Being part of a family is about belonging. It’s about being a part of a community where your presence, your needs, your contributions matter. Being a part of a family says, “You are wanted. You are important.” In our world of change it is more important than ever to instill a sense of belonging in your children; belonging is an anchor for kids, it helps them feel secure. It’s easy to instill this sense of belonging when your children are small. It is important to do so, then to deliberately remind your child that she/he will always belong in your family and your heart.
It’s just as important to give preteens and teens a sense of belonging; some kids need it even more in these turbulent years. Preteens or teens who do not feel connected may feel lost. They may look for satisfaction in other places (drugs, alcohol, gang activity, popularity, sexual activity, early dating); they may run away, engage in self-harm, or simply lose their direction.
Use these strategies to show your preteens and teens that they are important, that they belong:
1. Ritual and routines provide structure, a sense of safety and security, and breed a familiarity that anchors people together.
- “On Sunday's we eat dinner in the dining room."
- “Dad wakes me up with a song every morning." (your teen may act annoyed but don't' be fooled)
- “That's my chair."
- “We go out for breakfast on Saturday mornings. We always go to the same place."
2. Unique jobs transmit the message that your child is valued and needed.
- “Trevor is the dishwasher guy."
- "You’re the best pancake maker in the family.”
3. Story telling will remind your son or daughter that he/she is incredibly special to you.
- “I remember so clearly the day you were born.” (tell a story)
- “I loved you the first time I laid eyes on you!” (give specifics)
- "I'll always remember the day you picked all of my daffodils (or whatever!)" (tell the story)
4. Repetitive sound bites anchor your child with essential messages. Don’t worry about sounding like a broken record; kids need these messages often: weekly, monthly, sometimes daily, depending on what is going on.
- “We’re your family.”
- “We’ve got your back!”
- “Your family will always be here for you.”
- “I will always love you.”
Family life is busy and it's easy to forget how important these seemingly small acts are. Your child - especially in the preteen and teen years - needs to know that he/she belongs somewhere. Your family, your home, your love will give your kids the security necessary to stretch, grow, learn, and become, the wonderful person he/she is meant to be.