We’ve all heard the term. “It takes a village” but do we truly comprehend what it means for our health and well- being? The phrase has popped into my mind and heart on several occasions lately, which inspired me to write this blog. I was presented with this theme when attending an event put on by the Special Education Parent Advisory Council of my district called “Take a walk in my shoes”. It was put on as an attempt to bring together families raising kids with special needs and unite them through the commonality of their love for their kids, their desire to help them succeed and the challenges of raising a child, especially one with special needs. In addition, the hope was to offer parents, teachers and kids support and understanding among this group sharing similar experiences and challenges. It was inspiring and hugely successful due to the listening and non judgmental support by all present. In this case, the parents were the village. Another example of the “village” affect was after a recent town meeting where it was brought to the attention of the residents that a Marijuana grow facility was seeking to set up shop in town, (now that medicinal marijuana was legalized in Massachusetts). The site happened to be near a preschool, camp, park and residential areas. A few citizens started the buzz, bringing further awareness to the community. Twenty plus townspeople rallied together to obtain almost 300 signatures on a petition to meet about zoning issues surrounding the proposed facility in a matter of days. My tiny town united under a common goal and got the petition done within 48 hours- Amazing.
So what does it mean, “it takes a village”? It means that to be part of something bigger than self, to ask for and offer help and to feel that you have support and a sense of purpose has been shown to improve longevity and overall health. The Mediterranean lifestyle, whose diet has been shown by research to have the most health benefits, has a social community aspect to their everyday life. It is the diet, in addition to the sense of community and social aspects of the lifestyle that impact the most on the people’s health and vitality. A study from 1999 looked at the social capital and community effects on individual and population health. Researchers found that the higher the social capital- namely trust, reciprocity and sense of community, the higher the health achievement in that community. There have been other studies looking at the affects of socialization and social networks on longevity, mental health and acuity. The study posted by the AARP found elderly women with strong social networks had decreased incidents of dementia and mental illness. Time magazine did a piece on Centenarians and found the following commonalities that seemed to contribute towards their health and longevity:
- A sense of purpose
- Keeping mentally fit through crosswords, games and community engagement/interaction
- Intergenerational interaction
- Being a part of a group
Having a sense of community, friends to do things with (exercise, play games, talk), and the overall giving and receiving support is vital to our health. It has been shown to improve stress management, boost immune system, and improve mental health and well being. The sense of community and purpose fosters healthy behaviors, accountability, positive youth development, improves education and decreases crime. Knowing and feeling that you are not alone can lift you up and give you the strength to keep going. Instilling a sense of community and giving our kids the tools for socialization is vital for their health, well being and self esteem. “It takes a village” to create social support for our youth as well as adults. Here are some tips on how we as parents can affect our child’s socialization:
- Model behavior- how to manage conflict, how to talk and interact with others. Social parent=social child
- Form attachments- create strong bonds which instill a sense of trust and security and allow for risk taking.
- Discipline- not authoritative or permissive, but structured with explanations, discussions and accountability.
- Gender Roles- what does it mean to be a girl or boy can affect self concept and behavior. Relax the black and white and let your child just BE.
From my village to yours, I wish you all well.