Referring back to last week's article, I described how the eight conditions for helping children succeed are arranged like a pyramid, with the base of the pyramid consisting of belonging, heroes and sense of accomplishment. The middle layer of the pyramid consisting of fun and excitement, spirit of adventure and curiosity and creativity. And the top third of the pyramid contains leadership and responsibility and confidence to take action.
The condition of belonging is the lower left cornerstone of our pyramid. Without any of the three base conditions, the whole pyramid would collapse.
So what is belonging? To describe belonging, let me use an adaptation from "Believing in Achieving" (Quaglia, Fox and Hyatt, 1998).
"The need and desire to belong is universal. Children need to feel like they belong to their family and are a valued member of the family. Belonging to a community organization, school, profession, social circle, athletic team, church or any group that unconditionally welcomes and accepts you for who you are now, not who you've been or who you might become, is key to the development of healthy aspirations," they wrote.
"Belonging is the experience of being a valued member of the family. It is characterized by a sense of connection, support and trust. It is critically important children feel what they do matters, what they say is heard and how they feel is recognized.
"... The loneliness and silent suffering of children and teen-agers who are judged by peers and adults as too different, too strange or too unloved can result in a lifetime of problems and lost potential."
Now that we have a description of belonging in mind, let me pose a few questions for you to think about. These questions are in the "Parent's Inventory for Affecting Children's Aspirations" from the National Center for Student Aspirations. This is not a test. It is just a checklist to help all parents in one of the most challenging and rewarding jobs in the universe -- raising children. As a parent, evaluate how you strengthen the condition of belonging in your home.
1. My children enjoy spending time with me.
2. I encourage everyone in the home to help and work with each other.
3. I let my children know I value their opinions.
4. I seek and provide opportunities for my children to share their thoughts with me.
5. I let my children know I value their individuality.
6. My children know I love them unconditionally.
7. In my home, I work hard at establishing a sense of community.
8. I know what my children think is important.
9. I affirm each of my children's uniqueness as a person.
10. I accept my children for the persons they are growing to be.
Make a mental mark for each of the items so that they are in the following categories:
n This pertains to my family all the time.
n This pertains to my family most of the time.
n This does not pertain to my family, but it should.
If you had some in the last two categories, these are items you might be able to focus on and improve. Don't feel like you are a failure as a parent if you have some that are in the last two categories. We all can improve in many of the questions. It is not easy being a parent.
What follows is a series of questions to help you change and go down a different path of thinking, feeling and acting toward your children. I find it helpful to write down the responses to these questions and keep them handy to refer to from time to time.
1. What will I do to let my children know they are a valued member of the family?
2. What can I do to establish a closer relationship with my children?
3. What kind of support do I need that will allow me to establish the condition of belonging in my home?
4. How do I model acceptance and celebrate the diversity of my children?
5. How can my family become more involved in community and school activities in order that we can better belong to our community?
6. What are the initial next steps I am planning on making in this area?
7. How will I know I have been successful in establishing the condition of belonging?
One of the easiest ways to help your child feel like they belong is to eat together. Discuss each other's day while eating dinner. Turn off the television and talk to each other over dinner. In our busy lives and our children's busy lives, it can be difficult to do, but you will be teaching them the importance of belonging if you make time and help them make time to sit down and eat together.
For more information on aspirations, take time to visit the National Center for Student Aspirations Web site at: www.studentaspirations.org.
Enjoy your week, and next week we will discuss another one of the base of the pyramid: heroes.
Hank Overturf, the assistant principal at Kenai Central High School, has 26 years of experience in education. He has been with the Kenai Peninsula School District for 10 years.
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