Acceptance or a sense of belonging within the family context can be understood as a two-way process. In one way, it is about recognising and meeting your child’s needs and rights, about protecting, providing for and caring for your child. In the second way, it is also about allowing your child to have opportunities to express personal agency and creativity, about your child feeling able to contribute, love and care for others, to take on responsibilities, fulfill roles and share in collective celebration (Woodhead and Brooker, 2008).
Knowing they are accepted with a sense of belonging to the family is fundamental to any child’s well-being and happiness, and also to the development of a positive identity. Belonging lays the foundation for a strong and resilient sense of self – a self which can be sustained through transitions into the wider world and through subsequent experiences that may be less affirming and inclusive (Woodhead and Brooker, 2008).
Children who do not feel that they belong and are respected may feel worthless and incompetent. Children who feel excluded will neither be comfortable with their roles and responsibilities, nor have a sense of their ability to make a positive contribution to the group (Woodhead and Brooker, 2008).
Positive Parental Role Models
All children need to feel accepted and loved by others, beginning with the family and then extending to other groups such as friends, schoolmates, sports teams, religious organisations and the larger community.
It is within the family unit that children’s roots are formed and this prepares them for what they will experience in the world and how they will react to those experiences.
Children tend to adopt the values and good habits that parents model to them and in so doing, discover and solidify their own strengths, talents, interests, goals, moral standards, belief systems and work ethics. These in turn are carried with them throughout their lives.
Self-esteem and Emotional Wellbeing
A sense of belonging is important in healthy human development as it helps us to combat behavioural and anxiety issues. A large part of a child’s self-esteem comes from feeling that they have a place in the world where they belong to and matter to others. A child’s self-esteem is based on knowing their roots and having confidence in their future. Children who feel like they belong have a source of emotional support and comfort, warmth and nurturing, protection, help and security.
The family offers children varied opportunities to share their ideas and interests, to demonstrate their abilities and gain personal recognition, all of which contribute to increased self-esteem. When a child feels that they fit into a group that validates them, they become stronger in their beliefs and attitudes, and have the courage to act on them. In this case, children see themselves as valuable and worthy, hold themselves with dignity and integrity, and are happier and more relaxed. As such, they are less likely to resort to negative coping strategies such as smoking, drinking too much, over or under eating, zoning out for hours in front of the TV or computer or lashing out at others.
Developing Life Coping Skills
Having a strong sense of belonging to the family will help children learn life skills to make the best choices into their adulthood. It also provides a firm foundation for the child’s identity, enabling them to feel comfortable and confident of trying new things. Children will be more likely to reflect carefully on their decisions because they do not want to disappoint their family. It is important for children to know that they have a foundation to rely on through the good and the bad times even as they grow older and start to reach out and explore on their own.
For example, when children approach adolescence, they tend to become less involved in family activities and prefer spending time with their peers or romantic interests. However, as long as they retain their sense of belonging to the family, they will feel that they can always fall back on family for support to guide them through the sometimes volatile and bumpy teen years. A sense of belonging to family will also help children alleviate and cope with feelings of loneliness or isolation when they experience bullying, teasing, are faced with hostile behaviours from their peer groups or start a new school year in a class where they are struggling to make new friends.
Fanning, C. (2008). How to create a sense of belonging in a family.
Identity and Belonging. Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework.
Witmer, D. (2014). 5 good reasons your teen needs a sense of belonging.
Woodhead, M. & L. Brooker. (2008). A sense of belonging. Early Childhood Matters. Bernard van Leer Foundation: Netherlands.