The experience of loneliness in 4-9 year olds

Qualter, Pamela (1998) The experience of loneliness in 4-9 year olds. Doctoral thesis, University of Central Lancashire.

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Much of the childhood loneliness research is misleading because it confounds objective and subjective measures of loneliness. Overall objectives in this research were to test the relatedness of social and emotional loneliness. 846 (432 females and 432 males) four to nine year olds were recruited for the study into the experience of loneliness in childhood. Using cluster analytic procedures, three groups were identified. the variables used in the clustering procedure included disliked and liked scores from a sociometric interview, peer loneliness scores from a loneliness interview (an adaptation of Marcoen and Brumagne's (1985) loneliness questionnaire), and teacher reports of internalising and externalising behaviour (Classroom Adjustment Rating Scale).
Two groups were identified in which social and emotional loneliness were unrelated, and another group was composed of rejected children who were lonely. These three groups had very different profiles in terms of relational attributions, observed and peer­ related social behaviour and self-perceptions (The Pictorial Scale of Perceived Competence and Social Acceptance for Young Children and Adolescents (Harter and Pike, 1985); the global self-worth subscale of the Self
Perception Profile for Children (Harter, 1985a); and the Social Support Scale/People in My Life Questionnaire (Harter, 1985b)). I found that loneliness in childhood was very different from being rejected by peers, and it was related to low self-perceptions and inaccurate perceptions of one's relationships with peers. Thus, childhood loneliness can not be equated with having no friends.
Instead, childhood loneliness should be viewed as being about feelings, and these can not be measured via objective measures such as number of friends one has. The thesis highlights the fact that there are different ways in which children cope with and understand their loneliness. Lonely children also differ from non-lonely children by understanding emotional terms/words to a greater extent. this is not a function of higher verbal and linguistic skill, and the findings suggest that an ability to understand and label feelings relates to high levels of loneliness at school.
Lonely children also demonstrate a non-self serving attributional style; they tend to blame themselves for negative relational events, and they fail to credit themselves for successful relational experiences. Observations and peer reports indicate that lonely children are less sociable, more solitary, and they initiate more interaction than non-lonely children. However, observations revealed that the overtures for social contact that the lonely children make are often rejected or ignored. Lonely children tend to play with one another, and there is a discrepancy between what children report (via sociometry) and what is observed on the playground. Lonely children are not likely to nominate other lonely children as friends during the sociometric interview, although the observations indicate that they are play partners. The main argument rests on the finding that rejected and lonely children are diffecent.
The fact that they differ from one another in terms of their subjective, cognitive and behavioural features has direct implications for the development of intervention programs. A program of practical help and insight for those working with lonely children is offered.

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