The importance of your entourage

The more children are surrounded by loving adults, such as grandparents, uncles, aunts or family friends, the better they develop.


The strength of a network

We know that parents who have a strong social network receive more help and feel less burnt out. But did you know that all the loving people in your child’s life also play a part in helping them thrive?

By Julie Leduc

We know that parents who have a strong social network receive more help and feel less burnt out. But did you know that all the loving people in your child’s life also play a part in helping them thrive?

Having kids takes a lot out of you! It’s normal to need help. In fact, helping each other look after children is in our nature, says Carl Lacharité, professor emeritus at the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières and an associate researcher at the CEIDEF. “For humans, it truly takes a village to raise a child,” he says. This may be due to the amount of care babies require and our long childhoods.

As a result, parents benefit from being in contact with loved ones, but so do their children, explains Lacharité. “To develop properly, children need repetition, variety, and novelty. No matter how much you bring to the table as a parent, your child still needs to be around other people.”

Multiple benefits

Relationships with the people in their lives, such as family and friends, provide different sources of stimulus and double or triple a child’s exposure to elements that are essential to their development. “A child who only feels safe with their parents will have trouble developing their self-confidence,” says Lacharité. “But if they often spend time around other people and are able to feel safe with their grandparents, aunt, uncle, or family friends, they’ll be more self-assured.”

When your child spends time with other relatives and people in their social circle, they form relationships beyond the parent-child bond. “This helps them open up to the world and encourages them to explore,” says psychologist, author, and speaker Nathalie Parent. According to Lacharité, every aspect of a child’s development benefits from the presence of a social network that offers both security and stimulus. “It has a positive impact on not only their social skills, but also their language skills, intelligence, and motor skills,” he says.

For example, when a relative or a neighbour talks to a young child, they often don’t understand them as well as the child’s parents do. “They’ll ask the child to repeat themself,” says Parent. “This forces them to find different words and develop their language skills to get their message across.”

By spending time with people other than you, your child is exposed to different stimuli and learns new things.

This means that it’s to your advantage to encourage involvement from family and friends, as long as those people truly want to be involved in your child’s life and have their best interests at heart.

Suzanne Lavigueur, an honorary professor in the Department of Psychoeducation and Psychology at the Université du Québec en Outaouais, believes that a person who judges a child and does not accept them for who they are will not have a positive relationship with that child. “The relationship can also be harmful if the person criticizes the parent in front of the child,” she says. “For example, a child should not be put in the middle of a conflict between their mother and grandmother.”

Fortunately, most of the time, a family’s social network has a positive influence. “People with emotional and biological ties to a child tend to want to take care of them,” says Lacharité. And they play an important role in their life.

Children with special needs
For parents of kids with special needs, involving family and friends in their child’s life can be a challenge. “Sometimes, the parents are uncomfortable asking for help and are afraid of being judged,” says Suzanne Lavigueur. “Other times, the people in the parent’s support network are afraid that they won’t be able to give the child the care they need or just don’t understand the child’s situation well enough.” In both cases, she suggests giving those around you an opportunity to see what your child’s life is like firsthand. “For example, you could take your child to visit their grandparents or friends, but stick around in case they need anything. You could also invite friends or family to join you on an outing.” Another option is to connect with people in similar circumstances through support groups or specialized organizations.

The important role of grandparents

Grandparents who take an active role in their grandchild’s life have a positive effect on the child’s self-esteem. “Grandparents often have unconditional love for their grandchildren,” says Parent. “Children pick up on this and it helps them feel confident in themselves and their abilities.” Grandparents often have more free time and more parenting experience without carrying the burden of parental responsibilities. “They do things simply for the pleasure of being with their grandkids, and that makes young children feel important,” adds Lavigueur. The patience and tolerance grandparents often show can also be a source of comfort. For example, they may respond less negatively when a child misbehaves.

Lavigueur has also noted the positive effects of maternal grandmother involvement in her work on vulnerable mothers. “In a study, many young moms felt that their mother played an important role in their child’s life.” The grandmothers in the study helped out financially with childcare, but they also provided emotional security for the child by playing with them, consoling them, and spending time with them, for example. Other studies have even shown that a good relationship with a loving grandmother can reduce the negative impact of having a less affectionate mother.

Read our feature on grandparents and learn more about their role and benefits.

