Family. Friends. Community.
The essential need for both our psychological and physical well-being is a feeling of connection with others -- whether it's being born into a family (we don't get to choose them, right?), a group of friends we've purposefully nurtured for years, a faith community, or the Happy Hour group from work -- we NEED to belong.
We also need to know how to build those social bonds more than ever. For ourselves and for our children.
What is belonging?
In Maslow's theory of hierarchy of needs social belonging is as necessary for human well-being as our need for food, water, clothes, shelter, physical safety and emotional security. We also need esteem and the ability to fulfill our potential, but these are topics for another post...
Simply, belonging is a profoundly strong emotional attachment expressed through affection, honesty, kindness, sympathy, empathy, understanding and compassion. Belonging is being able to be one's self -- even make mistakes -- and know you are loved and accepted.
Why is belonging important?
Being loved and giving love in return -- the essence of belonging -- are so critical for our well-being we will experience not just loneliness but anxiety and depression when the sense of belonging is absent. It's important we understand this is as true for our children as for ourselves: the number of children and teenagers in the U.S. who were seen in emergency rooms for serious psychological distress or attempted suicide more than doubled between 2009 and 2017 according to a 2019 study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology.
Our children hurt when they don't feel like they belong. They hurt enough inside to express that hurt against themselves.
How do we raise children who know they belong?
Children need to know their tribe and know they are accepted-loved-important members of the tribe!
Through social media I stay in contact with the parents of many of my former students. It was a particular joy this year to see all of the First Day of School photos posted on Facebook -- they are so stinking cute! And they grow up so fast -- the first day pictures for those who are now seniors in high school or on their way to college take my breath away. The best thing about those pics is that they tell each child (and young adult!), "You belong." And who doesn't want to hear they are a wanted and important member of the family -- so important we will take the time to pose for a picture on the busiest of mornings!
This is just one simple example of how to build a sense of belonging for our children, but there are countless ways we can purposefully give our kiddos the sense they belong to our tribe, our family.
If you are more of a I-find-my-information-from-a-book-person, go to your local library or browse on-line for parenting books about family culture. I'm currently reading Mark & Lisa Scandrette's Belonging and Becoming: Creating a Thriving Family Culture. It's a recent (2016) publication and relevant to my faith -- but there are many, many great books out there giving sound advice on creating strong families.
The important thing is to ask yourself -- daily -- "what can I do to make sure my children know they belong?"
One last thought you need to know about belonging!
Belonging grows out of generosity -- an attitude of giving to others. Our time, our thoughts, our efforts, our prayers, our presence -- as parents you are giving everyday, all day. When you are tired or exasperated, remember it is worth every effort you make. Giving to others builds and reinforces bonds in families, constructs bridges with new friends and cements ties with our long-time friends. And it makes us feel good. As Gretchen Rubin writes in The Happiness Project, "It's a Secret of Adulthood: Do good. Feel good."
So, here's my question and I look forward to reading your comments --
What will you give of yourself today or tomorrow to help your child know he or she belongs?