Belonging vs Fitting In Resilience Perseverance Problem Solving Responsible Decision-Making
Realistic Contemporary Fiction Biography Historical Fiction Graphic Novels
Terry Northcutt, Ph.D.
Recently, I was listening to some talks and interviews with Brene Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston who studies, courage, vulnerability, shame, and empathy. Most people are aware that humans are social animals who are wired to connect. Connection is important because it is what gives life meaning and purpose. Brown takes the understanding about connection farther. Her research indicates that not all connections achieve this goal. There is a major difference between connections based on fitting in and those based on belonging.
The distinction between these two types of connection are essential for all of us to understand, but especially children who are in the process of discovering who they are, what they like, what they dislike, what they want, and what they need. When children and adolescents opt to fit in, they assess situations and people, then acclimate. They learn to say and do and dress according to what others expect and accept while simultaneously avoiding saying, doing, and dressing according to who they are, what they want, and what they need. Fitting in, then, is a type of connection that requires a child to shift and change, to become what others want, instead of who they really are. It often results in feelings of emptiness and loneliness.
Belonging, on the other hand, doesn’t require the child to shift and change to be like everyone else to be accepted. As such it doesn’t cut off the constant trying on of different styles and different suits of clothes so essential to developing a solid sense of identity. More important, it results in the deepest and most meaningful connections.
Granted there are some social rules and norms everyone needs to master to fit in with others. And children and adolescents do need to learn to modulate their likes, dislikes, needs, and wants in different situations. But to go beyond superficial connections that result in simply fitting in to deeper, more meaningful connections that enable them to belong, they will need to learn how to think about relationships. They will need to understand when relationships support who they are and when relationships require them to sacrifice too much of their authentic self.
In January, I will showcase three books that enable children to think about their relationships and begin to consider the line between fitting in and belonging. In the following months I will explore historical fiction and biographies that facilitate discussions about problem solving, perseverance, persistence, and other skills and strengths associated with overcoming internal and external obstacles.