What do we mean when we talk about belonging and inclusion?

All children need to feel that their world is a safe place where people will care about them. Where their needs for support, respect and friendship will be met and where they’ll be able to get help for their problems. When these needs are met, children develop a sense of belonging. Inclusion promotes understanding and respect. Inclusion is about creating opportunities for everyone to participate. This can include diverse cultures, family structures, abilities, playing and learning styles.

Why are belonging and inclusion important at school?

Having a sense of belonging helps contribute to young people’s positive mental health. It provides a sense of purpose, self-worth, meaning and social control and helps protect children against mental health difficulties. When young people feel like they belong, they are happier, more relaxed and have fewer behavioural problems. Students who feel they are supported by classmates and teachers are also more likely to be engaged in classroom activities and be more successful learners.

Research shows that children start to notice differences among people, and form opinions about which differences are viewed positively and negatively, from approximately three years of age. In these formative years, the behaviour of parents and other key adults in a child’s life can play a huge part in influencing the child’s perception of others.

Children who experience inclusion are more likely to be accepting of others, be sensitive to others’ needs and have a strong sense of identity.

How can parents work with teachers to help foster a sense of belonging in their child at school?

Some strategies parents might like to try to help their child feel like they belong at school include:

  • taking an interest in what your child is learning, and participate in information sessions at school 
  • asking your child about what they’ve been learning at school
  • contacting your child’s key staff members and keeping in touch with them
  • getting to know other families at your child’s school
  • letting school staff know if your child is having difficulties and discussing what can be done at home or at school

Some strategies schools might like to try to encourage a sense of belonging at school include:

  • treating every student as an equal and unique individual
  • valuing diversity as a strength
  • role-modelling positive attitudes towards diversity
  • discussing with children how to learn from mistakes and criticism
  • getting to know the students and their families
  • ensuring school policies are clearly communicated and support a sense of belonging for both students and families

Resources

Belonging and connectedness

Feeling included

What makes a positive school community?