How open are parents to involvement from others?
According to the experts we consulted, parents are generally open to their loved ones being involved in their children’s lives. “However, some parents are more protective than others and find it hard to trust other people with their child,” says psychologist Nathalie Parent. These parents should try to keep in mind that their support network isn’t there to replace them. It’s there to complement what they offer to their child.
On the flip side, friends and family sometimes worry about being a bother, not knowing what to do with the child, or becoming the default babysitter. If this is the case, parents can slowly integrate their support network into their child’s life by paying short visits to Grandma or a friend, for instance, or sending photos or a drawing to an uncle. Over time, these relationships will deepen.
If, however, a parent’s anxiety or a family conflict is preventing their child from spending time with other people, Parent believes it can be a good idea to try to address the situation. Meeting with a psychologist or social worker, for example, can help parents overcome their fears or get to the root of the conflict.

Family roots

Knowing where we come from gives us a sense of security. When grandparents share their memories, children understand that they have a history and belong to a long line of ancestors, says Parent. This helps them develop their sense of identity. The same is true when grandparents share their skills and knowledge. For example, when Grandma tends the vegetable garden or Grandpa repairs the lawnmower, children learn to appreciate the practicality and satisfaction of doing things by themselves. They slowly realize that they are keeping their family’s knowledge and values alive.

Grandparents also provide stability. For example, they can step in when a second child is born or when a parent falls ill. “It’s very reassuring for a child to go to their grandparents’ home and maintain their routine,” says Suzanne Lavigueur.

Seeing their grandparents on a regular basis can also help children cope better with parental separation. As a result, separated parents should try to maintain the relationship between their child and their ex-partner’s parents, even if they’re angry with each other, says Nathalie Parent. “Children who are going through a lot of changes need to maintain some degree of stability and be reassured that some things won’t change.”

Aunts, uncles, friends, and co.

Aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbours also have a lot to offer. Author and editor Marianne Prairie believes in the importance of social networks for not only parental support, but also child development. She’s seen the benefits firsthand with her daughters, who were very close with Marianne’s friends and neighbours when they were little. “It really helped for them to be around other adults. It gave them other role models.” It was like her daughters were part of one big family!

With aunts, uncles, friends, and neighbours, things work differently than they do at home. When they’re with these other people, your child learns to adapt. “They learn that other people have different rules, different ways of doing things, and different lifestyles,” says Parent. “They learn to adjust.” They can also learn new things by doing activities they wouldn’t otherwise do. For example, they might learn about fish by going fishing with an uncle or learn yoga by going to a class with a cousin.

“I find that kids who are used to being around different people are more curious and adapt better to change,” says Prairie. Suzanne Lavigueur notes that having regular contact with other people gives children more people they can turn to later on, once they become teenagers, if they need support or they feel uncomfortable talking about something with their parents. “It’s such a valuable gift!” she says. Being around different people also helps children learn to respect and accept others.

Cities: Supporting families

An increasing number of cities across Quebec are making efforts to improve their support for families by adopting family policies. These policies address various aspects of community life, including sports and leisure, cultural activities, real estate development, and access to arenas, parks, and other municipal facilities.

In addition, cities are increasingly offering flexible activities that better align with parents’ schedules, such as block parties, family days, and shows for kids. Families can attend these activities whenever their schedules allow, without having to register ahead of time or sign up for a full session. In addition, many cities offer free activities like outdoor movie nights and story hours.

Community organizations: Valuable partners

Community organizations in cities also play an important role in the lives of families and children. For example, some run workshops or drop-in daycare centres where children can socialize. Thus, they’re a complementary source of stimulation away from the home environment.

Other organizations provide respite services, telephone support, and psychological support to parents. Some also offer coffee chats and seminars on child development and other aspects of parenting.

These organizations give parents the opportunity to share their experiences and support each other. Their services also benefit kids, as they can have a positive effect on children’s socialization or overall development, for example.

Thanks for being a part of my life!

The important people in a parent’s life have a positive influence on their children, too. Three families express their gratitude for individuals who have meant a lot to them and their little ones.

By Nathalie Côté

The important people in a parent’s life have a positive influence on their children, too. Three families express their gratitude for individuals who have meant a lot to them and their little ones.

Thank you to a friend

Benjamin Quintino, dad to 2-year-old Valentina, and his wife, Izabela, moved to Canada from Brazil a little over three years ago. After arriving in the country, Benjamin connected with a group of other people from Brazil, including Anderson Silva, who is now a close friend. “We clicked immediately. We get along really well. I want to thank him because he’s an important part of our family life,” says Benjamin.

The Quintinos and Silvas are very close and meet up every Saturday. Their friendship also benefits Benjamin’s daughter, Valentina. “Since my daughter was born here and goes to daycare all day, she’s a lot more Quebecer than she is Brazilian. I think spending time with Brazilian friends helps her stay in touch with her roots.

“My daughter plays a lot with Anderson’s daughter, who’s two years older,” Benjamin adds. “They get along well, and it’s good for her to have a close friend. Sometimes they argue, but they’re learning how to settle their conflicts! We often bring them to the park so they can play.”

