At a glance
Kids who learn and think differently are more likely to feel lonely than other kids.
They might feel left out or have trouble making friends.
Being alone and feeling lonely aren’t the same thing.
Kids who learn and think differently aren’t the only ones who can feel lonely or “apart” from other kids. Most people feel that way at some point.
But research shows that kids who learn and think differently are more likely than their peers to struggle with loneliness. And they often have a harder time dealing with those feelings when they have them.
Learn more about loneliness and kids who learn and think differently.
Why kids who are different might feel lonely
Kids who learn and think differently might feel lonely for many reasons. For starters, they’re more likely to be bullied or left out. They can have a hard time making friends or connecting with people. And struggling in school and socially can make kids feel bad about themselves.
They may feel like nobody understands them or their challenges. And they might even withdraw.
Kids with certain challenges are most likely to feel left out and isolated. These challenges include trouble with:
The difference between being lonely and being alone
Some people like spending time alone. That goes for kids and adults. As long as they have the ability to make friends and connect with other people when they want to, being alone is a preference, not a problem.
Being unhappy when alone doesn’t necessarily mean someone is lonely, though. Having a hard time entertaining yourself and feeling bored aren’t the same thing as feeling socially isolated.
Also, loneliness isn’t always about being alone. Some kids feel isolated even when they’re with others. They feel like nobody around them shares or understands their challenges. There’s nobody to connect with.
How loneliness can impact kids
When kids go through the occasional lonely spell, it usually doesn’t have a lasting impact. Feeling lonely all the time is different, though. It can affect kids in lots of ways. And it can lead to other difficulties.
Kids who feel lonely might be:
More likely to have low self-esteem. They might feel like others are rejecting them. Kids might lose confidence in themselves and eventually believe they have nothing valuable to offer.
Less likely to take positive risks. Trying new things can build confidence and lead to new interests and skills. But kids who are already feeling rejected and vulnerable may not want to take this leap. They may be afraid to call attention to themselves and risk failing.
More likely to be sad, disconnected, and worried. Kids deal with loneliness in different ways. They may keep their sadness inside and pull away from others. Or they may become angry and act out. The combination of negative emotions and isolation can lead to depression and anxiety.
More likely to engage in risky behaviors. Teens may drink, smoke or vape, use drugs, vandalize property, or do other risky things if they think it will help them feel accepted.
There are many ways to help your child handle feelings of loneliness. First, don’t force your child to become more social or to make lots of friends. Instead, work on building self-esteem. Help your child find interests that lead to meeting new kids who like similar things.
Keep an eye on signs of depression, too. Don’t hesitate to reach out to your health care provider if you have concerns. And if your child has ADHD, read about the connection between ADHD and depression.
Some kids like spending time alone, even if they have friends.
Kids who are different may feel like nobody understands them.
Don’t try to force your child to be more social and make friends.
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About the author
About the author
Kate Kelly has been writing and editing for more than 20 years, with a focus on parenting.
Laura Tagliareni, PhD is a pediatric neuropsychologist in New York City and a clinical instructor at NYU Langone Medical Center.