Belonging is acceptance as a part or as a member. Having a sense of belonging is a human need, it requires connection and authenticity, it involves trust and acceptance for who we are. Feeling that we belong is very important in the way we assess value in life and in facing and coping with challenging times and difficult emotions. The inability to accomplish this need results in loneliness, sadness and mental distress.
Fitting in is being accepted for being like the others. We try to fit in where we want to be but the others don’t really care if we do or we don’t. Fitting in is an important skill to develop in life, when joining a new group, a new class, a new job one needs to fit in. Fitting in is important when joining something new, we don’t need to share anything that can be used against us as there is limited trust in the others because we don’t really know them well. Experience is key in learning how much to share and to who, and as caregivers with more experience in life, we can help our children.
Difference between Belonging and Fitting In
Belonging and fitting in are very different, when we are fitting in we assess the situation and become who we need to be to be accepted. Whereas belonging requires authenticity, it requires us to be ourselves – we don’t need to change who we are.
Helping our children
Providing our children with a strong sense of love and belonging at home is the best thing we can do to help our children in fitting in and in finding good friends. Knowing that they are loved and accepted as they are provides the safety net that enables them to explore the world and interact with others.
We want to make them feel comfortable with their opinions, with their interests and their likes. They do not need to pretend to live up to our expectations.
When our children need to fit in, we can help them by providing input into how much to reveal to whom. Asking questions like: Who can you trust with your most personal information? When is it ok to share this? When should you not share this information?
Guide them in their answers with your experience and with examples on good and bad outcomes. There are always stories of people feeling betrayed as personal information is shared to others like sexting and other painful experiences. There are also positive stories to share of people succeeding when sharing their interest with others. An example could be sharing their passion in basketball with an NBA player who ultimately helped them improve with their game.
The most important thing we can do as parents is accepting them as they are so that they have a sense of belonging and love from you.