

It might be difficult to differentiate loneliness from other stresses in a teenager’s life, but some of the signs to look out for include:

  • Low self esteem – A low self-esteem or lack of confidence can be a sign that your foster child is feeling lonely, especially if they don’t feel like their getting validation from their peers.
  • Getting angry or upset – If your foster child is lashing out, it’s worth considering the cause of this type of behaviour. Do they feel lonely, or that they have no one to talk to about their feelings?
  • Spending a lot of time online – Social media isn’t always an accurate representation of real life and this might not be necessarily obvious to teens. They might be feeling lonely because they see a portrayal of other people’s lives on social media as the norm.  

Coping strategies to combat loneliness

If you’re fostering a child and have concerns about loneliness, we’ve listed some coping strategies to help you open up the conversation with your foster child about loneliness and how to deal with it.

  • Ask open-ended questions - By using open-ended questions, you’ll be allowing your foster child to express their emotions and feel validation.
  • Practice social interactions – Utilising social scripts can help give children an insight into how to deal with social situations and teach them appropriate ways to respond. For example, if your foster child struggles with sharing, it might be helpful to teach them how to share with helpful phrases e.g “Can I play with this next please?”, “I’m playing with this now, but you can play with it in 5 minutes”.
  • Give encouragement – Encourage your foster child to take part in group activities. They might be apprehensive about socialising with others, and you should give them support when they involve themselves in social activity.
  • Teach children to check the facts – Sometimes situations can be blown out of proportion, especially over social media, online or on group chats. It might be good to talk about why your foster child feels negatively about a situation and if there’s any chance it could be a misunderstanding.
  • Find their tribe – Give your foster child the opportunity to find a group of friends who have a lot in common with them. For example, if your foster child shows an interest in a sport or hobby they may find it easier to make friends with other children who share the same interests as them.
  • Let them know they can rely on you – Your foster child may have had to be self-reliant in the past. Offering a foster child a loving home and building trust with your foster child will show them they can turn to you when they need to.
  • Speak to their teachers or social workers – If you’re worried about your foster child’s ability to make friends or are worried your foster child is being bullied, it’s important to keep your foster child’s teachers and social worker aware of the situation.

Dealing with loneliness in foster care

Loneliness is something that most foster children will have dealt with at some point in their life. As a foster carer, you’ll provide stability, support and love. We spoke to our foster carers about how fostering helped transform a child’s life from one of loneliness to one of joy.

“He was the saddest little boy we had ever met, and it broke our hearts…
…We supported him through his worries of being abandoned and left alone, he stopped eating and was taken to hospital. We stayed by his side and held him tight and kept him close no matter how hard it became for him. We were there telling him we loved him telling him he was wanted and important…
…Today in 2021, our little boy is happy, content and has bucket loads of self-esteem…
…I’ve told him that he is the smartest boy I had ever met and of course he agreed with me!” - D&A, Foster Carers.

If you’d like to read the full story about the challenges D has overcome, it’s available in our stories.

How can Capstone help?

Here at Capstone Foster Care, we understand that some children may have more complex needs than others. We’re able to provide an extra level of support for children and foster parents through our specialist therapeutic training program MATTS (Multi-disciplinary Assessment Treatment & Therapy Service). For children who need a bit of extra support, we’ll provide additional therapy and strategies bespoke to your foster child’s needs. And, we provide all of our carers with extensive foster care training and support.

If you need any help or have concerns about your foster child displaying signs of loneliness, our helpful team are always on hand to offer support and advice. Get in touch with us today, or find out more about how to foster a child today.

 

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