If you are a tough love kind of parent, you might not even care if your kids feel a sense of belonging, so long as they have a motivation to perform and behave.
But do you remember what it was like to be twelve or fifteen? Did belonging matter to you? Of course it did! Belonging was so important to me that just seeing other kids not fit in or stand out in a negative way made me sad and anxious. I can still remember a boy I went to high school with. He only had a few outfits and stood out with his oft-repeated clothes. But when the talent show rolled around each year, he fit in with fierceness. This boy could sing! He had a suit too, and he rocked the suit and his sound with confidence. And the sense of belonging that you could sense from him was palpable, even inspiring.
Most of my poor decisions as a pre-teen and teenager can be traced back to a lack of self-confidence, a desire to be liked, and need to belong. Have you heard the quote, “If you stand for nothing, you’ll fall for anything?” Without a firm foundation consisting of a clear value system, combined with a team of people who believe in us, and rounded out by a strong sense of who we are, we are likely to make decisions that seem good at the time but lead to regret and harm.
Your pre-teen or teen wants to be liked and included with their peers, but ironically what they need more is to be wanted and valued by you. In fact, a kid who feels a substantial sense of belonging at home is less likely to search for unhealthy affirmation among his or her peers.
So what can we do as parents to offer our kids a sense of belonging at home so they are less likely to seek it from the bad boy at school or the “wrong crowd” in the neighborhood? While there is no foolproof system, there is hope through these tips:
No parent wants their pre-teen or teen to be easy prey for those looking to take advantage of weak or naïve kids. To strengthen and empower our kids to be ready for a world that often lacks kindness and sometimes has evil motives, we have to gird them with identity of self, family and Christ. We have to create traditions, a routine and time to reconnect with each other and God. We have to be vigilant in putting their character development above their trophies and ribbons, and reminding them that they have a purpose greater than impressing others.
And I don’t know about you but I want to see my kids grow up to be amazing! I don’t mean rich, or famous, or popular. I mean kind, and brave, and useful, serving God’s kingdom and bringing glory to Him. I pray that they will enjoy a deep and unshakable joy that is found in self-confidence and rooted in being loved by their Maker.
Kris Wolfe is a Christian, wife and mother. She is a freelance writer who focuses on spiritual and practical encouragement, writes lessons for small group purposes for churches, and is also a small group coach. Kris has a master’s degree in Biblical Counseling from Luther Rice University and Seminary and is a listed TN Supreme Court Rule 31 Mediator.
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