Originally posted in 2016, this post was updated in June 2020.
Children need to feel that their world is a safe place
Children need to know they’re cared for, that their needs are met, and that they can get help when they need it. When children have these things they develop strong feelings of belonging and inclusion, which improves their mental health and wellbeing.
Benefits of belonging
Children who feel a sense of belonging and connectedness at their preschool, kindergarten, day care or school will be happy, more relaxed and have fewer behaviour problems than others. They are also more motivated and successful learners.
There are benefits when parents and carers feel a sense of belonging and connectedness too.
It’s important to feel included
When children feel included, they are more likely to be accepting of others and sensitive to their needs, and they feel safer and more secure. The best learning happens when children see the adults around them putting values like care, compassion, respect, understanding and inclusion into practice.
An inclusive service is one that understands, respects, welcomes, celebrates and honours the diversity of children, families and staff.
In an inclusive community, every face has a place, every voice is valued and everyone has something to contribute
Inclusive services provide rich and positive experiences for young children, which stay with them for life.
Positive relationships are essential for mental health and wellbeing
Positive relationships are warm, caring, consistent, predictable, and open to the other person’s needs. When children experience positive relationships they learn how to use these skills in their own relationships with others.
In an early childhood service everyone plays an important role in developing positive relationships.
The best way for early childhood services and families to support children’s mental health is by working together.
Five ways services can encourage belonging and inclusion
- Make the surroundings welcoming for all children and families: Think about how your service looks and whether it reflects the culture and interests of the children and families that attend. Take time to develop positive relationships. Be aware of different needs and cater for them wherever possible.
- Support children’s social and emotional skills: Create fun opportunities for social interactions and social play between children that promote respect and empathy. Encourage staff to join in, as modelling social skills helps children learn about them.
- Implement safety, wellbeing and behaviour policies: Develop policies in collaboration with families. Involve families, children and staff in decisions that affect them.
- Help families connect: Provide activities for families to connect with the service and each other. One idea is to set up a ‘buddy system’ to provide support to new families. Supply information about support available in the local community.
- Communicate clearly and regularly: Provide information in appropriate languages and in ways that cater to individual needs. Share ideas, resources and experiences with other staff members.
Five ways families can support belonging and inclusion
- Find out about your service and what your child does there: Talk regularly with staff and ask questions about your child’s day.
- Support your child’s social and emotional skills: Create opportunities for your child to participate in fun experiences with other children, and support them to include and appreciate others. Give your child encouragement that is specific and values effort over success.
- Talk about your child’s individual needs: Share ideas and information that could help staff plan appropriately for your child. Let staff know if your child is having difficulties.
- Be informed and get involved: Check for notices that are sent home and keep informed about activities. Don’t be afraid to ask if you don’t understand something. Find out if there are ways you can take part at your service, and attend information sessions and social activities.
- Get to know other families: Talk with other families at the service. Look out for new families and help them to feel welcome.
Be You provides educators with knowledge, resources and strategies for helping children and young people achieve their best possible mental health.
This article was first published on KidsMatter (now known as Be You) Early Childhood’s blog in 2016.