It takes a village to raise a child. African proverb.
Our appreciation for our community has deepened with the time that we have spent separated in the COVID-19 pandemic. At the same time, the need for self-compassion and compassion towards others has been heightened as we have all been challenged in different ways. Families have been stretched, and both parents and children have been strained due to the disruption of the familiar rhythms of our lives.
A sense of community is important for child development (1). When a child feels a sense of community, it leads to a sense of belonging and a deeper sense of identity. It starts with learning about their home and backyard, then their street and local park and then onto their daily activities within their home area. This helps to build a sense of where they fit in the world.
The characters of this community are very important for a child’s world. Again, their world starts small with only their family and people they see often. This broadens to include their day care centre, people they see occasionally and perhaps a swim teacher. It then becomes much bigger when starting school and doing organised activities.
As a parent, your interactions with these characters and the community will help to shape your child’s attitude to the wider world. They might perceive from you to be wary of some behaviours and warm and friendly in response to others. They learn the importance of keeping themselves and others safe. They learn what is acceptable behaviour when interacting. As their family, we are the most important people to teach our kids how to relate to others in a positive and healthy way. (2)
We have lost so many opportunities for community interaction during the COVID-19 pandemic. Certainly, there have been so many great ideas for how to still maintain some connections – from Teddy Bear hunts, mini golf holes on the verge outside houses, to the many thousand ways to interact on video conferences and sending letters or parcels to friends and family. These have been so important to keep going, for both our own well-being and for the whole family.
Being more connected with others, from many walks of life, maintains our capacity for compassion. When we feel loved and secure, we have so much more to give. We are kinder to others, and in turn, kinder to ourselves. This is because we have a better understanding of how we can all see and think differently, and we don’t jump to conclusions as easily. In short, we aren’t as judgemental when we know each other better. (3)
Many mothers of young babies struggle to ask for help and to reach out to their community for support. Isolation and low social supports are a key risk factor for postnatal anxiety and depression (4). During the COVID-19 pandemic, this isolation has been multiplied by the cancellation of many mothers’ groups and other informal and formal ways for mothers of young children to connect. Families have been separated and even though video conferencing and phone calls can replace some things, nothing beats someone you trust coming over to hold the baby for you while you have a shower!
The extreme lack of physical community connections during the COVID-19 response is a timely reminder of how much we gain when we have a close-knit support structure in our community to provide a soft landing. Our children benefit from it, and we benefit from it. So let’s head out, and talk to a neighbour or friend, find out their story and let it enrich your own family’s life, as soon as we can.
- Solomon D, Battistich V, Watson M, Schaps E, Lewis C. A six district study of educational change: direct and mediated effects of the child development project. Social psychology of education vol. 4, (2000): 3-51.
- Korkmaz, Baris. Theory of mind and neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. Pediatric research vol. 69,5 Pt 2 (2011): 101R-8R.
- Harris, Michelle A, and Ulrich Orth. The link between self-esteem and social relationships: A meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. Journal of personality and social psychology vol. 119,6 (2020): 1459-1477.
- Leigh, B., Milgrom, J. Risk factors for antenatal depression, postnatal depression and parenting stress. BMC psychiatry vol. 8 (2008): Article 24.
Dr Rebecca Wood BSc(Med) MBBS MPsychiatry FRANZCP