We’ve all heard “it takes a village to raise a child,” and any parent who has scrambled to find a babysitter or been late to school pick-up knows how true that is. But, what can be less obvious is how to build that village, maintain it over time, and add to it as your family’s needs evolve. Surrounding children with community—from social peers to caring adults—has countless benefits, including helping your child’s development and emotional regulation.
What Families Gain from Community Membership
Their nuclear family is a child’s first community, but just as you need other relationships to thrive, so do your kids. This includes same-aged peers and friends, but importantly, it also means other non-parental adults who can impact your child’s upbringing such as teachers or coaches, religious leaders, extended family, and trusted friends. Dr. Dan Siegel Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and a member of the Center for Children and Youth’s expert panel emphasizes the value children gain from having multiple adult attachments in his work. The more supportive communities children are a part of, the more aware they become of our interconnected world. These integrated relationships lead to more communication between the different areas of the brain which builds a child’s ability to self-regulate their emotions, mood, empathy, behavior, and more.
Building community and entrusting your child to the care of other adults is also good for you; when you feel the burden of parenthood, you can turn to others for advice, for help, and for guidance in raising your child and shaping who they will become.
Creating Connection with Others
While the challenges of the pandemic have been many, interpersonal connection has taken an especially hard hit. Young children have missed out on formative years of social skill-building, and many adolescents have gotten too comfortable with being alone and less comfortable with peers. The good news is that it is not too late for your child to form the interpersonal connections that can have a positive impact on their health, development, and sense of self within the greater community.
Dr. Siegel examines this relationship between the “me” and the “we” in his work and explores how identity and community are intertwined. His upcoming training hosted by CCY’s Child Training Institute will help mental health professionals understand how the challenges of the pandemic are influencing the environmental experiences of children and adolescents, through the lens of neurobiology.
Parents can support their child’s development, identify formation, and build community by signing them up for activities, participating in school events, or spending time with other families. Encouraging tweens and teens to balance their free time with joining groups with like-minded peers will help develop a healthy community-based focus and sense of self.
How We Can Help
As a division of Jewish Family and Children’s Services, the work of CCY focuses on creating welcoming communities as a key Jewish value. Through CCY, you’ll find programs for your family at every stage, from the moment you welcome your first child until you send your youngest off to college.
Community is critically important for new parents, who often feel isolated. Our Jewish Baby Network (JBN) program serves expectant parents and families with children ages 0 – 36 months throughout the Bay Area. By offering opportunities for connection, family events, and helpful resources, JBN encourages its participants to get to know each other and to lean on each other through the joys and challenges of early parenthood and beyond. All are welcome, including those unaffiliated, single and multi-parent, multi-faith, multi-ethnic, multi-abled, and LGBTQ+ families.
CCY also offers ongoing baby play groups (currently offered virtually) where parents can ask questions and spend quality time with their child to promote their growth and development during their first year of life.
Your child’s school is another space where you can build community. By focusing on social-emotional learning as well as an academic curriculum, schools reinforce qualities such as resilience, kindness, and empathy.
The tween and teen years are also a critical time for forming integrated relationships, especially if children missed out on such connections when they were younger. During adolescence, the brain is reorganizing itself and teens start to identify their personal values, so there is a big opportunity for growth. Especially in the teen years, youth benefit from being part of non-school based affinity groups, and having adult role models in their lives, including youth workers, coaches, teachers, and others who support their skill development and provide positive reinforcement.
CCY’s YouthFirst is a community of teens and pre-teens from across the Bay Area who come together to discuss important questions and build the skills they need as they move into young adulthood. Programs include leadership skills development, internships, career exploration, and Jewish service-learning.
Even in what can feel like isolating times, it’s important to put in the work to find and maintain your village. Not only will you benefit from having others to rely on but being exposed to diverse communities and forming attachments with other adults will allow your children to develop into well-rounded, empathic people.
As always, we’re here to help you in every way we can.