When one considers the time students spend in a school building, always with other students and adults, when do they have the time to be alone with their thoughts, to process what they are learning, and to just think?
If there is no time to be by one’s self, how do students learn to occupy themselves when they are alone?
Why are people who prefer to be alone labeled as introverts and often viewed negatively?
In our fast-paced instant-gratification world, how do children and youth learn to value solitude?
These are some questions I’ve been asked about children, youth and adults, including those who are gifted.
Many gifted students crave solitude because that is when they think deeply and ponder and process the vast ideas in their minds. School typically does not allow time to do deep thinking, pondering or processing. Students are always with other students and adults, and then often go to after-school activities, also with others. There is not time for solitude, which is vastly different from loneliness.
According to the Oxford dictionary found online, loneliness is “sadness because one has no friends or company,” or “the fact of being without companions; solitariness,”
(https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/loneliness) while solitude is “the state or situation of being alone” (https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/solitude)
Early in my time as a Navy wife when my husband was deployed overseas, a wise Admiral’s wife told me that there is a difference between loneliness and solitude, and as a Navy wife, we become comfortable with the solitude afforded by Navy life. She said we often crave our solitude when the family is together, and life is busy. She encouraged me to make time for myself in solitude to rejuvenate, think, create, and reflect and that by doing so, both I and my family would grow stronger. That was wise counsel that I have never forgotten. Now that the global pandemic has required people to remain at home for health and safety reasons, I find that being content with solitude is reassuring.
Gifted children and youth, and even adults can find comfort in solitude, even during these fearful times. Gifted children and youth may be strongly feeling the pain throughout the world brought on by the coronavirus. Taking care to limit the amount of news reports may help them cope with the endlessly changing statistics, medical advances, and global and state restrictions and conflicts. Focusing on learning about one’s self and being content with one’s self is a skill that is lifelong and important in our changing world.
During this time of alternate learning environments and methods, with many parents serving as the primary teacher in the home, many gifted children (and many adults) still crave solitude. This time at home provides a good opportunity for parents to teach their children how to be content when they are alone (something many adults may need to learn and practice, as well). It is a journey that a family may go on together, while practicing the skills of solitude vs. loneliness, even for a few minutes each day. It is a skill you can help your children learn so they may thrive in a complex world.
A quote attributed to Pablo Picasso is worth considering: “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”
Below are various approaches and research about solitude and loneliness as a place to begin to learn about each state of being. There are many other approaches, viewpoints, research, and writings about these topics. Explore your own areas of interest as you see fit.
Study Shows Solitude Can Be Good for Mental Health
Teens Who Seek Solitude May Know What’s Best for Them
Interview with Christine Fonseca about Introverted Gifted Students
The Davidson Institute for Talent Development, 2014
The Virtues of Isolation, Brent Crane
The Atlantic, March 30, 2017
5-Part Series on Solitude by Jennifer Stitt
Published by the Garrison Institute
1) Listening to Silence, Jennifer Stitt
The Garrison Institute, Sept. 12, 2017
2) A Short History of Walking, Jennifer Stitt
The Garrison Institute, Oct. 11, 2017
3) The Difference Between Loneliness and Solitude, Jennifer Stitt
The Garrison Institute, Nov. 14, 2017
4) The Courage to Be in Solitude, Jennifer Stitt
The Garrison Institute, Dec. 19, 2017
5) Solitary Encounters: Making Our Selves and Our Stories, Jennifer Stitt
The Garrison Institute, Jan. 23, 2018
5 Ways Solitude Can Make You More Successful, Backed by Science, Amy Morin
Inc., August 27, 2018
7 Science-Backed Reasons You Should Spend More Time Alone, Amy Morin
Forbes, August 5, 2017
The History of Loneliness, Jill Lepore
The New Yorker, April 6, 2020
What’s the Different Between Solitude and Loneliness? Dean Griffiths
Psychreg, Dec. 25, 2019
The Relationship Between Psychological Symptoms, Creativity, and Loneliness in Gifted Children
Journal for the Education of the Gifted, March 27, 2018
Loneliness: Often the Norm for Gifted 2/e Children and Adults, Julie F. Skolnick
Nov. 29, 2017
To Prevent Loneliness, Start in the Classroom, Ashley Fetters
The Atlantic, October, 17, 2018
Ask the Doctor