Using an ecological perspective, protective factors are conditions or attributes of individuals, families, communities or the larger society that mitigate or eliminate risk. Promotive factors are conditions or attributes of individuals, families, communities or the larger society that actively enhance well-being. Taken together, protective and promotive factors increase the probability of positive, adaptive and healthy outcomes, even in the face of risk and adversity for children and families.
The Strengthening Families framework is a “research-informed approach” that strives to make a positive difference in the lives of children and families by building five protective factors:
Parents are more likely to achieve healthy, favorable outcomes if they are resilient. Resilience is the process of managing stress and functioning well even when faced with challenges, adversity and trauma. Demonstrating resilience increases parents’ self-efficacy because they are able to see evidence of both their ability to face challenges competently and to make wise choices about addressing challenges. Furthermore, parental
resilience has a positive effect on the parent, the child and the parent-child relationship.
By managing stressors, parents feel better and can provide more nurturing attention to their child, which enables their child to form a secure emotional attachment. Receiving nurturing attention and developing a secure emotional attachment with parents, in turn, fosters the
development of resilience in children when they experience stress.
All parents experience stress from time-to-time. Thus, parental resilience is a process that all parents need in order effectively manage stressful situations and help ensure they and their families are on a trajectory of healthy, positive outcomes.
Several research studies have demonstrated that—for both mothers and
fathers—high levels of emotional, informational, instrumental or spiritual support is associated with positive parental mood; positive perceptions of and responsiveness to one’s children; parental satisfaction, well-being and
sense of competence; and lower levels of anger, anxiety and depression.
Social isolation is a risk factor consistently associated with disengaged
parenting, maternal depression and increased likelihood of child maltreatment. Similarly, loneliness may be a major stressor that inhibits
parents’ ability to provide consistent, nurturing, responsive care to their children.
Providing opportunities for parents to create and strengthen sustainable, positive social connections is necessary but alone is not sufficient. Parents can feel lonely and isolated even when surrounded by others if relationships lack emotional depth and genuine acceptance. Thus, parents need opportunities to forge positive social connections with at least
one other person that engender emotional, informational, instrumental or spiritual support so that meaningful interactions may occur in a context of mutual trust and respect. Parents’ high quality social connections are
beneficial to both the adults and the children.
Concrete support in times of need
Assisting parents to identify, find and receive concrete support in times of need helps to ensure they and their family receive the basic necessities everyone deserves in order to grow (e.g., healthy food, a safe environment), as well as specialized medical, mental health, social, educational or legal services.
Parents need experiences that enable them to understand their rights in accessing services, gain knowledge of relevant services and learn
how to navigate through service systems. Family and child-serving programs must clearly communicate to parents that seeking help is not
an indicator of weakness or failure as a parent.
Knowledge of parenting and child development
An understanding of parenting strategies and child development
helps parents understand what to expect and how to provide what children need during each developmental phase. All parents, and those who work with children, can benefit from increasing their knowledge and understanding of child development, including:
• physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional development
• signs indicating a child may have a developmental delay and needs special help
• cultural factors that influence parenting practices and the perception of children
• factors that promote or inhibit healthy child outcomes
• discipline and how to positively impact child behavior
Gaining more knowledge about child development and developing greater skills in parenting are particularly important given the recent advances in the fields of neuroscience, pediatrics and developmental psychology.
Social and emotional competence of children
A growing body of research has demonstrated the strong link between young children’s social-emotional competence and their cognitive development, language skills, mental health and school success. The dimensions of social-emotional competence in early childhood include:
• self-esteem – good feelings about oneself
• self-confidence – being open to new challenges and willing to explore new environments
• self-efficacy – believing that one is capable of performing an action
• self-regulation/self-control – following rules, controlling impulses, acting appropriately based on the context
• personal agency – planning and carrying out purposeful actions
• executive functioning – staying focused on a task and avoiding distractions
• patience – learning to wait
• persistence – willingness to try again when first attempts are not successful
• conflict resolution – resolving disagreements in a peaceful way
• communication skills – understanding and expressing a range of positive and negative emotions
• empathy – understanding and responding to the emotions and rights of others
• social skills – making friends and getting along with others
• morality – learning a sense of right and wrong
The course of social-emotional development—whether healthy or unhealthy—depends on the quality of nurturing attachment and stimulation that a child experiences. Numerous research studies show that a relationship with a consistent, caring and attuned adult who actively promotes the development of these dimensions is essential for healthy social-emotional outcomes in young children.
Early and appropriate interventions that focus on social-emotional
development can help to mitigate the effects of negative experiences in ways that lead to improved cognitive and social-emotional outcomes.
Great for a handout at a Strengthening Families training, this packet includes the research brief about each protective factor as well as an “action sheet” for service providers about their role in supporting families to build each protective factor. The action sheets include what to look for, questions to ask and activities to do with parents related to each protective factor. Follow the link below: