Help me feel like I belong
- Spend quality time with the young person you care about without distractions like using your phone
- Give them positive reinforcements and praise for things that they do and who they are
- Help them connect to their whakapapa and culture
- Help them find an interest based group or culture club they would want to join
- Take active interest in their hobbies and interests
When people don’t feel like they belong, it can lead to isolation and an increased risk of poor mental health, strained relationships, and loneliness.
Identity and belonging are about developing a positive sense of who we are and feeling valued and respected as part of a family, group, community, marae, hapū and iwi.
From birth, children are developing a sense of who they are through things like their family, experiences, behaviour, family history and personality.
Relationships with family members, friends and members of our community play a key role in building identity. This can come from relationships through whakapapa and knowing the responsibilities to those connections through whanaungatanga. For many people, understanding their past, family, culture, religion, race and environment can help develop a sense of identity.
Belonging is about having a secure relationship or a connection with a group of people. When children feel this, they’re more likely to be emotionally strong and able to deal with challenges and difficulties.
Giving rangatahi / young people messages of respect, love, approval, and encouragement lets them develop a positive sense of who they are, and a feeling that they matter and contribute to the world.
Here’s how you can help them feel they belong:
Spend quality time with them
Being a good listener makes a real difference. When you’re talking with them put away distractions (like your phone) and show them you’re paying attention. Ask questions and be interested in what they tell you. If they struggle to talk to you, do an activity with them such as walking or going for a drive as this can help them feel more comfortable.
Remember that time is precious. Make plans and stick to them. If you can’t be there in person, send them a message or call them to let them know you’re thinking about them.
Give them positive reinforcement and praise
Say what you like about them. If they do something well, tell them. Praise them for a job well done – especially if it’s a thing that seems tiny because others might not notice it. Tell them what’s great about them.
Show interest in them
Take an active interest in their hobbies and passions and let them share what they enjoy. Ask them to teach you how to do something they’re good at.
See their potential
Tell them you believe they have the potential to achieve their goals and why. If they don’t have a clear goal, notice their skills and talents. Ask them questions to help them find how they can use their strengths to make a difference or achieve their goals. Remind them that the only time we truly fail is when we choose not to chase after our dreams.
Share your thoughts and feelings with them
Share some of your small fears with them to show you’re not afraid to be vulnerable. This will help them trust you and open up about their own feelings, fears, and thoughts. Share your opinions to show them you’re straight up with them. They might do the same.
Do things together
Invite them to join you in doing something important, like organising an event or see if you can help with something they’re planning to do. Invite them to out to something, like a sporting event, or to the movies. Plan a meal together. Anything that shows you make time for them.
You can help them see who they are connected to and help rangatahi / young people identify and seek out new, healthy connections if they feel isolated.
Rangatahi / young people who grow up separated from their family, whānau, hapū or iwi may find themselves surrounded by people who look and/or sound different, speak a different language, or hold different values to their own. This can lead to feelings of isolation and sadness. Young people who come to New Zealand from another country may feel like this too.
If you’re helping someone who is feeling like this, let them know what they’re feeling is normal. Adjusting to a different culture can be difficult as there may be new behaviours and traditions to get used to and it’s easy to feel out of place.
This same sense of disconnection and isolation can happen when exploring a side of their culture that is new to them. You can assure rangatahi / young people in this situation that they don’t need to ignore who they were, or where they have come from, to explore a new part of themselves.
If a rangatahi / young person is exploring a part of their culture new to them, encourage them to connect with those who can teach them about their heritage. If they’ve moved to a new town, help them keep in touch with people they already know on their phone or social media. You could help them join social clubs, sports teams or find a new hobby to help make new friends and connections.
Take the time to talk to rangatahi / young people about their connections with you, their family and friends, their church, and other people they know. Tell them why you value your connection with them.
If they are having trouble fitting in or finding connections, ask them what makes them feel different to the people and places around them. If they can’t describe what it is, talk about parts of identity – racial and ethnic identity, sexuality and gender, their spirituality and values. If there are parts of their identity where they don’t feel supported or don’t fit in with people around them, help them find places to connect with likeminded people:
- local cultural performance groups
- sports groups
- social clubs
- a new church
- LGBTQI groups
- the internet (this won’t replace the need for real connections but is a great place to research local support networks, social clubs or cultural groups).