By Maddy Pribanova, CEI Intern
Brene Brown’s TED talk on “The Power of Vulnerability” describes vulnerability as the birthplace of true intimacy and belonging. Connecting with others begins the moment we are born. As we grow, we learn how to form bonds from the people around us. Teaching children to be vulnerable helps empower them for later life and nurtures the sense of belonging that is so vital to our human existence.
We are neurobiologically wired to live in “our tribe,” which enables us to develop a sense of belonging (Brown, 2010). Despite this, many of us feel alone and loneliness is a growing issue in our world today (Killeen, 1998). Loneliness has been linked to a number of mental health conditions, including anxiety and depression. In contrast, forming relationships and connections give us a sense of purpose and without them we suffer. Moreover, growing evidence shows that when we struggle to form relationships, our wiring is disrupted and we fall apart both mentally and physically. To prevent us from becoming adrift in a space of loneliness, we need to know how to connect with others successfully. Fortunately, there are many opportunities to further a sense of self-worthiness and connectedness in the team activities that occur in classrooms day in and day out across a child’s many years in school.
Nurturing a Sense of Self-Worthiness
Educators can further connections and a sense of well-being and self-esteem to help children thrive. Connections are deeply tied to a sense of worthiness. As Brown (2010) says: “the one thing that keeps us out of connection is our fear that we’re not worthy of connection.” To form positive and healthy relationships, we must first learn to feel positive about ourselves. Believing that we are deserving of love and belonging opens us up to accepting this treatment from others.
Furthering a child’s sense of worthiness is fundamental to developing the skills to build meaningful and healthy connections. According to Malhotra (2017), this development can be encouraged through:
Making sure that children know that they belong to their home or school community. This can be done by expressing appreciation, which lets children know that they are valued.
Removing shame. Avoiding statements like “you are bad,” helps to ensure that children don’t identify with their negative behavior, and prevents a child being labelled as a “bad child.”
Encouraging a vision of their individual success shows children that they will belong for who they truly are. It also allows each child to feel secure with his/her own identity and prevents children from being afraid to show the world their true, authentic selves.
Modeling the Wholehearted Approach
Modeling courage means that we must first acknowledge our own imperfections. This enables us to “tell the story of who you are with your whole heart” (Brown, 2010). Such authenticity strengthens bonds with others and ourselves.
Compassion is not just something we must show to others but also to ourselves. Being able to show and understand our own and others’ emotions is vital to being able to communicate. Empathy in difficult situations helps us connect and prevents others from feeling alone.
Connectedness, according to Brown (2010), is directly related to taking time to engage with one’s authentic self, which leads to self-acceptance. This enables us to develop a form of self-esteem that embraces vulnerability and a willingness to invest in relationships, whether they are successful or not.
Letting Go of Perfection
“We perfect our children. They’re hardwired for struggle when they get here. When you hold those perfect little babies in your hand, our job is not to say, “Look at her, she’s perfect. My job is just to keep her perfect, to make sure she makes the tennis team by fifth grade and Yale by seventh grade.” That’s not our job. Our job is to look and say you know what, you’re imperfect and you’re wired for struggle, but you are worthy of love and belonging. That’s our job. Show me a generation of kids raised like that and I think we’ll end the problems we see today.’ ‘” Brene Brown
As Tolstoy wrote: “if you look for perfection, you’ll never be content”. We all want to see our children to have the best life possible but instilling the value of achieving a “perfect life” is both unrealistic and damaging (Taylor, 2009). The concept of “being perfect” prevents children, and parents as well as teachers from cultivating acceptance and belonging. Rather, it instills an attitude that nothing is ever good enough. As parents and educators, we need to replace the discourse of perfection with being “good enough” (Taylor, 2009)
Brown, B. (2012). Daring greatly: How the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent, and lead. New York: Avery Publishers.
Brown, B. (2010) The Power of Vulnerability
Killeen, C. (1998). Loneliness: An epidemic in modern society. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 28, 762–770
Malhotra, S (2017, March). Three ways to instill a deep sense of worth and belonging in your children. Huffington Post.
Taylor, J. (2009, November). Parenting: Raise excellent – not perfect – children, Psychology Today.