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There are many factors that play a role in how a person develops through childhood and transitions into adulthood. Everything from genetics to home environment plays an important role in defining your child's future and potential.

The 5 Protective Factors

Did you know, however, that there are five factors proven to reduce the likelihood of negative life outcomes, including mental and behavioral health challenges and long-term relationships?

Experts in mental and behavioral health as well as childhood development have recognized the protective factors for decades. The protective factors are five key things parents can control that help to develop resilience for young people over a lifetime. These five factors work together like a shield that your child can take into the world and use against difficulty, adversity, and life's challenges. Keep in mind, these five factors will not protect your child from experiencing adversity—nothing can do that. What they will do is give you, the parent, a checklist of things that will help you raise healthy, well-rounded children who are able to transition successfully into adults.

Here are the Five Protective Factors:

  • Concrete support in times of need
  • Resilience in parents
  • Competence in relationships
  • Understanding both parental skills as well as child development
  • Connections in a larger community or network
Let's look at each of these more in-depth.   

1. Concrete Support During Times of Need

While most parents wish they could keep their children safe in a bubble away from the difficulty that life sometimes offers, the fact is that at some point your child will face a situation that is emotionally trying or difficult.

Providing concrete support for your child when they face difficulty is one of the most important things parents can do to help their children develop resilience and learn good coping skills to use as they grow older.

When your child is struggling with a challenge or major life transition, allow him or her to talk about how they are feeling. Don’t try to guide the conversation to a resolution; rather, ask questions and show empathy for what they are experiencing.

An important tool for parents is getting outside help if kids are experiencing something particularly traumatic like the loss of a close loved one or friend, witnessing or experiencing violence, or a life change that creates long-term stress such as a sibling with a serious illness. Getting the additional support of a mental health specialist can help parents navigate difficult waters and get their kids and teens the help they need for long-term, sustainable resilience.

2. Parental Resilience

Kids build their identities through their parents. They will repeat and internalize their parents’ values, behaviors, and mannerisms. The wonderful and terrible thing about this is that parents teach by modeling. For example, if you tell your child not to smoke cigarettes while you are lighting a cigarette, which lesson do you think your child will take away?

Resilience is the same. When you, the parent or caregiver, experience times of difficulty or emotional upheaval, you have the opportunity to model resilience, self-care, emotional regulation, and distress tolerance to your kids.

For example, tell your kids that you are having a hard time, but also that it’s going to be okay. Even asking their advice on how to best handle a situation can help build resilience. While it is important to keep information age appropriate, it is okay to give them insights into your world and your struggles and show them how you are handling those challenges.

3. Social–Relational Competence

“Second only to survival, relationships are the primary human need,” said Justin Hacking, Clinical Supervisor at Idaho Youth Ranch.

Teaching your kids how to have healthy relationships is foundational to the protective factors. Healthy relationships based on trust, mutual respect, and healthy communication provide a safety net against difficulty, adversity, and trauma. It is imperative to human development (not just child development) to have a community to support you in times of need.

Teaching kids how to be a good friend, communicate effectively, regulate emotions, fight fairly, and share are all important skills to help young people develop solid relational skills that will help their long-term success as adults.

You can do this by modeling respectful relationships and healthy communication.

4. Understanding Parenting Skills and Child Development

This protective factor weighs heavily on parents seeking additional support and understanding.

There are two important parts: parenting skills and child development.

Understanding child development is a protective factor because it allows parents to interact with their kids in an age appropriate way. It is also important for parents to recognize that when it comes to their kids, actions speak louder than words.

Imagine a two-year-old child sitting in a highchair near a counter. On the counter sits a jar of cookies. The child reaches for the cookie jar and the caregiver immediately slaps the child’s hand, points a finger in his face, and says, “No!”

This caregiver’s logic is that the painful slap and direct, stern voice will make the child averse to reaching for the cookies.

The informed parent knows that a two-year-old child is not able to make that logical connection yet; instead, they simply move the cookie jar and say gently, “We can have a cookie after lunch,” while handing the child an alternative item to hold.

Understanding how children learn is an important factor because it gives parents a leg-up on when and how to react to situations.

It also helps children develop important skills like empathetic communication, establishing healthy boundaries, reinforcing desirable behaviors, and modeling good skills.

Being a skilled, educated parent is a vital part of the protective factors because your skill set as a parent or caregiver will set the patterns of behavior by which your child will interact with the world.

5. Social Connections

Social connections are different than social–emotional competence. Social–emotional competence is focused on teaching your child how to maintain healthy relationships through self-regulation and good communication skills.

Instead, social connections are focused on your child being a part of a larger community or support network. These can be connections with extended family, friends at school, neighbors, coaches, or other people outside their immediate family with whom he/she (the child) has a role to play.

Social connections create a safety net and give kids opportunities to practice communication, engage with different personalities, be a part of a team, and develop empathy. In other words, social connections are the piece of the puzzle that will help your child learn how to engage with the world.

Research tells us that when these five protective factors are well established within a family, the likelihood of abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction drops dramatically. It also tells us that these five factors promote strong, healthy family environments which support optimal child and youth development.

By focusing on the protective factors in your family, you will be better able to help your children successfully transition into adulthood with the emotional skills and resilience they need to be successful.

Need More Help?

If you need individual or family therapy to help your child or family through any of these areas, Idaho Youth Ranch can help. We offer proven therapies designed to support emotional regulation, communication, distress tolerance, and relationship skills. We also offer parenting classes, Equine Therapy, career development, and TeleMental Health.

Learn more about how Idaho Youth Ranch can help your family.

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