Five Protective Factors

Do you ever wonder what can protect you and your family from the effects of toxic stress?  Researchers have been studying this very issue for some time now and agree that there are five things that can protect families from the effects of toxic stress.  The five protective factors when implemented into daily acts can protect against mental health problems and physical ailments that can bog people down.  So, what are the five protective factors?

Parental resilience is the ability to bounce back after difficult times.  Think of a rubber band that is stretched and then, when the force of the pull is released, it bounces back to its original state. Resiliency is how well we handle and adapt to the challenges that we all face in life.  Having a positive attitude, coping well in difficult situations, and strong self-esteem helps us build our resiliency in life.  It is important to keep in mind that resiliency is a skill that we can build throughout our lifetime.  When parents model resilience for their children it teaches the children confidence to handle things that life throws at them in a healthy manner.

Social connection is important in building strong communities. There is a saying that it takes a village to raise a child.  This could not be truer in the lives of families.  There are times that we all struggle.  In those times we can weather the storm with help from our village.  Having the skills to create healthy relationships and connections in the community is vital to families’ growth. Imagine having a good working relationship with your child’s teacher.  You notice that your child has been coming home with bruises that are not typical.  You feel secure in the knowledge that you can talk openly with your child’s teacher about your concerns that your child may be experiencing bullying at school.  This healthy connection will lead to caring adults looking after your child when you are not around.

Concrete supports are important to all members of our community, especially families with children. Concrete supports are the physical resources and assistance provided in times of need. Some examples of concrete supports are food pantries, homeless shelters, clothing closets, and more.  As a protective factor, it is important that individuals have the knowledge of where these resources are found and how to access them.  Often times, using our social connections can help guide us to concrete supports.

Knowledge of parenting and child development.  Have you ever tried to change a tire for the first time without knowing how?  After trying for a while, you will most likely figure out that you need to loosen the lug nuts first before you raise the car off the ground, otherwise you will have to hold the tire while you work to loosen them.  The wheel most likely will spin and you will work harder than if you had been taught to loosen the lug nuts while the tire was still on the ground.  Knowledge of parenting makes us more knowledgeable on how to keep our children safe and teach them the skills they need to succeed in life.  My parents always said that knowledge was power.  I learn more and more about parenting everyday through reading, attending classes, and listening to other parents’ experiences.  Gaining knowledge has never stopped because scientists continue to learn more, and our society evolves and changes.  Some of the social and economic crises we face today are new, and therefore, how we parent through them may be different than the past.  This is why having knowledge of child development is so important.  Knowing what the recommended milestones are for the age of your child will help you as a parent be aware of whether development is on tract.  Parents know their child better than any other person because they are their child’s first teacher. Knowing what to expect from your child will also help you in your parenting.  When you expect more from your child than they are capable of giving, you might become disappointed and frustrated.  Having the knowledge of what their ability should be, enables you to be more understanding and patient, thus, creating an environment for healthy development.

Social and emotional competence of children is a two-part protective factor.  It encompasses the child’s knowledge of emotions and how to regulate those emotions.  It also includes being able to work in healthy social relationships with peers and adults in their life.  When children are taught to understand what they are feeling and how they can manage those feelings in a healthy manner they are better equipped to have good relationships with friends and family members.  Think of a four-year-old who has the vocabulary to state that he would like a turn with a toy because it looks fun.  The child with the toy can ask the boy to wait his turn until he is finished with one last task.  The child waiting for his turn may feel anxious, impatient and frustrated at having to wait. This is a good example of social communication and delayed gratification. It uses the knowledge of knowing how to regulate those emotions while working in a social interaction. As adults we use these skills in many aspects of our daily lives.  By teaching children these skills early on, they will perform better in school, thrive in social situations, and affect every aspect of their life.

Some questions to ponder as you consider the effect the 5 Protective Factors have on your life. What are your strongest protective factors? How did you develop them? What experiences have you had that have built and shaped your resilience? Who do you consider healthy social connections and why? Where do you go for concrete supports in times of need? What factors have influenced your parenting style? How often to you continue learning about child development and emotion regulation? In what areas are there room for improvement? What does it mean to have a strong family and be part of a strong community? How can you help others in your circle of influence increase in knowledge and application of the 5 Protective Factors?