Friends, family members, neighbors, and other members of a community provide emotional support and concrete assistance to parents. Social connections help parents build networks of support that serve multiple purposes: they can help parents develop and reinforce community norms around child rearing, provide assistance in times of need, and serve as a resource for parenting information or help solving problems. Because isolation is a common risk factor for abuse and neglect, parents who are isolated need support in building positive friendships.
Several research studies have demonstrated that for both mothers and fathers, high levels of emotional, informational, instrumental or spiritual support is associated with positive parental mood; positive perceptions of and responsiveness to one’s children; parental satisfaction, well-being and sense of competence; and lower levels of anger, anxiety and depression.
Providing opportunities for parents to create and strengthen sustainable, positive social connections is necessary but alone is not sufficient. Parents can feel lonely and isolated even when surrounded by others if relationships lack emotional depth and genuine acceptance. Parents need opportunities to forge positive social connections with at least one other person that engender emotional, informational, instrumental or spiritual support so that meaningful interactions may occur in a context of mutual trust and respect.
Constructive and supportive social connections help buffer parents from stressors and support nurturing parenting behaviors that promote secure attachments in young children. This is why parents’ high quality social connections are beneficial to both the adults and the children.
Social Connections Action Ideas:
Questions to ask yourself:
- Do you have any friends or family members that help you out once in a while?
- Are you a member of any groups or organizations?
- Who can you call for advice or just to talk?
- What kind of social support do you need?
- Do you find it easy or challenging to make friends? If it is challenging, what specific things represent a barrier for you?
- What helps you feel connected?
What to look for:
- Do you have supportive relationships with one or more people?
- Can you turn to your social network for help in times of need?
- Are you willing and able to accept assistance from others?
- Do you have positive relationships with other parents of same-aged kids?
- Do you have skills for establishing and maintaining social relationships?
- Do you provide reciprocal social support to peers?
Activities for self-reflection:
Work with a partner or friend to develop an EcoMap showing the people and institutions that are sources of support and/or stress in your life.