Why is the sense of belonging as a child important?

The MIND 24-7 Team | February 16, 2024

Imagine being a child in this big world. Every experience is new, and every interaction is a mystery. A major need during this vulnerable time is a sense of belonging. As parents, caregivers, and teachers, we work hard to give our children a strong foundation for their mental health; a sense of belonging is a big part of that. But what does a sense of belonging mean for kids? It’s more than just fitting in. It’s about feeling accepted, valued, and supported as they grow. Let’s take a closer look at the concept of belonging. We will talk about how to know if your child is struggling to fit in and how to help your child feel like they belong.

What does the sense of belonging mean?

A sense of belonging is the feeling of being accepted, valued, safe, and included in your family and community. It’s the feeling that you are an important member of something bigger than yourself, whether it’s a family, classroom, or friend group. 

This feeling of belonging shapes a child’s sense of self-worth and happiness. It also shapes how kids make relationships with other people in their lives. When children have a sense of belonging, they know their family, friends, school, and community support them. They have a secure foundation to learn and grow.

How to know if your child is struggling to fit in at school

Not all children wear their struggles on their sleeves. Sometimes, knowing your child is struggling to fit in can be hard. Here are some signs to watch for: 

Social and emotional changes

If your child seems less interested in spending time with friends or starts avoiding group activities, they might be withdrawing to avoid uncomfortable experiences. Sudden changes in mood, like sadness, anxiety, anger, or irritability, might be a sign of social struggles. Listen for comments about feeling lonely, excluded, or disliked by others. 

Behavior changes 

If your child starts complaining about headaches, stomach aches, or sleep problems, it could be their body’s way of expressing emotional stress related to feeling excluded. A major change in appetite may also be a way their body tries to deal with stress and anxiety linked to social struggles. If their grades slip, the lack of belonging may be at the root. Consider whether or not struggles with motivation and focusing could be linked to social challenges that cause stress, sadness, and anxiety. 

How to help improve your child’s sense of belonging

Recognizing when your child is having a hard time fitting in is the first step to help them improve their sense of belonging. Once you’ve done that, there are things you can do to support your child in developing a strong sense of belonging. Here are some practical tips: 

Communicate and connect

Communicating and connecting are important ways to help kids improve their sense of belonging because these actions foster meaningful relationships and create a supportive environment for them to grow. Encourage open communication by letting your child know they can share their feelings without judgment. Offer active listening and validation when they talk to you about their experiences. Start conversations about what belonging means to them, explore experiences where they felt included or excluded, and brainstorm ways to feel more connected. When it comes to their unique identity, help your child embrace their unique personality, talents, and interests. Encourage activities that showcase their strengths and help boost their confidence. 

Build social skills

Building social skills is a great way to help kids feel like they belong because it gives them the tools they need to navigate social interactions with confidence and success. Find opportunities for your child to connect with like-minded peers through clubs, sports teams, and community events. Help them practice social skills by role-playing social situations and setting a good example. Foster empathy by discussing emotions, different perspectives, and the importance of respecting themselves and others. 

Collaborate with the school

Collaborating with the school is crucial to improving a child’s sense of belonging because it helps build a supportive and inclusive environment outside of the home. Talk with teachers and counselors at your child’s school. Share your concerns and work to identify ways to support your child. Participate in activities to get insight into your child’s environment at school, build strong relationships with teachers and classmates, and explore ways to advocate for inclusion. 

Get professional help

If you are concerned about your child’s sense of belonging, know you are not alone. A mental health provider can help you address the emotional, psychological, and social challenges that may be impacting their well-being. MIND 24-7 is here for you and your family. We offer walk-in treatment for mental and behavioral health concerns. We are open 24 hours a day, every day of the year, including holidays, and we can help anyone who walks in needing mental health care. All adults and youth are welcome—regardless of their ability to pay. We accept private insurance, Medicare, and AHCCCS, and will never turn someone away. If you or a loved one needs mental health care, visit one of our convenient locations in the Phoenix area or text/call 1-844-MIND247.