Cultivating a sense of belonging to the family takes time, thought and effort and will not happen overnight. It is important that dads be consistent with their efforts and establish structures in family activities so that children can foster deeper and lasting attachments to the family. These routines and rituals offer children the opportunity to repeat experiences and gain familiarity. Children can look back fondly on special family events and interactions and remember the safe, predictable feeling of being cared for by their dads.
Dads can help by creating opportunities that allow all family members to participate, express their ideas and exchange skills and knowledge within the family. They should also check in with their own attitudes on a regular basis to ensure that they are being positive, supportive, and communicative with their children.
Here are some practical tips for dads to grow a sense of belonging in their children:
- Create an environment with spaces and materials that children can claim for themselves by labelling regularly used objects such as mugs, place mats for snacks, and different areas of the room.
- Encourage children to make ‘all about me’ posters with photographs and/or drawings of themselves, their families, homes, pets, and favourite toys and activities, and talk to them about what these posters mean to them.
- Explore with children what makes them special and unique (e.g., their name, size, hair, hand and footprint, birthday) and what makes them different from their siblings and peers.
- Spend one-on-one time with young children such as taking them out to the zoo, playing their favourite game, or reading their favourite book before bedtime to make them feel special and valued.
- Discuss children’s individual strengths, abilities and interests, e.g., sports, animals, cars, dancing, singing, playing a musical instrument, computers, drawing or math.
- Use drawings and writings to help children create books about numerous topics and themes such as their favourite sports team or their holidays.
- Establish family routines such as daily routines for getting everyone ready in the morning, bath time, bedtime and mealtimes, greetings and goodbyes, as well as weekly routines such as playing at the park, visiting relatives or going to the temple, mosque or church over the weekend.
- Allow children to express their own ideas, preferences and needs, and respond to them with respect e.g., allowing children to play alone if they need some time away from other siblings.
- Enable children to be involved in or to choose alternative activities to what other family members are engaging in.
- Set tasks or play games that cater to varying abilities so that all family members have a chance to be successful.
- Celebrate relevant events such as birthdays, Chinese New Year, Christmas, Hari Raya, Deepavali etc. with the whole family and maintain traditions such as putting up a tree or buying new clothes for festive occasions so that children have something to look forward to each year.
- Display children’s work, awards, prizes and art where others can see it to help them feel valued and see themselves and their interests reflected in the family environment.
- Take photographs or video recordings of children participating in musicals, creative activities, dance, drama, and pretend play, and share them at various family events.
- Read books with children that depict their backgrounds and cultures.
- Record sequences of events in personal or family histories, e.g., let children view their own baby and toddler photos, and talk to them about toys their grandparents played with, or the clothes you wore, and music you listened to when you were their age.
- Encourage speaking and listening to other family members, e.g., passing round a pretend microphone giving each family member an opportunity to say something, as well as hearing what others have to say.
- Encourage reciprocal affirmation in a family by not only praising children but encouraging them to praise other family members about their achievements.
- Communicate non-judgment and acceptance by inviting children to be open about their challenges and difficulties and lending your support to them.
By the time your child enters the pre-teen years, he or she is ready to take on more responsibilities and make a larger contribution to the family. Pre-teens should be encouraged to express their views and help make decisions in family matters that affect them. These meaningful exchanges amongst family members help to foster a deeper sense of belonging.
- Include pre-teens in making decisions on family activities such as planning the itinerary for overseas trips.
- Help pre-teens to develop responsibility to care for spaces in the home and allow them to take ownership for a particular area e.g., looking after their place in the room, keeping their things tidy and clean.
- Give them opportunities to share their knowledge with other family members, e.g., by helping a younger sibling with homework.
- Help pre-teens feel competent and valued by allowing them to pitch in on work that utilises their skills such as gardening or preparing dishes in the kitchen.
- Hone their skills of negotiation and conflict resolution in the family, e.g., by asking them to reflect on what is the best way to handle an upset sibling or make a compromise when siblings both want a certain toy for themselves.
Helping your children develop a sense of belonging is a multi-pronged approach: it requires you to consistently make time for shared family activities, listen to and validate your children’s ideas and concerns, celebrate their unique traits and achievements, show them sensitivity and support, accept them unconditionally for who they are, and also give them the agency to contribute to the family.
King, D. (2012). Helping children and families develop a sense of belonging. Exchange.
About the Author: The Dads for Life Resource Team comprises local content writers and experts, including psychologists, counsellors, educators and social service professionals, dedicated to developing useful resources for dads.