When you hear the term “relational poverty,” you may think that it’s just a type of socioeconomic poverty. Yet, relational poverty can impact anyone, regardless of socioeconomic status. It also reaches beyond race, gender, age, or any other social identifiers. Relational poverty refers to a deep lack of connectedness with others, which impacts our ability to survive and be well. It doesn’t indicate a lack of money (although it can compound it in situations of homelessness).
Children who experience relational poverty lack supportive relationships that they need to properly grow and develop. Let’s take a look at relational poverty up close and see just why relationships matter so much to childhood development.
Why being rich in community matters
Relational poverty means that you’re poor in community, and it’s rampant among even the wealthiest communities. As children, we need positive role models to reinforce positive childhood experiences. When children have a supportive community, they have a lower risk of child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment.
Why relationships are essential for children
The ability to form and maintain relationships is an important part of how we, as human beings, learn to function in society. This comes into play early. For the first two years of a baby’s life, they rely on individuals around them to serve their every need. If they do not bond properly with caregivers or trust them to meet their basic needs, then this can interrupt brain development. This is especially detrimental when birth to age 5 is the most critical time for healthy brain development.
These relationships must continue to from birth through all of childhood. Parents and caregivers must provide a consistent and sensitive relationship to ensure that they continue to develop both socially and emotionally. While some children naturally acquire these skills, others need help.
Relationships have a positive impact on our mental health and well-being, which is why relational poverty is a risk factor for child abuse, neglect, and maltreatment. Prioritizing a child’s relationship with parents, siblings, peers, and other adults like teachers can help provide a network of resources and positive role models.
What if a child has trouble forming relationships?
Some children have more difficulty than others forming relationships. This can be the result of a particular need such as autism, a learning disability, or another cause. However, just because there is a particular need in play, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to form the same possible network around them. They say it takes a village to raise a child for a reason. Those around them should give consideration to how they can help them build relationships. Remember, support relationships ultimately lead to positive childhood experiences.
Relationships are a crucial part of life. Children who experience relational poverty may be more susceptible to childhood trauma and struggle to form and maintain positive relationships throughout their lives. If you work with children who struggle with relational poverty, Derek Clark is available for trainings, conferences, meetings, and special events. As one of the most inspiring motivational speakers, his first-hand experience with childhood trauma provides education for optimal outcomes. Contact him here.