“Belonging” has become a bit of a buzzword. But for us, it’s more than just a popular term; it’s what we’re all about. After all, it’s our name!

But what does it really mean? Why is it so important? And how can we help our children and youth feel a sense of belonging?

In this article, we explore the profound significance of belonging and offer tips for parents and caregivers to foster this feeling in their children and youth.

Understanding belonging

Belonging is the feeling of being happy, comfortable, welcome, secure, supported, and accepted as part of a particular group. It can also be a profound sense of connectedness to a place, language, or culture.

Why belonging matters

According to Geoffrey L. Cohen, PhD, professor of psychology at Stanford University , belonging is an intrinsic part of human nature and essential for our well-being and personal development. Research has shown that a sense of belonging can significantly benefit mental health by reducing feelings of loneliness, anxiety, and depression.

Belonging provides a sense of stability, security, and acceptance amidst change and uncertainty. It serves as a cornerstone for nurturing healthy relationships and developing a positive sense of identity.

When children and youth are involved in adoption or other forms of permanency, or the child welfare system, the significance of belonging is magnified. Adoptees, adoptive and permanency parents, kinship caregivers, and youth in and from care can make all the difference in whether or not a child or youth feels like they belong.

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re considering or have already provided permanency to a child or youth. This is an important step towards creating a sense of belonging in a child’s life. But the journey doesn’t end there. Here are five tips to deepen your child’s sense of belonging.

1. Foster connections

Research indicates that maintaining significant relationships, even in non-traditional family structures like step-families or adoptive families, is crucial for children’s well-being. It’s natural for children to miss their biological parents, foster parents, or former caregivers and the life they had with them. By allowing them to maintain connections with important people in their lives when they join a new family, you can reinforce their sense of belonging. In our article “Better adoption transitions”, you can learn more about the importance of connections in the adoption journey.

2. Embrace and nurture your child’s ethnocultural heritage

Embracing and nurturing your child’s  heritage can be very important to their sense ofbelonging, especially if they have a different racial or cultural background from yours. This involves actively supporting and embracing their birth cultures. While it may seem daunting at times, making an effort to keep your child connected to their roots will strengthen their bond with you, too. Read “Let’s celebrate” for more ideas on how to bring new traditions and celebrations into your life.

3. Create family rituals

Family rituals can offer a beautiful sense of belonging by enriching feelings of security and connection. These rituals don’t have to be religious; simple daily activities can become cherished rituals, too. Maybe your favourite ritual is tucking a note inside your child’s lunchbox or making a favourite meal on your child’s birthday or another important day. Read “Rooted in rituals” for more tips on starting your own family rituals.

4. Spend quality time together

Encourage your child to join in activities they love and spend quality time together as a family. Whether it’s going to the movies or enjoying outdoor adventures, these shared experiences show your child they are a cherished part of both your family and the community. This not only strengthens your bond but also fosters a deep sense of belonging and inclusion.

5. Communication is key

Open, effective communication is a vital part of nurturing a child or youth’s sense of belonging. Not only does healthy communication help build a trusting, meaningful relationship, it also helps create a safe, supportive environment for their growth. Encourage open communication by reassuring your child that they can freely share their thoughts and feelings without any fear of judgment.

All children and youth need belonging and lifelong connections. That’s why the Belonging Network works hard to support adoptive and permanency families, waiting children, and youth from care in British Columbia. Explore our resources, join our online support groups, access one-on-one family support and benefit from our learning opportunities. You belong here!