Three Strategies to Help Children Feel They Belong

Given its importance, how can we create environments where all children gain a sense of belonging? Here are three strategies that can help:

By Momentous Institute | Feb 11, 2019

In an increasingly divided world, it is sometimes hard to remember all of the things we as human beings have in common. A key pillar of building and repairing social emotional health is safe relationships. The Belonging Project at Stanford University in 2017 revealed that through families, culture groups and communities, children who feel a sense of belonging are more likely to have positive health outcomes. “A deep sense of love and belonging is an irreducible need of all people,” says author and professor, Brené Brown. “When those needs are not met, we don’t function as we were meant to.”

Given its importance, how can we create environments where all children gain a sense of belonging? Here are three strategies that can help:

1. Start with the morning!

One of the best times to show children they are valued is first thing in the morning. It can be tempting to wake children up by yelling from another room, but taking the few extra minutes to wake children up with affection and closeness can create a positive start to the day and a strong sense of belonging. Teachers at Momentous Institute practice this every morning as they stand outside the door of their classrooms to greet each child. These simple actions set an encouraging, inviting tone for the day, reinforcing for children that they are not alone and they are valued.

2. Invest in their interests. 

As children develop, it is crucial to encourage their interests. By giving time, energy and resources to help strengthen their belief in their gifts and skills, parents affirm that their children not only fit in this world, but that they can also use their skills to benefit others. If a child is interested in art, parents can sit down with her to help her complete fun activities at home that stimulate creativity. The same goes for the little athlete at home who would love their parent to kick the soccer ball with them outside. Seeing and expressing joy in a child’s interests reinforces their sense of feeling seen and feeling appreciated.

3. Prioritizing their friends.

The primary way a child learns about this unpredictable world is through the lens of their families and peers. Parents can inspire their children with inviting conversations about respect, acceptance and the explicit encouragement to engage with friends from other cultures or friends with other interests. In addition, parents can suggest that their children invite friends over and observe how they interact with them. They affirm instances when their children are respectful, and also address any signs of disregard that could be hurtful to others. Children begin to develop biases connected to race and differences as early as three years old. Parents’ posture and the way in which the family converses are crucial to helping shape a child’s sense of respect and belonging for self and others.