Now more than ever, parents are looking for tips on helping your child build relationships. There’s always a bit of a learning curve for kids starting school to make friends. Usually after a few days, they’ve tapped into their courage and excitement and have begun to form relationships. Now that we’ve gone fully virtual, however, the learning curve is kinked and corkscrewed. As human beings, we’re programmed to seek out community and connection with others. We still can, and we still are, but young children might need a friendly reminder or direction on how to get started in the post-COVID world. With that said, we’re going to share some tips on helping your child build relationships, what community means, and what it means to be a part of one at any age.
What Does Community Actually Mean and Does it Matter?
Being in relationships is one of the core aspects of what it means to be a human being; it’s a pillar for our emotional development and how we see ourselves and the world. Community gives us a sense of belonging and togetherness. It gives us comfort and confidence. It enables us to appreciate our relatedness and support perpetual growth of each other. Wellbeing People, a UK-based nonprofit providing services focused on prevention and sustainability, beautifully summarized the benefits of community as the following:
- Support: Being part of a community enables us to give support to other members, and likewise, to receive support when we need it most.
- Influence: With community participation comes empowerment. When people feel empowered, they feel a sense of control enabling them to influence positive change.
- Sharing: Sharing stimulates innovation and growth; ideas breed new ideas. Apart from having personal benefits of gaining knowledge and insight, sharing also contributes to the community’s greater worth.
- Reinforcement: This can be an effective learning tool to encourage desirable behaviours and provide motivation. A strong community will go beyond the immediate, basic needs and ensure that fulfillment is a positive experience. By doing so, it builds positive rewards and reinforcement for an enjoyable sense of togetherness.
- Connection: An open bond with new connections is what builds valuable relationships, and gives us a deeper sense of belonging. It helps us to reach our goals, and brings a sense of security.
- Learning/Resources: Communities are rich in resources, both physically and emotionally. Having knowledge is a unique resource and through its use, it increases in value.
- Passion: having an outlet for passions gives people the opportunity to share a subject they’re passionate about. This helps to spread confidence and encouragement to create new things that they can share with others.
But what constitutes a community? Community means different things to different people; it doesn’t have to be bound by a location or rule. On the broadest level, community is a group of people who are bound to each other by one or more attributes. One of the best tips on helping your child build relationships is to first think about what community means to you. Close your eyes and think about what you need to feel like a part of a community. Perhaps it’s
- Acceptance of similarities and differences
- Freedom of expression
- Opportunities to grow
These are all feelings that most of us cling to when looking for our own community. This can be found (or fostered) in the home, the classroom, the church, the support group, the book club, and even the Facebook group.
What Does it Mean to Be a Part of a Community?
Even though most people experience a sense of interiority or internal experience, there really is no “human being” outside of a relationship. We influence others and others influence us. We count on others, and others count on us. Being a part of a community means not being alone, and allowing yourself to place trust in others through shared experiences. It highlights the importance of working together in a group, recognizing strengths and gifts that other people have that we may not have.
For children, this dependence is even more important. Their communities right now might be their classmates, the Zoom playdate friends, the friends from their online dance class, and you, their parents (yes, siblings and pets are included too). For them, being a part of a community means being able to build relationships based on trust and exploration. Relationships are the bricks of a psychologically healthy foundation and empathy and acts of kindness are its mortar.
Tips on Helping Your Child Build Relationships
Parents, some of these things may be out of your control. There are certainly things teachers can do within the virtual classroom to allow children the opportunity to build relationships with each other, but some of those options aren’t up to you. Here are some ways you can help outside of the classroom to help your child build relationships:
- Encourage Zoom playdates: Your kids are likely getting to know their classmates bit by bit each day, but there aren’t many opportunities for breakout conversations throughout the virtual school day. Try connecting with other parents to set up virtual playdates that can be freeform or more structured, like craft making, cooking, going through a round of 20 questions, answering “coke or pepsi” questions, playing a virtual game of go fish, or having a pizza and silly costume party. The more your children learn about each other and connect the dots between their similarities, the stronger the community.
- Stay in touch: Break away from the screen! How exciting it was to open the mailbox on your birthday growing up, to see all the cards and birthday wishes friends and distant family sent. You can sit down with your child to create crafts and handmade postcards to send to their friends. You can also connect them with a penpal, whether local or far away, to encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings and strengthen their sense of community. It’s just as nice to share these physical heartfelt messages as it is to receive them!
- Teach them the importance of engagement: Your little ones might not be feeling very connected with the communities they are already in. When everyone’s cameras or microphones are turned off, it doesn’t feel like other people want to be a part of your community. Try to encourage your child to engage with the teacher and with their classmates. You can also explain how other children must be feeling and how they probably want to feel closer too, but might be too shy or having a tough time right now. Breaking the ice creates a much more warm, welcoming environment for everyone.
- Highlight the similarities: Explain to your kiddos that the community is there, even though you can’t see them. Talking with them about what is happening in other places around the world, how everyone is struggling with the pandemic, or bringing it closer to home and sharing what their friends and family are experiencing highlights that our shared experience and connection is still alive and that ultimately, the community is still there to help.
- Try Mission I’m Possible: Mission I’m Possible is a free program that gives children the playing ground they need to test out their relationship building skills. Every challenge lets them practice sharing words and acts of kindness and encourages them to reflect on how it made them and the other person feel. To the child, it’s a fun game to play, sneaking around with their “top secret” missions. To the parent, it’s a tool to engage their child and watch their emotional intelligence and relationship building skills flourish!