Whether at home or at school, kids need to feel like they belong and are accepted for who they are. As a parent, if you notice that your child seems distant at home or is not having a good time at school, it might be time to have a discussion about how she is feeling. If your child is feeling a little out of place, engage and encourage her to participate in activities that reinforce her importance in the family, or foster a new sense of belonging among friends at school.
Friendship Ice Breakers
If you just moved to a new neighborhood or a new school, your child is likely to be nervous about making new friends and fitting in with the other kids in her class or in the neighborhood. Ice-breaker activities where kids work as a team and everyone is included can promote feelings of belonging and togetherness for the whole group. For example, you could have the kids sit in a circle and play the telephone game. One person starts a phrase and whispers it in the ear of the person to their right, and so on until it reaches the last person. By the time it gets around, the phrase is usually completely twisted into something silly and funny. Another activity is to get the kids into a human knot by having them form a tight circle and grabbing the hands of someone across from them. Each hand must hold a different person's hand. Time the kids to see how long it takes them to untangle themselves without letting go of their hands.
Family Bonding Activities
Spending time together as a family can help foster a strong sense of belonging in your kids. Set aside at least one day a week for family day where everyone has to do an activity together. This can be as simple as playing a board game together, but be sure to choose a game that will not completely eliminate someone from the play right away. Plan a family dinner outing and let the kids choose where to go, so that they feel special and important. Camp out in the backyard, leaving all technology in the house, and tell stories around a campfire.
Books About Belonging
Books can also help kids foster a health sense of belonging at home, in school and in the greater community. For kids ages 4 and up, "Where Do I Belong?" by Rena Cherry Brown tells the story of a tree removed from its home who wonders where its new home will be and if it will be accepted. For kids ages 8 and up, "Who Belongs Here? An American Story" by Margy Burns Knight tells the story of an immigrant boy from Cambodia trying to find acceptance in his new home.
Team and Community Belonging Activities
Encouraging your child to join a team of some sort can help her feel a part of a something that requires everyone to work together for the same goal. Let her choose an activity she is really interested in, like soccer, dance or scouting. Another idea is to volunteer as a family out in your community. Volunteering can help your child feel better connected to the community and give her a greater sense of responsibility for caring for it. It can be as simple as picking up trash in the park where she likes to play, or organizing a coat drive to keep less fortunate kids in the community warm in the winter.