Relationships Matter - The Importance of Belonging

February 06, 2018

I was about to say Happy New Year to you all but now January has been and gone! Are you like us and wonder how the year has gone so fast?  Time certainly does not stand still for anyone, and sometimes it does feel like it’s on fast-forward!

Recently I’ve been thinking a lot about the children we encounter and the staff members we train.  We are all dealt hands in life and, for some, those hands are a lot tougher than others.  For those children who struggle, we’re unlikely to be able to change their home life, we cannot change many of their difficulties…. but we can care!  By caring, being there and not giving up on these children we can make a difference.  Some children –  especially those with attachment difficulties, or those who have suffered trauma – may push you away; avoiding you or screaming at you.  This could be because their experience of relationships has been poor; one of rejection or abandonment.  They are behaving the only way they know how; this behaviour is a self-preservation strategy, it is what’s helped them survive thus far.


In our courses, we often talk about the importance of resilience (someone’s inner strength which helps them through times of adversity) and how schools can play a major role in helping children develop resilience.  Many children come to school with one or more risk factors, such as poor housing, family breakup, etc. and need to balance these with protective factors, in order to develop resilience.  Protective factors can include emotional regulation, problem solving and anger management.

One of the most important protective factors for young people is having a sense of belonging.  Having positive relationships in place builds connectedness which, in turn, builds this sense of belonging.  There is a lot of research showing that connectedness and a sense of belonging both have a positive effect on mental health and happiness, as well as academic motivation (Furlong, Whipple, St Jean, Simental, Soliz and Punthuna 2003; Goodenow, 1993).  In fact, the importance of a sense of belonging dates back as long ago as 1943, when Maslow in his ‘Hierarchy of Needs’, referred to trust and acceptance, and being part of a group, as a basic human need.

When we read research from the University of Hertfordshire, showing that young people are seven times more likely to self-harm if their sense of belonging to school is low, we realised just how important belonging and resilience is. Having someone in school who cares is vital. However, the importance of human connection is something that is often under-rated, or at times overlooked, when schools have an incredible emphasis on academic achievement.

Therefore, next time you are faced with a child who finds learning a challenge, or cannot manage their behaviour, remember that all behaviour is communicating a need – usually an unmet need.  Be there for that child and don’t give up.  By having the relationship in place and connecting with the child, you will often come to understand the reason for that behaviour.  Only then, can you adapt your response with the appropriate strategy.

I like the analogy which says that we can’t stop the traffic on a busy road for these children, but we can teach them how to safely cross the road.  So, let’s do what we can to build resilience in children this year!

Group with hands

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