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Resilience, Relationships and Belonging

At the moment he reached his limit, my son started crying. It didn’t take long for his face to turn crimson. To others he looked angry, but I could tell deep down, he was sad. My wife and I often take our young children to the playground on the weekends. Regularly there are a couple of other boys there and each time my son has tried to play with them, they have said they didn’t want to.

This day, we sat for a while waiting, anticipating and hopeful until another kid came along and off he went to play, happy about belonging to his group of playground buddies. This scenario resonates at every age. That intrinsic need to take part, to share and to belong.


This year’s Seniors theme for 2021 is ‘Belong’. The classroom highlights were in abundance from the start of the week in every location from playground and sporting fields where this feeling has been the powerful reality for your sons. The theme reveals a primeval need for boys to feel a part of their ‘tribe’ through a sense of connectedness and community where they can contribute to a cause greater than themselves. This has never been more important given the COVID context as to help your son navigate the stresses and strains of the significant rise in youth mental health issues.

It is hard to sit back and watch your children struggle. It is natural to want to fix and sort. Raising boys to be men is the opposite of what people normally think. They need emotional support. Along the journey towards belonging, you can’t remove all the challenges your son faces however you can pass on skills to help your son grow more resilient. Resilience is the ability to overcome difficult experiences and be shaped positively by them. Here are three that I have learned from parents within our ATC Community that I know work to build resilience:

1. Schedule one-on-one time with your son.

Resilience comes from nurturing relationships. Work on quality of time, not quantity of time. Twenty minutes of fully focused attention is better than an hour when your mind is on other things. Simply sit and be alongside them. Share your feelings and encourage your son to express his. Our children live in a physical world of the here and now (almost entirely in the moment) seeing is a meaningful way for a boy to learn. Once this time becomes regular, your son will know they always have a safe space to open up.

2. Sleep is a non-negotiable.

Too many of our boys are losing too many hours of sleep each week given a lack of boundaries when it comes to screen time e.g. gaming, social platforms, You Tube etc. There is a strong correlation between mental health issues and a lack of good-quality sleep. It also has a negative effect on memory, concentration and decision-making. If you want to improve sleep (for parents also) limit screen time before bed and keep their devices out of their room when they are supposed to be sleeping.

3. Delay gratification.

If you have never been hated by your son you have never been a parent. Resilience means understanding you can’t always have what you want as soon as you want it. It’s an important concept to pass on in the age of Snapchat, Spotify and Netflix. Psychology teaches us that people who can accept delayed gratification lead happier, healthier lives. Without the ability to defer pleasure and reward, your son is losing an important skill for their wellbeing.

There is no doubt that it’s never been more challenging for parents to raise boys who feel they belong. Parents need to be informed with clear, fact-based information on the many challenges faced by your sons. Topics such as youth anxiety, depression, self-harm, drug and alcohol use, cyberbullying and many others need clear explanation and guidance. ATC is here to help! We strongly encourage you to engage with our ongoing resource called SchoolTV which saves parents time and confusion of searching online across multiple sites for information. You can access the ATC SchoolTV archive HERE.

So where to from here?

If we want to help our sons build their relationships and sense of belonging, at times, we need to give up our bad habits as parents! Please begin by giving some time to reflect on this video that gives some insights about relationships and belonging in schools. WARNING You will need to invest more than a couple of minutes viewing these in order for them to have a potential impact!

Don’t wait to make your son a great man – make him a great boy.’ Author Unknown

Take care.

Conor Finn
Dean of Formation

Meet the Formation Team