Children’s loneliness in family transitions

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Linna building, Väinö Linna auditorium, address: Kalevantie 5

Outi Kauko

Doctoral defence of M.Soc.Sc Outi Kauko

Lasten yksinäisyys perhesiirtymissä : Lasten merkityksenantoa tutkimassa (Children’s loneliness in family transitions : Examining children’s meaning-making)

The field of science of the dissertation is Social Work.

The opponent is Professor Kimmo Jokinen (University of Jyväskylä). Professor Hannele Forsberg acts as the custos.

The language of the dissertation defence is Finnish.

Children’s loneliness in family transitions

The present study examines loneliness as constructed by children who are going through different family transitions. Family transitions refer to stages of change in the life course that are connected to changes in family relations and the challenges these present to re-orient. In this study, the family transitions are starting school, parental divorce and forced separation from the family consequent on a state of war. Loneliness in family transitions and loneliness intertwined with family relations are examined as their meanings for children.

Although loneliness is considered a social construct, it is also approached as an everyday phenomenon linked to the everyday experiences of children they have a knowledge. The aim was to gain a more detailed picture of loneliness as described by children, and hence loneliness as a phenomenon was not precisely defined in advance.

The study comprises four empirical case studies based on three different qualitative datasets collected at different time points from 33 children of various ages living in Finland. The data comprise interviews with second-grade schoolchildren during the transition to school and with unaccompanied minors separated from their families, and of writings by children on their experiences of parental divorce. The data were analyzed using different methods of data-driven qualitative analysis. The primary focus of the analysis is what, how and why children tell about loneliness.

The study revealed diversity in the meanings of loneliness and provide also insights into personal experiences of loneliness. From the children´s perspectives, multilayered loneliness and the gravity and duration of loneliness require different kinds of solutions. Children distinguished loneliness from being alone. The results also reveal how a child positions him/herself in relation to his/her family and what relationships are meaningful for a child. The results highlight the importance of taking children´s viewpoints into account and assist in identifying lonely children in other family transitions in social work and other professional domains.


The dissertation is published in the publication series of Acta Universitatis Tamperensis; 2437, Tampere University Press, Tampere 2018. The dissertation is also published in the e-series Acta Electronica Universitatis Tamperensis; 1950, Tampere University Press 2018.

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