By Kris Wolfe

[En español]

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:

  1. Offer Unconditional Love—Kids need to know that their security is not based in their performance. Seek to trust their heart in spite of their questionable choices.
  2. Offer Structure—Love offers security but so does structure. Offer routine, consistency and dependability. Stand by your word, and let your NOs mean NO.
  3. Offer Identity—Begin speaking truth into their life as soon as you hold them. Compliment their character. Catch them doing “good” and recognize their goodness. Value their character over their accomplishments.
  4. Develop a Family Identity—Build on your routines and consistency with traditions and a family “persona.” Teach your kids what your family stands for and believes in and follow up with your actions. Example of a family identity, “We Harveys don’t lie.” Now be sure that you don’t.
  5. Allow Them to Speak—Kids need to know that they are allowed to have a voice and that their thoughts and opinions are valued. Try not to interrupt them or criticize them.
  6. Listen—My kids talk about some weird stuff. I try to show interest even when it seems pointless and silly. After all, I would rather them talk to me about “nonsense” than not talk to me at all. I even ask questions about their unique ideas. It has led to some of our best conversations and to me getting to know my kids so much better.
  7. Value Their Heart—We have to be intentional about pursuing a relationship with them. There will be times when they will feel very distant from us. Be patient. Be dependable. Be available. Don’t be pushy.
  8. Allow Them Their Own Feelings—We have a responsibility to teach our children healthy ways of living. But we don’t get to tell them how to feel. Furthermore, they don’t need us to solve all of their problems. Some times they just need someone to care. A little empathy goes a long way!
  9. Value Their Uniqueness—I mentioned that my kids talk about weird stuff. Sometimes they even do weird stuff, or have interests that don’t align with what we would choose for them. My son recently decided to join some afterschool clubs. He chose CrossFit, Running Club and “Cooking, Crafts & Creations.” He likes to cook! It made his stepfather and I grin ear to ear when we learned he might be making wreathes and cookies at school. We can’t be great if we are afraid to be different!
  10. Protect Family Time—They won’t know what we value if they don’t spend time with us. A family meal at least a few times a week, time to just talk without interruptions and time to worship as a family creates structure, predictability and family pride.
  11. Guard Their Rest—Tired and overscheduled kids don’t have a chance to recharge their batteries, energy to study God’s word, or time to remember what they stand for. Make sure that you are reminding them to value “who” they are more than what they can achieve in a 24-hour period. And model rest in your own schedule.
  12. Help Them Find Identity in Christ—This is really the cornerstone of creating a sense of belonging in our children. To feel that we belong we first have to know who we are. It’s important to teach them that they were created on purpose, for a purpose, and that God desires a personal relationship with them. They need to know that they have a positional identity as a son or daughter of Christ that cannot be undone by their mistakes, their bad moods, their poor decisions or their failures. And we have to model this and reinforce this by treating them like valued humans while teaching them through consistent discipline and never-ending love.

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
About Kris Wolfe
Tennessee | United States

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.

Kris covers topics such as dating, marriage, parenting, divorce, post-divorce recovery, and the blended family. Read more from Kris at: Clarksville, TN Online and her website.

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