Why community connections are good for children
Children who are connected to extended family and family friends, and people in their neighbourhood and community have:
- a sense of belonging to a place and community
- opportunities to learn about getting along with others
- people to go to when they need help
- a network they can use to learn about different jobs, skills and so on.
Strong social connections can also boost your child’s confidence and lead to new friendships.
Different community connections have different benefits for children.
Connections with extended family and family friends
Extended family and family friends can strengthen your child’s sense of belonging. Some of these people are in your child’s life because you’ve chosen them. Others are related to you and your child.
These people might celebrate family occasions like birthdays with your child. Or they might take an interest in your child and his achievements. For example, his grandparents might be happy for him when he wins an award at school or in sport.
Being in touch with other adults and families also helps children to see that not all families are the same. This gives your child a sense that there are lots of different values, routines and ideas in the world.
And when parents are under stress, family members or family friends might help and support your family. For example, they might pick up your child from school if you’re sick or delayed.
Being familiar with people in the neighbourhood can help your child feel that her neighbourhood is a safe and friendly place. When you’re walking or riding bikes around your local streets, just saying hello or waving to your neighbours creates this friendly feeling.
Other people your child might see or talk to in the neighbourhood include crossing guards, doctors, librarians and police officers. You could point out these people when you see them.
Connections with local organisations
Your child might be involved in organisations like sporting clubs, music or art societies, religious organisations or volunteer groups. These can give your child opportunities to build skills, follow interests and ‘give back’ to the community. They’re also ways for you to connect with other parents.
Helping children make community connections: tips
Here are some ideas for helping your child connect with extended family, friends and people in the neighbourhood and community:
- Make opportunities for trusted relatives or family friends to have time with your child. Check with your child that he’s OK with this and enjoys his time with these people.
- Walk or cycle to a local park and let your child play on the equipment. Being out in your neighbourhood gives you and your child the chance to meet new people.
- Get involved in community events and take your child along with you. Working bees at school, community gardens, fetes and festivals give you and your child an opportunity to connect with people who are working together.
- Show your child that connection is a two-way thing. When you work with others and help them, they’ll do the same for you. For example, you might collect your neighbours’ mail when they’re on holiday and then they collect yours when you’re away.
- Look at photos of family and friends with your child to spark her interest in the relationships that are important to your family. You and your child could even work on a family story book together.
- Role model social skills with people in your community. This can be as simple as saying ‘hello’, ‘please’ and ‘thank you’. Your child will watch the way you talk with people and follow your example. And this helps your child learn how to get along with people.
Your child’s safety in the community
It’s essential for your child to feel safe around people in his community, and there are some adults you might not want your child to connect with.
Always meet and talk with adults who’ll be in contact with your child away from home or school, and share information about them with other parents. It’s also a good idea to encourage your child to tell you about adults that she’s coming into contact with – for example, a new helper at her sports club. And make sure your child knows that if someone makes her feel nervous or uncomfortable, she needs to tell you about her feelings.
When your child is starting a new activity in the community, it’s important to find out how the organisation will look after his safety and wellbeing. For example, you can check whether the organisation is using the National Principles for Child Safe Organisations. You should be able to get this information from the enrolment information, permission forms or organisation’s website. It’s also OK for you to ask.
Encourage your child to be alert and observant. When you go for walks around the neighbourhood, play a game of ‘Who can you see?’ ‘Why are people on the street?’ ‘What are they doing?’ You and your child will probably notice most people going about their everyday business. This helps your child to be aware of her personal safety.