7 Ways To Build Your Child’s “Village”

You’ve probably heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child”. When children enter their preteen and teen years, many start to rely more on the relationships with their friends, and less on their parents.

This can be problematic if they believe their friends are the only people they need in their village. Without the benefit of life experiences, friends can’t give the support and advice a young person needs to responsibly navigate to adulthood.

When telling my personal stories during my UPower parents’ presentations, I share what I wrote in my journal when I was young. The majority of my entries revolved around my friends instead of my sadness and confusion around my parent’s divorce, also the lack of relationship with my Dad after the divorce and the boy in my class who made fun of me most days.

My mum could see I was struggling and recognized I needed more than she could give me. She realized she needed to expand my village. So she started sending me to character development course, support groups, and leadership camps. As a preteen and teen, I wasn’t the least bit interested in going. Getting really angry telling her I didn’t want to go and telling her I didn’t like her, got me nowhere. My mum would reply, “You don’t have a choice.”

When I look back I realize that I couldn’t see the benefits of her choices. All I could see was that her choices were taking away time from me hanging out with my friends. No Matter, my mum was committed to expanding my village by introducing me to mentors, coaches, teachers and new experiences that taught me to be confident, responsible and resilient.

Sometimes as parents we think we should be enough for our child and if we aren’t, we feel we have somehow failed. Teaching your child the importance of reaching out to others and learning from different mentors and role models will not only enrich and expand their “village”, it will also help develop their mental, emotional and physical well-being.

Here are seven options to consider:

1. Leadership & Character Building Courses

Courses give young people the ability to discover their potential while learning teamwork and social skills, often while creating positive change in the community.

Some great options include:

2. Youth Groups & Community Centres

Youth centres run a variety of social, educational, and recreational programs including day camps, homework clubs, computer clubs, leadership training, fitness, church clubs and even literacy classes. These programs are often very affordable or free.

3. Support Groups

If your child is going through rough times, a support group can be really helpful. They can get both the guidance of an experienced, qualified adult, while being supported by peers in similar situations. As a teen I attended Alateen, a support group for young people who have an alcoholic in their life. Of course I didn’t want to go! In being made to go I began to realize I wasn’t alone and gained strength through that knowledge.

Check out this list of Ontario support groups or ask your school, church, community centre, and other parents.

4. Volunteering

All teens must log 40 volunteer hours to graduate from high school. Giving to the community regularly helps teach children responsibility and compassion. It also has many other great benefits including:

  • Reducing depression by supporting and helping other people.
  • Improving confidence, happiness, and optimism.
  • Boosting the immune system for better health.
  • Decreasing challenging emotions.
  • Preparing children for employment by teaching responsibility.

Pick an organization close to your child’s heart. You can even volunteer as a family to help build connection and create memorable moments together.

Check out SparkOntario or Charity Village for volunteer opportunities.

5. Seniors

According to research from Stanford University, aging adults play critical roles in the lives of young people, especially the most vulnerable in society.

One study showed that when a child is mentored by an adult, they are: 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs; 27% less likely to begin using alcohol; 52% less likely to skip school.

While benefits of these intergenerational relationships go both ways, teens receive:

  • Developing empathy, understanding, and respect for elderly people.
  • Participating in mature discussions.
  • Learning history and past times.
  • Having the opportunity to teach skills such as technology.

If you your child doesn’t have access to grandparents, try family friends, or check for programs with your local seniors home.

6. Sports Teams

Working as a team for a common goal develops a strong sense of belonging while teaching cooperation, respect, and communication.

Team sports are a great way for children to interact with other young people their own age, creating valuable friendships while being mentored by a coach.

Check with your child’s school, local community centre, or the city for sports programs near you.

7. Therapy

Sometimes something deeper is going on for a young person. They may be experiencing ongoing depression, anxiety, mood instability, panic attacks, self harm, or substance abuse. In these cases, a therapist may be the best option to help them through difficult times and tough emotions.

Your child will probably not thank you for expanding their village. However, one day as an adult they will look back as I did and say…

“Thank you mum. I couldn’t say it when I was younger, but as the adult me, I am truly thankful ‘you made me go’. I am happy you didn’t allow my tantrums, frustrations, sadness or anger stop you from following through with your commitment to expanding my village.” Love Sara

Is there anything I’ve missed in this list? Comment below and let me know how you’ve helped build your child’s village.