A school is much more than its students, teachers and other staff. Many parents and carers find it very rewarding to become involved with their school community – and that it helps their child as well.
On this page:
- A sense of belonging for your child
- Support for your child’s social learning
- How families can help
- A sense of belonging for parents and carers
A sense of belonging for your child
Parents and carers want many different things for their child out of their school experience. They want learning tailored to their child’s capacity and interests, and support tailored to their needs. They also want their child to experience a sense of belonging and inclusion; to have friends, and positive relationships with other students. This is a central part of what all students are at school to learn, as discussed below.
When children and young people feel a part of their school community, they often feel happier in themselves, and more comfortable in the classroom and school grounds. This helps them to learn, as DET recognises when it talks about ‘school engagement’, and that schools must help students at risk of becoming ‘disengaged’ – for example if they are not interested in learning, are refusing school, or having behavioural issues or conflict with other students.
- To read more about school engagement, see the section Education and your child’s rights.
Support for your child’s social learning
There are many ways that school and families can support children and young people to create friendships, and to feel part of their school community. Social learning is an essential part of the learning for all students in primary schools, in particular. All students need help to learn core social skill that enable them to share, to take turns, to include others, to resolve problems and to build friendships.
It’s important to make sure the school considers your child’s social learning and development as part of their education and support planning, in their Student Support Group meetings.
- Read more on how schools can support inclusion and social learning, and how to include it in your child’s plan, in Education planning for your child.
How families can help
Families can also do a lot, outside of school to support their children’s friendships. Talk to your child about their friendships and how they get on with their classmates and other children at school.
Talk with the teacher about what they observe about your child’s relationships with other students, and what you can do to help them learn the skills for building friendships and resolving issues with other students. Often, if a student receives the right help from the adults around them to resolve a conflict with another student, this can be the beginning of a real friendship.
The parents and carers of your child’s classmates can be an important part of this process, and of nurturing real friendship between your child and theirs. Janet chose her son’s primary school because she had friend there, and has found that communication with other parents has been key to supporting her son’s inclusion and friendships, and for helping him deal with other minor issues:
“School friends, school parents are a big part of our social life, and that’s really important to our family. And I rely more on other parents to sort things out than perhaps the school. I’d speak to the school if there was a serious problem. But if it was just something minor, I’d talk to Charlie about strategies, or alternatively perhaps speak to another parent whose child might be able to lend a bit of support for him. When there has been issues with him socially, I’ve been able to ring up a friend, instead of ringing the school, and deal with it that way. Some weeks Charlie will just want to play by himself, and he doesn’t quite know how to break into social interactions again with other children. I just pick up the phone and ring a friend, and then they tend to include him again. We don’t have playdates every single week, but we keep those friendships open.”
Social learning and inclusion might look very different, for different children and young people. It might also require a different type of input from parents or carer. Some families, like Rhonda, have needed to educate other children and their families about their child’s disability, and how best to relate to him:
“Our main aim for Casey was to be happy, safe, have fun and be included. To have people around him that respected him, supported him, and were his friends. Because Casey made lots of noises that were very unusual, the young preppies in the mainstream setting he attended were a bit fearful. To overcome the unknown and reduce the fear and questions, I wrote a letter to each of the families to say, to say, ‘Your child will come home and ask questions about Casey, and I want you to answer them honestly, and if you don’t have the answer, here is my phone number, please don’t hesitate to call or chat with me at school, and I will provide you with an appropriate response to your own or your child’s questions. And I want you to honestly explain that to the student, or ask the child to come and talk to me when I bring Casey, or pick him up from school.’
The children knew me, so a lot would come up and ask me different things about Casey – why he made noises, why he didn’t eat at the tuckshop, why he wasn’t able to go and run and jump, why he became unhappy sometimes, why he wore nappies.
I wanted an open and honest approach about who Casey was, and what he loves, so that kids, their parents and staff really got to know Casey and how to make him laugh. That brought them lots of enjoyment and there was never ever any disrespect or any bullying. We are truly fortunate to have a positive experience in the mainstream school. I don’t know whether it was because of that initial ‘letter to families and staff, setting up the whole scene, being prepared and preparing others.” – Rhonda
A sense of belonging for parents and carers
Getting involved at school can also help parents and carers to feel more included, and to build friendships and connections that help them, and help them to support their child.
In Janet’s case, social connections with other school parents have become important for their whole family:
“It also helps if you have friends at the school too, with that social support network. I did have a couple of friends at the school, and I’ve made quite a few more. So that helps. You don’t have to have everything in common with everyone, and I certainly don’t. But it just helps to be at a school where there are some very nice parents.”
For Limor, a sense of inclusion at her son’s mainsream school has been critical; she feels a particular connection with families of other students at the school who also have special needs:
“For me, having other parents in the school that have children with Down Syndrome, or any special needs at all, is an amazing support. Because at the end of the day, a lot of schools don’t have a lot of children with special needs.
And as a parent you lose that support [that you might have had] in the early years, [such as] support groups, and early intervention. In those years, you’re really in a bubble in a way, because you’re so supported with all these people around you. And when things get tough, you’ve got people to talk to.
When you go into a mainstream school, you are totally – and its reality – you’re on your own. And you know, there might be a handful of people that have kids with special needs. There’s times when you find yourself standing out the front of the school with the two other mums of the kids that have Down Syndrome. Its like this support network.
And you need it sometimes. Because its tough sometimes, you know. You’ve had a meeting with the school, and you’re really upset. You can talk to any parent that you’re friends with, or friends. But nobody really gets it like we do. Even if its once every six months that I say something to [those other parents], at least I know that they’re there. And you’re walking into the school feeling supported.”
Sometimes social connection might be through face-to-face contact, at school during pickup or drop-off times. Increasingly, connections between students and their families might be enhanced through social media or other digital tools.