“The greatest human need aside from food, water, and shelter is relationships.” - Justin Hacking, Clinical Supervisor at Idaho Youth Ranch.
Let’s face it - we need one another to survive. But this goes much deeper than the constructs of community and society. We need others in our lives who care about us, who listen, and who we know we can turn to when we need someone to lean on.
When we have such support, it makes us feel more secure and confident in life, as we know we have others who genuinely care to share both our triumphs and hardships with, and anything else that life sends our way.
Social connections are one of the five protective factors determined by research to help kids develop resiliency and for their families to thrive. Social connections that are positive and supportive are a foundation for resilience throughout life. They are also imperative to helping our children grow into more successful teens and adults. They are less susceptible to the negative impacts of anything less than positive they could go through in life.
Why Parents need to Develop Positive Social Connections
Going through life alone is something that many of us fear. A lack of positive personal connections that are meaningful and provide solid support can manifest such fears, leading to isolation and loneliness. According to research, isolation can impact a parent’s capacity to be nurturing, consistent, present, and responsive to their kids. Loneliness is a risk factor for maternal depression, unattached parenting, and child abuse or neglect.
Alternatively, having healthy, positive social connections is linked with a 50% lowered risk for early death. This risk factor was found to be just as important, if not more, than obesity. Positive social connections have the power to help us thrive. They are beneficial to our health—physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually.
At least one positive social connection that provides you with emotional, spiritual, educative, and helpful support when needed combats the risks associated with loneliness and isolation. This kind of support is linked with factors that improve parenting, such as positive moods and perceptions, being present with kids, and feelings of wellbeing, competence, and satisfaction paired with lower levels of depression, anxiety, and anger.
When relationships are not positive, they can become a source of stress, which can increase the risk of isolation and loneliness. In light of such evidence, it’s safe to say that developing connections that are high in quality over quantity is beneficial for both parents and kids alike.
How Parents Can Help Form Positive Social Connections
Making new friends and forming supporting connections isn’t as easy for some as it is for others. Because of this, it may take a bit of extra time, focus, and attention when forming new relationships. Those who find it difficult to establish or sustain personal relationships may want to seek out individual or family therapy to help work through any issues that arise along the way as well.
Positive social connections can be formed with family members, friends, community members, neighbors, etc. Seeking out social relationships at places you usually go or with those who are involved in activities that you are is a great place to start.
Make Yourself Available
The first step in forming positive social connections is making yourself available. This means that you will need to take some time in your schedule for engaging in community activities, hobbies, volunteering, calling people to check-in and chat, playdates, luncheons, etc. Do not take on more than you can chew or overcommit, but do make time for nurturing the connections that are most worthy of your time.
Confront Personal Challenges
Those who are shy or have introverted personalities are initially going to face more personal challenges when forming new connections than those who are more outgoing socially. There may also be insecurities or feelings of social anxiety that arise when meeting new people. By working with a therapist, you can confront these challenges, so there are fewer hurdles to cross on your journey toward developing positive connections.
Encourage Your Kids to Nurture Healthy Relationships with Peers
While your children need to have strong social connections inside the family unit, it is equally important for your children to have strong social relationships with their peers. Parents can help their kids do this by encouraging them to participate in activities that they, the kids, enjoy.
While parents should avoid forcing their children into extracurricular activities or over-scheduling their lives in the name of developing a healthy sense of competition, Extracurricular activities or group activities can be very effective. Helping your kids get involved in activities that speak to their natural strengths will not only help them develop good self-esteem; it will help them develop healthy social connections with peers with similar interests. For example, sports are always an excellent classroom for kids to build a sense of teamwork and accomplishment. However, not all kids are athletically inclined. It is just as healthy to encourage them to participate in a coding class or an art group. Think about the things your child has a natural aptitude for an interest in and then try to help them find opportunities to explore those strengths. Doing so will help your kids find friends with similar interests around the same age, setting them up for healthy social connections.
According to Dr. Brene Brown, the painful feelings or beliefs associated with shame, such as not feeling worthy of love, are feelings that we all face to a certain degree. However, to love others, we must first love ourselves, and so confronting and challenging these feelings can help get us from feelings of shame to feelings of vulnerability, the cure for feeling shameful that must be achieved to let love in.
Listen and Learn
To have good, positive, supportive connections, we must also be uplifting and supportive to those we know. We have to be good friends if we expect to have good friends, and so to make this happen, we must be willing to listen and to learn. We must be able to actively listen to others and learn what we can about what they are communicating to us and sharing so that we can offer them the most valuable feedback and support in return.
Being present in the here and now and free from distractions such as technology and kids is sometimes needed to make this happen. Schedule some screen-free adult time so that you can connect with others without distractions. This is necessary to be the best parent you can be.
How Idaho Youth Ranch supports the Protective Factors
Strong social connections are essential for both parents and children to maintain healthy family Dynamics. Idaho Youth Ranch supports these Connections in several ways. Parents who are struggling or feel alone have the opportunity to participate in parenting classes. Not only will these classes help you develop new parenting skills (another protective factor), you will have a chance to talk with other parents who are facing similar struggles.
For youth, Idaho Youth Ranch offers group therapies. Young people can participate in group Equine Therapy or group behavioral therapies that will help them develop positive social connections and the skills they need to maintain them. Additionally, parenting classes and group therapies help alleviate the stigma behind Mental Health and challenging family relationships.
One mom said, “The other counselors have always focused on what’s wrong with him. In this group, he’s focusing on what’s right with him, and he can talk about things with others, and it’s not all just focused on him. There is safety in numbers, you know. He knows he’s not alone, he’s not the only one dealing with something. The group has been really great for him.”
Should you feel like you or your family could use a bit of extra support in forming positive social connections, or thriving, we’d love to hear from you. At Idaho Youth Ranch, we offer a variety of services, including equine therapy, family therapy, and teen therapy for at-risk youth, victims of childhood trauma, and beyond. Get in touch with us today to learn more.