For humans, a sense of belonging is crucial to our quality of life: it affects our happiness, mental and physical health, and life satisfaction. This probably doesn’t come as a surprise to you– we can all agree that one of the best parts of our lives is getting together and sharing memories with others.
For children, belonging can shape not only who they are, but also who they will become! Anything parents can do to encourage belonging in their child’s life is critical. Thankfully, there are many ways to foster a sense of belonging with friends, family and community, and there’s no better time to start than now!
What is a sense of belonging?
Simply put, it’s knowing where and with whom you belong. To feel like you belong means you feel accepted and supported by members of a group. This may include belonging to a family, peer group, sports team, religious group, and many others. A child develops a sense of belonging through their relationships and experiences with their family and surrounding culture.
What are we learning from research?
Researchers at the University of Missouri found that students with a greater sense of belonging with peers, family and school community were less likely to report bullying behaviour. The more students feel they belong with their friends and family, the more they also feel they belong at school. In turn, the greater school community belonging they have, the less likely they are to have bullying behaviours!
Research has found many mental health benefits of belonging as well. A study from the Child Development journal found that belonging is linked to higher levels of self-esteem and friendliness, and lower levels of anxiety, depression and hostility towards others. Another study observed that when belonging is paired with good social support, we have more resilience, which helps us “bounce back” after stressful life events (Read the full study here.). Finally, researchers at the University of British Columbia found that peer belonging is associated with higher optimism: when children feel they belong, especially with kids their age, they have a more positive outlook on life.
Belonging can influence our physical health, too. An abundance of research has shown that the more meaningful social relationships you have, the longer you live! The theory behind this is that social connections give us purpose in life, and therefore we adopt healthier lifestyles and have motivation to overcome physical illnesses. How amazing is that?
Parents play a role!
The family is the first ‘group’ a child is ever a part of! If a child has a sense of family belonging, it will be easier for them to integrate in other groups as they get older. There are so many ways parents can help do this — many of which you might already be doing!
- Develop good communication. They will learn that they can be open with and trusting of you, which will help them become more comfortable communicating with others, too.
- Provide opportunities to feel they have something important to contribute. Allowing kids to help out teaches them that their contributions to the family are meaningful. Try assigning them age-appropriate chores.
- Model good friendship and social skills. Kids observe adults every day. When you model positive social behaviours, your child will copy them! You can model behaviours like sharing and teamwork.
- Cultivate family time. Talk as a family about what you want to do together, and try creating meaningful rituals beyond the holidays. Cultivating family time cultivates family culture, which will grow children’s sense of belonging.
- Routines! Routines give children comfort and security by organizing home life, reinforcing family roles, and having the same schedule and tasks to complete. This could be as simple as having a morning routine together.
- Invest in their interests. Whether your child likes to draw, swim or play a musical instrument, acknowledging and appreciating their passions will make them feel seen.
- Prioritize their friendships. Encourage your child to socially engage with their peers in and out of school, and remind your child that you are there to help with any friendship dilemmas.
- Foster a sense of community. Getting your child involved in community sports, clubs and organizations not only allows them to build new relationships, but shows them they are a valuable member of their community.
- There are many opportunities to foster a sense of belonging with your friends, family and community.
- A sense of belonging is feeling accepted and supported by members of a group, including family belonging, peer belonging and community belonging.
- Having a sense of belonging has countless benefits for children’s mental, physical and social well-being.
- Parents play a significant role in developing children’s sense of belonging, and there are many ways they can do this.