In this together: the benefits of community for parents and children
In today's busy and often isolating world, parents and carers may struggle to build a supportive network for themselves and their child.
As a new parent, you might feel like everything has been turned upside down. In many ways, it has, and building that sense of belonging and community may not feel as straightforward. Maybe you're new to an area or living in a remote place. Perhaps juggling work, life and other circumstances makes creating those connections a real challenge.
Throughout any stage of life, it's normal for parents and carers to feel a little disconnected, and unsure where – or how – to nurture their community.
Community can mean something different to everyone. For some, it's connecting with family, friends or people in their neighbourhood. Others spend time with organisations, schools, agencies, colleagues or other professionals.
It could be a combination or something else entirely. There's no right or wrong way, and it’s about what works for you and your family.
It takes a village
Most parents and carers know they play a vital role in helping their children to grow and learn. But you don't have to do it alone. Many other people can offer guidance, belonging or a shoulder to lean on from time to time. And this is good for everyone.
Research has found a sense of community helps families feel accepted, valued and capable of offering and receiving help when it's needed.1 This builds friendship, empathy and closeness with others.
On the other hand, not participating in the community may cause feelings of powerlessness.2 This can lead to chronic stress, affecting families' health and well-being.
No matter how you build and nurture those relationships, they can give you peace of mind and reassurance, which can help you feel calmer and more confident through the highs and lows of parenting.
Positive, nurturing relationships are important for kids, too. Connecting with their community gives them a sense of belonging, boosts their confidence and helps to develop their social skills.
Developing your community doesn't need to be a huge effort or something you feel guilty about not doing. It can be small steps, taken slowly over time, which feel comfortable for you. Here are some ideas to consider:
Educational and school settings
Being involved in your child's educational setting might not be something you do every day, or your personal preference. It can be helpful to know that when parents do get involved in their children's education, everyone benefits. Family engagement in schools has a positive effect on student’s achievement, improves parent-teacher and teacher-student relationships, as well as the overall school environment.3
There's no right or wrong, and busy parents can't always be heavily involved. Consider small ways you can nurture that connection, whether that's talking briefly with a teacher, going to an event or even just reading a newsletter. Finding what works best for you is the key.
Extended family and friends
Extended family can be a big help in practical and emotional ways, from babysitting to advice. Positive, warm relationships with extended family are also good for children, whether it’s aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins or chosen family. Extended families can have diverse life experiences, and interacting with them can help children develop a wider perspective on their expanding world.
Some parents and carers have a different reality due to distance, personal preferences or other reasons. That’s where friendships can help. Whether you prefer a big network, a small group, or just one friend, it's about what feels comfortable for you, and knowing that friendships can rise and fall through life's stages. Talking with another parent or carer who's been through the same thing can be helpful, too.
Thankfully, technology can also help in nurturing these connections. Video chats and messages can bridge a distance and help people to connect in meaningful ways.
Following your interests
It's easy to think of hobbies and other activities as optional, but they help you be a calmer, more optimistic parent. Moreover, a hobby can provide a sense of camaraderie and a chance to interact with likeminded people. There's a good chance you'll find something you like in your local groups and clubs.
Children learn a lot from the things their parents and carers do. Getting involved in an activity that brings you joy and social links, no matter how small, can model a great life skill for them.
If you can't get out and about, the internet can open up a lot of opportunities. Online groups, courses and resources can be great for finding information, getting inspiration and feeling part of something.
Supported parents and carers are better able to nurture their children's development, but many don't ask for support or think they're the only ones. By seeking advice from trusted professionals, you can help build skills and strategies to help you and your child thrive.
Even if asking for help isn't easy, try to use the resources that are available in your community, like doctors, specialists, allied health professionals, counsellors, teachers or evidence-based parenting programmes. And remember, seeking and getting help from your community is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Belonging to a community matters
No matter how you define community, if you can build and participate in yours, it supports learning, development and belonging. Everyone reaps the benefits.
1 Mancini, J. A., & Bowen, G. L. (2013). Families and communities: A social organization theory of action and change. In Handbook of Marriage and the Family (pp. 781-813). Springer. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-3987-5_32
2 Moore, T., McDonald, M., McHugh-Dillon, H., & West, S. (2016). Community engagement: A key strategy for improving outcomes for Australian families. Child Family Community Australia: Information Exchange. https://aifs.gov.au/resources/practice-guides/community-engagement
3 Henderson, A. T., & Mapp, K. L. (2002). A new wave of evidence: The impact of school, family, and community connections on student achievement. Annual Synthesis, 2002. National Center for Family & Community Connections with Schools.