Belonging and Connection

Humans are social and emotional beings. After their survival needs (food, shelter, warmth) are sorted out, children have a need for belonging.

Dr Louise Porter, an Australian psychologist, and author of Children Are People Too uses the following tree diagram to explain to parents what children’s needs are.

Image reproduced with permission from Dr Louise Porter.

All child behaviour arises from the need to belong. There are only two base emotions – fear and love. Mis(taken)behaviour arises from fear. Good behaviour arises from feeling loved and having a sense of belonging.

Parents can create belonging through connection, acceptance, and empathy.


Create moments of connection with your child as much as possible throughout the day. Lisa Boisvert Mackenzie (USA) says to think about the Anchors and Bookends of your day.

The Anchors are the regular activities where you come together – meals, chores, getting out the door. The Bookends are waking up and going to bed. Make the Anchors and Bookends of the day the best they can possibly be – times of connection. Get the children involved in the activities of the home – washing, setting the table, clearing the table, washing up – not jobs that each one does on his or her own but jobs/activities that you do together. How can you make waking up and going to bed a time of connection with your children? Think about your rituals too. Do you have a Family Day? How do you celebrate birthdays? What times of the year are special for your family?

As children grow older they start to do more for themselves, that’s true. But that’s where parents come unstuck. They think that their children need them less, when in fact they need them more – emotionally. It’s easy to connect with little ones because they need so much doing for them. You are their world. As children get older, their world gets bigger. And so do their dilemmas. You need to create connection with your children so you are the one they come to when they are worried or upset, and when they have achieved something.

All of the youth workers I speak to, agree. Build the foundations with your children now whilst they are young, because a strong relationship is what is going to get you (parents and kids) through adolescence. They say it is the most important thing. Dr Bryan Post says “parenting is a process not an outcome – the process is the outcome”.

So, remember to give your older kids hugs, eye contact, and affection. Spend some time with them on their own as well.  The more nurtured your children are, the more confident they feel about facing the world. They move out to the autonomy side of the tree when they are feeling good about themselves, however, they need to be able to come back to you when they are feeling uncertain or unsafe.


Your child needs to know that you love him for the person that he is, faults and all.

You have to give nine positive messages to counteract the effects of one negative message. Negative messages are those that  put-down another person for who they are, what they do, and how they do it. They erode trust and self-esteem.

Make your home a “be kind zone” where no-one (including the parents) is allowed to put-down or tease any other member of the family. If our children cannot receive love and acceptance from family, where will they get it from?


Take a walk in your child’s shoes.

How is life for them, in their bodies, and within the family?

Children are not bad, manipulative, or out to make your life difficult. They are smaller than us with less life experience and fewer self-help and problem-solving skills, and they need our support and guidance not our scorn and indignation. They are not “big boys” or “big girls” at 3, or 6, or even 10. Children’s brains are different to an adult’s brain – children are not mini-adults. They have a lot of growing to do, physically and emotionally and intellectually, before they can take their place in the world.

Can I give my kids too much attention?

Meeting a child’s need extinguishes the need. Why? Because it feeds the child’s need for belonging. Spoiling kids is giving them chocolate for dinner instead of broccoli, or giving in to them in aisle five of the supermarket because they are having a tantrum over a toy.

When she is crying because she has hurt herself, acknowledge her feelings and hold her until she is ready to go again. When he’s telling you about his day, listen with all your might. When they need you to help them with something, stop what you are doing as soon as possible.

Lisa Nichols from the Motivating The Teen Spirit programme in the USA says “not now, not now, not now, becomes not ever”. If you turn a child away all the time, he or she will stop coming to you.

Meeting children’s need for belonging and connection isn’t spoiling them, it’s loving them and they can never get enough of that.


Related Articles

A story about belonging – Walking with



Categories: Encouraging Desirable Behaviour


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