Op-Ed: Protective Factors

By: Beth Moore
Family Services Manager
Partnership for Children of Johnston County

For the first time in our lifetimes almost one-third of the world has been greatly impacted by a disease. Our lives have changed overnight with so many unknowns. I, like most, am struggling to cope with the gravity of the situation we are faced with. The notion that we are all in this together is true, but we are all experiencing “this” differently depending on our individual emotional, economic and personal situations.

Protective factors are conditions or characteristics in individuals, families, and communities that work by lessening or eliminating risks, therein increasing the health and well-being of children and families. Building protective factors help people find resources, supports and coping strategies that allow them to parent successfully, even under stress.

Reflecting on difficult times I had as a single mother raising three children, I was lucky to have a strong network of friends and family to lean on.   However, it is important to know that there are many more factors that play a role in ensuring that we are safe, healthy and able to meet our family’s needs.  The 5 protective factors that we teach at the Partnership for Children of Johnston County are:

  • Resilience
  • Social connections
  • Concrete supports for families
  • Knowledge of parenting and of child development
  • Social and emotional competence of children

In the midst of health and economic uncertainty, the Protective Factors are more important than ever. The following are general definitions and some ways to help build the Protective Factors for our friends, family members, neighbors and community as a whole as we all navigate through these challenging times.

Resilience: When faced with a tragedy, natural disaster, health concern, relationship, work or school problem, resilience is how well a person can adapt to the events in their life. A person with good resilience is able to bounce back more quickly and with less stress than someone whose resilience is less developed.  With prolonged stress, resilience is critical.

How do we build resilience?  Most important, is self-care. Adults who care for themselves and handle stressors in healthy, appropriate ways have the energy they need to care for children or other adults who may rely on them.  RELAX by learning ways to handle your own stress and anger. Try meditation, breathing techniques and reaching out for help when you feel overwhelmed.

Social Connections: Social connection is the experience of feeling close and connected to others. It involves feeling loved, cared for and valued, and forms the basis of interpersonal relationships.

In lieu of social gatherings, the fastest way for us to get back to ‘our’ normal is by following the guidelines of the CDC and other health experts. Everyone is going through this, and each of us will respond differently. Some are more than happy in social isolation, while others are experiencing extreme anxiety. It is very important to connect with ‘your’ people through these tough times virtually, through text or phone calls. Other ways to maintain social connections at a safe distance, include meeting the mail delivery driver at the end of the driveway, to say “thank you”; or if you see your neighbor outside step out on your front porch and ask them how they are doing. If you know someone is struggling, make a yard sign and deliver it, or drive to Mimi’s house and visit through an open window for 10 minutes.

Concrete Supports: Every family – at some point – needs help.  “Times of need” don’t only occur in families in poverty and they may not always be related to material needs.  All families have times of need, whether it’s a new life situation, loving a child with special needs, finding academic activities, or dealing with economic challenges, substance abuse, or domestic violence.

Not knowing where to turn in a crisis or how to ask for help can be extraordinarily stressful for families – and cause considerable trauma for children.  Families need this protective factor so they can access services and be an advocate for their family. Visit www.nc211.org or call 211 from your phone for an abundant amount of resources from food pantries, to mental health services. The Partnership can help with finding these supports as well. Please reach out!

Knowledge of parenting and child development. An understanding of parenting strategies and child development helps families understand what to expect and how to provide what children need during each developmental phase. All families, and people who work with children, will 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
  • discipline and how to positively impact child behavior.

When we have appropriate expectations, our stress levels are reduced and patience increased.

It’s not always easy to know what resources are valid in the vast information available. Asking your pediatrician or a trusted educator for help is a good start.  The Partnership for Children can provide a program called Triple P, Positive Parenting Program, to help navigate specific behaviors.

Social and Emotional Competence of Children

This is the ability to interact in a positive way with others, communicate feelings positively and regulate behavior. Children mimic behavior of the adults in their lives, so be sure you want them to learn the behaviors you are exhibiting.

  • Create safe environments. Children need to know it is OK to be mad, sad or disappointed. Be responsive to all feelings and let your child know you understand.
  • Provide guidelines. Children need to have clear and reasonable expectations for their behavior. When the rules change, children can get confused and may act out.
  • Offer calm actions and reactions. Pay attention to good behavior and react calmly to difficult situations. Children are relying on you for stability and structure. With all of the changes the grown-ups are facing it is difficult to offer, but try.
  • Limit your screen time! Especially the news, when children are present. The current situations are challenging for adults to process and can cause additional stress and anxiety for children.

Please reach out if you or someone you care about is struggling. Be well and be kind to each other. We can, with everyone’s help, keep our sense of humanity and community. We will get through these changing times, maybe not always gracefully, but with a resolution that we are doing the best we can.