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To feel like you belong

you need to feel

your contribution is valued


After food, shelter and warmth on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, there is belonging, acceptance and significance.

The highs and lows of social media are about belonging – include me, affirm me, make me feel valued.

These aren’t just social perks, these are the main components of self-esteem.

We get a fabulous opportunity when our children are still living at home, to engender a sense of belonging. But sometimes we need to step out further than what comes intuititvely and think about some intentional ways to build them up so they’re strong and secure for the world that they’re going to be a part of.

I was first asked to speak on the topic of belonging a few of years ago, so I brought it up with the kids at the dinner table and asked them this question, "What’s the difference between being in a family and being part of a family."

And one of them replied, "To be part of something you have to contribute as well as receive." I thought that was quite profound and so true.

You know, savvy politicians and business leaders have worked out that if they want a person’s allegience they ask them for a favour. It makes that person feel valued, that their contribution is essential. It’s a clever ploy. But it’s also a good way of building team.

A healthy team is the sum of its parts. If it's healthy it will be far more cohesive than if it’s got one person running around doing everything - which is what parenting can look like at times.

Being needed is part of feeling valued. It’s part of self -esteem. We all want to feel significant. If what we’re offering feels important to someone else, it makes us feel included.

If the affable Jamie Oliver rang you up and said, "I’d love the recipe for your fabulous apple pie." How would you feel? Pretty Pukka, I’m guessing.

You might become a fan, if you weren’t already.

I daresay you’d follow him on Instagram.

He’s affirmed your value

He’s scooped you in

You feel a bit of an insider

By that same token, Imagine what it does for our children when we invite their opinion (even when you don’t particularly need it).

It helps them to develop awareness.

It sends them the message that their perspective is valuable.

I often feel with children it’s not the big one-offs in childhood, that matter as much

As the small consistencies of every day.

A little message on a regular basis that cements the notion that they are a valuable contributor will be part of their core strength.

It’s much harder to persuade an adult that they have value, if during their childhood their ideas and concepts didn’t form part of the processes in family life.

But I also accept that it can be a great deal easier just to get on with stuff than to be asking the kids for their input along the way. Particularly if you’re an internal processor, rather than a colaberator, it will feel quite exhausting at first, to be intentional about including other people’s perspectives.

And it can be quite a departure from the norm. We’re used to making the decisions, doing everything! Asking for their input, can feel a little new, especially if they’re still quite small.

But as I say, it’s the little regular things that add up. You don’t have to ask them the big stuff, or the really personal stuf.

Here are a few very small ideas...

"Shall we stop at the shop on the way back or on the way there."

"Do you think I should get the red one or the green one."

"What cake shall we make this week?"

When days are busy and you’re in 'get on with it' mode. Ask yourself at the end of the day, 'What decisions could I have invited them into?' What would it have cost you to slow down and include their opinion?

As they get older we can invite them into our challenges. Appropriately of course. I find if I share a little something that went wrong in my day and ask they what they would have done, or include them in a conundrum or ask for their take on an awkward situation, they’re full of good ideas.

Or even, as I mentioned above. If I’ve got a talk coming up, I’ll often ask for their perspectives whilst I’m preparing. I’m constantly amazed by their insights.

By the same token, you can share something you’ve seen in the news and ask what they think about it. Their self confidence will build as they feel safe to express ideas and preferences.

Here’s another idea to boost their esteem –

Family meetings.

It sounds a bit formal doesn’t it? But it doesn’t have to be formal at all. Just intentional and with some sort of regularity.

It can be a place where you talk about things that are coming up, make plans and include them in the process.

Like so many of these ideas, it’s not the outcome that’s the big win here, it’s the process.

Creating a space where everyone gets listened to has the most incredible impact on a child’s self esteem. You’ll be amazed by the results.

It can be particularly helpful in a family where one child is beginning to act out;

get a bit bossy

push back

be disruptive.

What they’re often trying to say is...

"Listen to me."

"Let my voice have value."

We want our children to know that they don’t have to shout, strop or be overly assertive to get listened to. These family times are a great way to practise that.

And I say 'practice', because as much as one person will practice speaking, the others will all be practicing listening.

We had a couple of agreed boundaries in our meetings too.

One was that people didn’t speak over each other

And the other was that every opinion was valid.

That way we weren’t trying to get total agreement among everyone, but at least total understanding of the different perspectives.

Children will develop the confidence to express their opinions if they know that they are going to be listened to...not mocked, disagreed with, put down or giggled at. This bossts their self assurance and makes them feel empowered.

You can tailor your meeting with hot chocolate or your favoured alternative

You can even name the meetings - we called ours family circle, but Im sure you could improve on that.

Then have some ideas of what to discuss.

It could be about a famly holiday – though that might be less likely this year!

It could about how to help in the community as people start getting out and about a bit more.

We had a season where we looked at creating a list of our family values. That took quite a few sessions as everyone discussed what felt important. But the list is still on the fridge door.

Many aspects of belonging will come naturally, but adding depth to our children's sense of belonging gives them deep roots.

To feel like you truly belong, you need to believe that your contribution is valued.

So those are two strong ways of encouraging their contributions

It helps them to feel safe expressing themselves

They learn to strive for the values of the group, not just their own ideals.

A strong sense of belonging in the family as a primary belonging group will protect their hearts as they venture out, not only into the real world, but into cyber world.

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