Improving school belonging: Supporting children’s social and emotional development

Medically reviewed by Julie Dodson, MA
Updated April 19, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Focusing on children's social and emotional well-being is beneficial in a fast-paced and ever-changing world. Studies indicate that when children feel deeply connected to their school community, they’re more likely to thrive academically, cultivate relationships, develop resilience when faced with challenges, and experience positive mental health outcomes.

With this in mind, exploring effective strategies that support children's social and emotional development can help create an environment where they feel valued, understood, and genuinely connected. By nurturing school belonging, we can unlock the immense potential within each child and foster a sense of connection that can last them through life.

This article explores practical approaches to enhance school belonging, allowing children to flourish and thrive in their educational journey. As we discover the power of improving school belonging and its profound impact on children's lives, we also consider the challenges and potential obstacles that may arise along the way.

Improve your child’s sense of belonging at school

Understanding school belonging

Belonging can be defined as a feeling of connection, acceptance, and security within an environment. It’s associated with a sense of purpose, meaning, and shared values that help to build strong connections between individuals and the community.

School belonging, or school connectedness, refers to feeling connected within the school community. It’s a fundamental human need that significantly impacts students' mental health, academic success, and overall well-being.

Students who have a sense of belonging are typically more energized and motivated, have increased self-confidence, improved problem-solving skills, and better attendance and discipline records.

Various factors influence school belonging, including the school environment, relationships with peer groups and teachers, and engagement in school-sanctioned activities. Educational psychology indicates that when students feel cared for and valued, they’re more likely to form meaningful connections with their peers and the school. This connection can transform the classroom into a place of psychological safety where students can engage openly and honestly without fear of judgment or criticism.

It’s possible to foster a sense of belonging in many ways, including creating an emotionally safe learning environment, developing a shared understanding of identity among the school community, and recognizing each student's needs and strengths.

An emotionally safe classroom can be defined as one in which students feel accepted, respected, and understood by their peers and teachers. It should be a space where everyone feels comfortable expressing their thoughts and opinions without fear of ridicule.

It’s also helpful to recognize each student's strengths and weaknesses, as well as their diverse cultural backgrounds and unique learning styles. By valuing these differences, teachers can foster a sense of mutual respect and understanding within the classroom.

Cultivating positive teacher-student relationships

Positive teacher-student relationships play a role in fostering school belonging. When students feel valued, respected, and understood by their teachers, they may be more likely to develop a sense of belonging within the school community. These relationships also contribute to students' emotional well-being and academic engagement.

Educators can teach students active listening and empathy to help them build strong teacher-student relationships. Teachers create trust and support by genuinely understanding students' perspectives, needs, and challenges. Recognizing and validating students' strengths, challenges, and aspirations can strengthen these relationships.

Teachers should also be aware of signs of distress in students. Such signs may include changes in behavior, academic performance, or social dynamics. When teachers identify these challenges early on, they can provide the necessary support to help students overcome many difficulties they may face. 

Fostering a supportive school environment

Creating a welcoming and inclusive school climate can help enhance school belonging. When students feel accepted and valued for their identity, they develop a stronger sense of belonging and well-being. School leaders and educators play a pivotal role in modeling inclusive behavior and establishing clear expectations for a supportive environment.

Promoting inclusivity can be achieved by celebrating diversity, respecting cultural differences, and embracing various learning styles. Creating opportunities for students to engage in school-sanctioned activities that reflect their interests and passions can also contribute to a supportive environment.

Schools can ensure students feel safe and protected by addressing bullying and promoting conflict resolution, further enhancing their sense of belonging. Safety and security are part of a thriving learning environment and should be prioritized to ensure the well-being of every student in the school.

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Social and emotional learning (SEL) programs

Integrating social and emotional learning (SEL) into the curriculum can effectively enhance school belonging. 

SEL equips students with life skills such as self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, responsible decision-making, and positive relationships. Emotional intelligence can be a key indicator of success in various aspects of life, including academic achievement and career prospects.

