Protective factors are conditions or attributes in individuals, families, and communities that promote the health and well-being of children and families. The main purpose of protective factors is to reduce or buffer the effects of risk, stress, or trauma while identifying strengths within families.
Think about some of the strengths that you and your family possess. Maybe it’s appreciation and affection, commitment, enjoyable time together. Or you deeply care for one another, and you let each other know this on a regular basis. It can also look like positive communication or ability to manage stress.
The Family Resource Information, Education, and Network Development Service (FRIENDS) has presented evidence-based protective factors that can improve social and emotional well-being in children and youth. We could all benefit from learning these factors whether we are parents now or are planning to be in the future! These protective factors include knowledge of parenting, concrete supports, resiliency, nurturing and attachment, social support, children’s social and emotional competence.
You may recognize some of these protective factors in your own lives or you may not even be aware that they already exist in your life.
“Trauma is a fact of life. It does not, however, have to be a life sentence.”
– Peter A. Levine
When these conditions/attributes, or protective factors, are present in families’ lives, it helps them overcome what could otherwise result in tragedy. The outcomes for children affected by trauma, that could have been prevented or not, can be improved by helping those children and their families utilize or build protective factors in their lives. These protective factors help to alleviate risks and can help all families to navigate life’s stress and trauma with less damage.
Think of your most recent life challenge and the protective factors or family strengths that assisted you and your family during that time. Or think of the protective factors listed above you could have benefited from at that time.
Knowledge of Parenting
It is a reality that parenting can be challenging and is stressful. But when parents understand child developmental stages and needs it immensely reduces stress levels. Seeking parent education that matches your child’s age helps parents know how to adjust their parenting style based on the child’s needs and reduce their risk for abuse and trauma. The more parents understanding how children grow and learn, the more parents become more confident in their skills and in knowing how to best help their child.
No one is exempt from life challenges. It is just as crucial for parents and children to get the help they need in times of stress or crisis. Are you currently aware of the resources available to you and your family? Do you need to make a plan to reach out to an organization near you for help?
You may or may have not had challenges of your own that have contributed to your strengths and resiliency. Resiliency means being flexible, strong, and utilizing healthy coping skills every day and in times of crisis. It means creatively solving problems and building relationships and seeking help when it is needed.
Nurturing and Attachment
Children who feel loved and supported by their parents tend to be more competent, happy, and healthy as they progress into adulthood. Research also shows that this type of parent-child relationship is associated with better grades, healthier behaviors, more positive peer interactions and increased ability to cope with stress later in life. Of course, there are the demands of work, school, home, finances, and other responsibilities which can often feel overwhelming. Even just a moment, a hug, a kiss, or a story at bedtime can make a big difference in the eyes of a child to help them feel loved every day. Think of how this type of nurturing could help a child during a family’s crisis.
The majority of these protective factors is reaching out for help. Strengthening your own family during challenges can look like having people to provide emotional support and share parenting ideas. Think of friends, family, neighbors, co-workers who you could turn for support during challenges. Do you have any names come up?
Children’s Social and Emotional Competence
Children model everything their parents do, especially parents’ responses in times of crisis. Helping children develop the ability to communicate their feelings and emotions can reduce the level of stress when facing a challenge. Teaching a child to positively interact with others by enhancing their social skills and coaching self-regulating has a great impact on the parent-child relationship.
These protective factors create greater probability of positive outcomes for children and families when facing challenges. There is a difference between families that not only survive, but thrive with the help of these protective factors. If you are feeling defeated as a parent with too many tasks to handle stressing you left and right, know that there is help out there for you and your family and within reach.
Aylin Y. Guerrero Espin is a Social Work college graduate from BYU-Idaho who wrote this article during her time interning with Department of Child and Family Services in the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Program.