Children develop an internal sense of who they are from birth. Relationships with others play a pivotal role in building their identity and sense of belonging. This begins, of course, with primary caregivers and other family members, and then expands to include friends, school and community.
Giving children messages of love, respect, and encouragement empowers them to feel that they belong and that they matter. They then have confidence to voice their views and opinions, to make decisions and to develop the skills they will need in life.
- Know and support your infant’s natural rhythms (eating, sleeping) and respond to their needs consistently, and with congruency. That means feeding when they are hungry, changing when soiled, and soothing when upset.
- Spend one-on-one time with toddlers, following their lead, allowing opportunity for interaction and affirmation. Invite them to talk about experiences and feelings.
- Support preschoolers in thinking about themselves, who they are, their abilities, and interests. Create opportunities for them to talk, listen and be heard.
- Involve elementary age children in their community. Encourage them to understand and take part in customs or celebrations that reflect their culture and to experience the diversity of the wider community.
- Encourage adolescents to talk with you about friends and developing relationships. What qualities are important to them in friends, teachers or teammates? How do they see themselves as a part of the groups to which they belong?
For all ages:
- It is important to contribute to the family in useful ways. Brainstorm a list of family work. Invite your children to decide which tasks each child can do on a regular (daily) basis.
- Clear guidelines and expectations also help children belong. One of the common mistakes is thinking that children only belong when they are happy. As parents it is not our job to keep our children happy. Connecting, setting limits, teaching appropriate behavior and having family customs and routines are all part of the job of being a parent.
- Connect before correct. When your child misbehaves, it is helpful to remember to connect first. “I can tell you are mad, and in our family we don’t hit other people.”