When both of my children were born, my whole family welcomed them into our crazy clan with open arms. A day doesn’t go by that we aren’t seeing or talking to someone in our extended family: grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. These are the important people in my children’s lives right now, and they know that they belong in this family.
Belonging Begins at Home
A child’s healthy development begins with a strong sense of belonging at home. When they are connected to family, they have a support system; a team to push them forward; someone to always teach them something new (in more ways than we will ever know); and a group of people they know that love them, value them, and trust will keep them safe.
When you engage with your children at home one-on-one and respect their thoughts, ideas and opinions, you are allowing them to discover who they are. You are also supporting their basic need of belonging. They aren’t alone.
My kids are always giving me hugs and kisses, and wanting to be right next to me doing whatever I am doing. They are my shadow. That means they know they belong with me, feel safe with me and are loved by me. They are trying to reciprocate the belonging feeling to me with their actions in return.
Belonging in the Community
Once your children start to learn more about the outside world, they will want to explore and do new things. This also means they will meet others and start to build their own little communities. Nurturing your child’s desire to want to do things with others is great! This allows them to feel like they can belong to more than their family and they will begin to learn more about themselves and others along the way.
Within our community, we have two wonderful playgrounds that we frequent. I have met so many wonderful people at the playground that have since become friends. Their children now belong to my children’s community. Same with my neighborhood. Since the day we moved into our home, we have felt nothing but connected to our neighbors. And now my children feel like they belong here too. Everyone looks out for one another, keeping each other safe and offering a helping hand when needed. And same with preschool. The teachers, other moms, and the school organization are masters at helping children feel like they belong at this school.
We Are In This Together
As adults, we can think of many places that we belong: home, work, the gym, playgroup, within our friend groups and of course, family. Children yearn for the same feelings: being a part of something greater than themselves.
Here are some simple ways to help teach belonging to your children at home:
Actions: It starts with a simple smile each time your child walks into the room. It will make them feel like they are wanted and you are happy to see them.
Read: Read the book Strictly No Elephants together and consider helping your children start their own club where all are welcome. Or read Spencer’s Wondrous Wish and ask your children some of the following questions to help them build connections to the characters and the farm where the story takes place.
o What do you think this book is about?
o What is your favorite part of the story and why?
o How do you think Spencer felt when he thought he was turning into a dog?
o How do you think Spencer feels when Grandma Kate tucks him in at night?
o Grandma Kate, Spencer, and Emily are all part of the same family. How do you think being part of a family might make them feel like they belong or are connected? What are some ways you feel like you belong or are connected to our family?
Watch: Watch Cinderella together. This will give them a better understanding of the feelings they may have if they don’t feel like they belong.
Listen: Any positive songs that speak about being with family, friends, or groups could help a child learn about belonging such as You’ve Got a Friend In Me from Toy Story. Or check out Sweetwater Slide on the Spencer’s Wondrous Wish CD and have fun exploring the farm with your children by asking them some of the following questions:
o Can you name something special that you remember about each of the characters: Spencer, Emily, Jonas, and Ana?
o What are some of the things you can do on Sweetwater Farms? (Click here to see a Map of Sweetwater Valley)
o Which character would you like to play with on Sweetwater Farms and why?
Did You Know?
When children feel like they belong, they are more likely to perform better in school, make friends, and overcome roadblocks. A sense of belonging gives them the emotional strength to hurdle challenges and difficulties that emerge in their daily experiences. Children with a sense of belonging are happier!
As an adult, if you don’t feel like you belong, quit waiting for belonging to find you and go find it! Just like I mentioned above with children, get out and explore your world. Contributing, volunteering, donating and performing kind acts connects you to a special group of people!
Where do you and/or your kids feel like you belong? Is it within your family? Your community? Within an organization? Share your belonging stories with us!
About the Author: Christine Cox is a mom to two children, Capri and Cam. When she is not writing for Proudtree, you can find her over at www.thechoosymommy.com or www.choosykids.com. As a family, the Cox’s love to be outdoors, play and watch sports (Go Steelers, Penguins and Pirates!) and swim. In her free time, (haha, I know, what is free time?) Christine loves to do yoga and relax!