The two dads also help each other out a lot. Anderson babysits Benjamin’s daughter sometimes, and vice versa. “We also share food. Whenever we cook something, we save some for them, and they do the same for us. But we also cook together pretty often—Brazilian food, of course!”

Thank you to two educators

Suzy Wong, mother of 5-year-old Xavier, lived in Quebec City before moving to Laval. She had trouble building a support network, so she enrolled her son at the Maison de Quartier Vimont drop-in daycare centre. “He went there two mornings a week,” she says.

Suzy would especially like to thank Geneviève Laquerre and Jade Samson, two educators who really made a difference in her son’s life. “Xavier wanted nothing to do with anyone besides his father and me. Our family doctor even suspected autism spectrum disorder,” she says. “Jade and Geneviève were great with him, and he took to them right away. They helped him open up and trust people other than us. Xavier liked to do all kinds of activities at the daycare, like crafts, dancing, and singing . . . He even wanted to go when we were on vacation!”

Suzy and her partner quickly noticed a difference in their son’s behaviour: “He was more approachable, articulate, happy, and sociable.” His doctor noticed a big improvement less than four months after Xavier started attending daycare and concluded that his development was right on track for his age. This fall, the little boy is attending school in a regular class.

“I’m confident that everything will go well,” says Suzy. “If Jade and Geneviève hadn’t been there, he would have had a harder time for sure.”

Thank you to my parents

Marie-Ève Alarie, mom to 2-year-old Malcolm and 5-month-old Malik, can always count on her parents, Gérard and France Alarie. “I want to thank them for the time they’ve dedicated to their grandchildren since the boys were born. They live close by, and we usually see them two or three times a week,” she says.

During her first maternity leave, Marie-Ève also spent a lot of time at her parents’. “My father is disabled, but that doesn’t stop him from getting down on the floor to play with Malcolm or bringing him to the park. And no one could get Malcolm to sleep when he was a baby like my dad,” she says. “He also reads Malcolm stories. Since his mobility is reduced and he can’t go out as much, seeing the kids is a real joy for him. He’s crazy about his grandsons.”

Marie-Ève’s mother, for her part, does a lot of painting and crafts with Malcolm—activities for which Marie-Ève has less patience. “My mom also sings with him a lot. After I had his brother, we stayed in the hospital for a few days, and she taught him a pretty song that he would sing to me on the phone.”

Marie-Ève and her partner both work full-time, and she admits that there are some things they don’t really have time to do. “My parents, on the other hand, can spend a lot of quality time with our kids.”

Malcolm is a super-sociable little guy because he spent time around other adults early on,” says Marie-Éve. “Things probably would have been different if my parents lived further away. I’m a bit of an anxious person, so I’m sure he would have been more sheltered.”

Things to keep in mind
  • Grandparents, uncles, aunts, friends, and neighbours can all contribute to a child’s development.
  • When surrounded by people who love and care about them, your child develops self-confidence and learns to bond with others.
  • Spending time around other people exposes your child to different stimuli and allows them to learn new things.
  • The environment children grow up in and the services available in their communities can also contribute to their development.
Naître et grandir

Source:Naître et grandir magazine, November 2016
Research and copywriting: Julie Leduc, Nathalie Côté, Kathleen Couillard
Scientific review: Annie Goulet, psychologist
Updated: October 2023

Photos: Futcher, Morin, Futcher




  • Ces parents à bout de souffle, S. Lavigueur, 6th edition, Les Éditions Québec-Livres, 2016, 424 pp.
  • Fafounet chez ses grands-parents, L. D’Aoust, Éditions Les malins, 2016, 31 pp.
  • Grands-parents aujourd’hui : plaisirs et pièges, F. Ferland, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2012, 156 pp.
  • Le psy-guide des grands-parents, S. Vallières, G. Vallières-Lavoie, Les Éditions de l’Homme, 2021, 160 pp.
  • Pour grands-parents seulement!, N. Parent, Les Éditions Québec-Livres, 2013, 176 pp.


  • Grandparent Health and Family Well-Being, R. Margolis, The Vanier Institute of the Family, 2017.
  • Favoriser le développement global de l’enfant de 0 à 6 ans : quelques principes illustrés pour guider l’action. M.-É. Bergeron-Gaudin, A. Melançon, and M. Sow, Institut National de Santé Publique du Québec, 2022.

Make a paper garland

Make a paper garland showcasing the most important people in your life.

1. Download and print the garland template below.

2. Cut out the left side of the first page.

3. Fold it accordion-style at the fold marks.

4. Ask an adult to help you cut out the figure along the dotted line.

5. Unfold the garland and draw the most important people in your life other than your parents: your granddad, your aunt, a family friend, etc

6. Use the following pages as required.

Download template