SEL programs can take many forms, such as group discussions, role-playing activities, and mindfulness practices. Such activities allow students to explore their emotions in a safe and supportive environment while gaining the necessary skills to practice self-care and foster positive peer relationships.

Implementing effective SEL programs requires comprehensive planning and collaboration. Teachers should receive training and ongoing professional development to deliver SEL instruction effectively. Collaboration between teachers, mental health professionals, and school leaders can help integrate SEL into daily classroom activities, promoting consistency and creating a cohesive approach to supporting students' social and emotional development.

The role of parents and guardians

Parents and guardians play a role in promoting school belonging. Their involvement and support may improve their child's academic success and well-being.

Parents can support their children's learning by creating a positive home environment, engaging in regular conversations about their child's progress and experiences at school, and monitoring any changes in behavior. They should also be aware of the school resources available to help students succeed academically and emotionally.

Regular communication between teachers and parents can foster a better understanding of the needs and strengths of students. Parent education and workshops give guardians valuable knowledge and skills to support their child's social and emotional development. Welcoming and inclusive school events encouraging parental participation and collaboration create a sense of belonging for students and their families.

Assessing and monitoring school belonging

Assessing and monitoring school belonging is beneficial for ensuring targeted interventions and tracking progress. Collecting data on school belonging allows educators and mental health professionals to identify areas for improvement and tailor strategies accordingly. Data-driven approaches can ensure students receive the necessary support to enhance their social and emotional well-being.

Measurement tools and indicators of school belonging, such as surveys, observations, and student self-reporting, can provide valuable insights into students' experiences and perceptions. Parents can also be involved in the assessment process, providing meaningful feedback that can inform and shape school initiatives.

School belonging can be a multifaceted concept requiring an integrated approach to ensure success. Education practitioners, mental health professionals, parents, and students must work together to create a safe and supportive environment that promotes social-emotional learning and encourages positive teacher-student relationships.

Improve your child’s sense of belonging at school

Cultivating self-esteem in online therapy

While seeking help from a school guidance counselor is one option for students to talk about self-esteem or belonging challenges, the reality is that many schools do not have enough counselors on staff to meet the needs of all their students. In such cases, online therapy can provide students additional support to enhance their sense of belonging. 

Through online therapy platforms like TeenCounseling, adolescent students can learn more about themselves, improve their emotional skills, and gain a deeper understanding of their own needs as well as the needs of others. Increased convenience of mental health services can help students feel more connected and empowered to create meaningful relationships in their environment. Additionally, they can schedule appointments with their therapist at conducive times, eliminating the need to miss out on school, work, or other priorities.

For parents of teens and younger children struggling with self-esteem or belongingness, BetterHelp is an excellent resource for getting evidence-based support. Parents can set videoconferences and phone calls or send text messages to their dedicated counselor. BetterHelp also enables parents to meet virtually from any location with an Internet connection.

Research from Current Psychology in 2023 indicates that online therapy sessions can make counseling more practical for students with psychological challenges. The study suggests positive attitudes and behaviors toward online therapy and improved mental health among participants. Such results demonstrate the potential for online counseling to enhance student belonging and reduce the sense of isolation. 

With the right strategies, educators and parents have the potential to foster an environment where all students feel welcome and valued, thereby enhancing their sense of belonging. By focusing on individual strengths and creating a climate of acceptance and respect, schools can ensure that every student is supported, leading to better academic and social outcomes.


Children learn collaboration, communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, and other beneficial skills at school. However, without a sense of belonging, students can be less likely to develop these abilities to their fullest potential.

Enhancing school belonging requires collaboration between teachers, mental health professionals, parents and guardians, and students. Parents and teachers are often encouraged to use a comprehensive approach incorporating SEL, assessment strategies, and mental health services to help students feel included and accepted.

Self-awareness and emotional intelligence are key components of belonging. Online therapy can provide parents with an additional layer of care as they strive to support their children’s mental health. Through participating in their online therapy sessions, students can gain the skills they need to excel in school and improve their overall well-being.

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