The Importance of Community and Building a Network of Support
Everyone’s heard that it takes a tribe–what does it mean to have a tribe in today’s society? Families and children having natural supports have shown lots of benefits to mental health and wellbeing. Research shows that having a community can decrease loneliness, increase positive emotions, reduce stress, provide a sense of belonging, feel a sense of purpose, and provide accountability. Having someone in your network to talk to can help with problem solving difficult situations, feeling validated and understood when going through challenges, and providing a different perspective on situations. A strong support system can even help you cope with problems more independently by improving confidence, self-esteem, and sense of autonomy.
Although this may seem counterintuitive, The American Psychological Association states that “having emotionally supportive friends and family who see you as capable can help you focus on next steps for addressing your concerns.” In our current culture, communities come in many different forms. Some of the most common places that children and adolescents are currently finding communities are school, extracurriculars, online platforms like Snapchat and Discord, and church. Some examples of how you can build these communities are finding friends with common interests, joining extra-curricular activities, volunteering, reaching out to old friends, and meeting co-workers at a part-time job. Aside from peers, it’s important to have a wide network of support–teachers, coaches, neighbors, aunts, uncles, or anyone else who acts as a mentor or role model for your child can be a great resource to provide support, guidance, and a listening ear.
One of the emotion regulation skills in DBT is accumulating positives, and communities are a wonderful source to achieve this goal more consistently. Have you ever been having a really bad day so you reach out to a friend and after the conversation you feel so much lighter and happier? This is the purpose of accumulating positives. Accumulating positives is adding as many positive interactions into your day as possible, no matter how big or small.
As much support as parents give their children, it’s also important to remember that parents need support as well. Seeing your child struggle with anything, especially mental health, can be incredibly difficult as a parent, so it’s important to have your own trusted network of people to lift you up and help regulate your own emotions. Support for parents can range from informal to formal like sending a quick text to your best friend or attending formal support groups.
Communities, specifically after COVID-19, can feel more difficult to find. It’s easy to understand how to build communities, but oftentimes it can feel difficult to know where to start. Here are some ways to get started:
- Joining a local YMCA
- Safely utilizing online platforms to find local groups with shared common interests (finding a hiking group, pottery class, kickball team, knitting group, etc.)
- Trying a new activity (have you tried pickleball yet?)
- Attending a local youth group in town
- Have you met your neighbors yet? Check in to see if your neighborhood has any upcoming events you can participate in
- Reaching out to an old friend you haven’t talked to in a while (even if they’re long distance now)