How to Make Your Kids Feel Like They Belong
Everyone Wants to Fit In and Be Liked
No matter if you or your child is a loner, a social butterfly or anything in between, all children long to be in a situation whether at home or out where they know that they fit in.
I can still recall my son as he went to school looking at me and then motioning over to the heap of clothes that lay in a jumble on his bed. "I just want to fit in, mom" he muttered as he tried on yet another pair of jeans with a different shirt. "I want them to like me".
My heart broke for my child. No matter what I did, now that he was a young adult, I could not do any more than I had already done to help him fit in to a new school.
Different Types of Belonging
In social situations, children like to have clearly defined ideas of what is and what is not acceptable. If everyone is wearing a certain clothing or fashion item, your child will probably want to wear it as well. Sometimes, these can be useful tools. Remember when everyone wore the rubber bracelets that announced support for causes and beliefs? Although no one really wears like that anymore, pre-teens, tweens and teens would wear layers of these colorful statements. Why? Because everyone else was wearing them. Offering an inexpensive item as an incentive can be a tool to get your child to socialize more if they are shy.
In other social situations, choices are presented that are not as harmless. From the seemingly simple "I want to wear clothes/cosmetics/other items you have forbidden" to the darker "I want to experiment with things that could be dangerous to me, such as drugs or alcohol", children are likely to be influenced by peer pressure to make decisions that are not wise in order to feel like they fit in.
Fitting a Family Dynamic
There are other types of fitting in for children. Children need to know their place in their family, and feel like they are an accepted part of the family. One of the hardest things as a parent can be disciplining a child, while still expressing that you love and care for them as a member of the family. My son was in a car accident that was a direct result of his careless driving. Of course, we made it a point to not replace the vehicle as he was obviously not ready for the responsibility. He was also placed on restriction that only allowed him out of the house for specific school and work functions. It was during this time that my partner and I needed to decide what to do about our relationship with our son.
Together, we decided that the punishment of being at home during home times, with no communication on the computer or with friends was more than adequate as a part of his punishment. Causing him to be more miserable at home seemed excessive to us. We decided that at home, my son could read if he wanted to, hang out in the family room with us, and still participate in family activities such as game night.
Even though my son was grounded from social interactions with friends, he and I talk about those times with a fondness. There was the night that he and his much younger cousins made cookies. The weekend that we all played board games until every single board game in the house had been played, and many more incidents. By enforcing the fact that he was not allowed to leave the house, but still giving him a home to come to when he was not in school or working, my son felt free to share parts of his life with us that many parents do not learn about from their teenage children.
Giving your child limits and restrictions on their movement is a way to ensure that you are able to spend time continually building on the relationship that you already have. In step and blended families, this is very important because there is not necessarily a foundation of trust and memories.
Create Rules to Allow for Safe Outlets of Expression
When your child longs to be able to wear fashions that are far too mature for him or her, look at what they are asking to do and determine whether or not there are design elements that you are comfortable with. A friend of mine has a stepdaughter who lives full time with them. She wanted to wear short skirts with fishnet stockings and thigh high boots. My friend looked at what her stepdaughter wanted to wear and they came to a compromise. She was allowed to wear pleated mini-skirts, but not tight ones. If she wore them to school, the length had to be acceptable to the rules at school as well. She was allowed to wear patterned tights, but not fishnet stockings, and finally, she was allowed to wear combat boots, but not thigh highs. By letting your child have a decision in what they wear, your child has a better chance of feeling like they fit in. Children as we all know can be cruel. Branding a child as "un-cool" by peers is a cruel way of removing them from healthy social interactions.
When my son wanted to smoke because his friends were doing it, I forbade him and before I could even explain why, he smiled broadly at me. "Thanks, Mom. If I tell the guys that it was you who said no to me and not me saying no to them, then I won't be a wimp. I will tell them all that you are really strict." By making the rules clear to your child, you allow them to be able to refuse social peer pressure with you being the reason to not break the rules.
Treat Children Like Cherished Members of Your Family
When my sister first met the children of her boyfriend from a prior relationship, she was very nervous. The children were sweet at first, showing her various toys, trophies, photos and drawings from their room. She made it a point to appreciate each item from the kids, and showed them how much she really did care.
It was an important first step in building a relationship with the boys. She showed them that they had worth. Their possessions had worth. Their actions and activities had worth. Other women did not make the cut because they dismissed the children and what they were trying to show her and share with her.
Remember that children have feelings, too. If you were to show someone something that you created and they dismissed you, how would you feel? If you were to speak to them and they were to ignore you, how would you feel? By making a point to spend time with children and learn about them as individuals, you are taking long strides in building up a setting of trust and love. You cannot force love or trust. They have to be forged in time and effort.
By treating children like cherished members of your life and your community, they will feel as though they belong as a part of your family and your household.
Have you ever had to solve a problem with your child fitting in?
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