Written by Lissa Carlson

When hard times hit, what makes some families fare better than others? The good news is that the bad things that happen to a family don’t define them, and we can minimize the risks of adversity to children’s developing brains and bodies, which are more sensitive to stress, using “protective factors.”

Research shows there are five protective factors that build family strengths and promote optimal child development, as determined by the Center for the Study of Social Policy and partner organizations.

These factors are interconnected; often, if you engage one of them, it’s easier to cover more of the others.


Parental Resilience

This is your ability to deal with stress as a parent, and it boils down to basic things, such as nutrition, sleep, and exercise. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep to be patient. Develop your inner strength and exercise flexibility when life doesn’t go as planned.


Social Connections

All of the factors elate back to social connections. It’s all about relationships: relationships with our children, relationships with other family members, relationships with friends and community.

If you feel like you need to grow your network, get plugged in. Consider an online parenting group if you don’t have the connections in your current life circumstances.

But start by connecting at home with your children. Here are three great tips that simplify parenting and foster stronger bonds:

  • Touch your kids eight times a day. This could be simply straightening a collar, or a full-body hug.
  • Have at least one eye-to-eye conversation with your kids each day.
  • Invest three minutes in connecting with your kids when they wake up; when you are reunited after school or work; and before they go to bed at night. It adds up to nine minutes.


Concrete Support in Times of Need

Help families meet basic needs such as food, shelter, clothing and health care. Seek help when your own family is in need due to a crisis. If you don’t know where to start, contact a local hotline. No one should ever feel alone as a parent in our community, and there are plenty of resources available to help.


Knowledge of Parenting & Child Development

Parenting education makes you stronger. Take a comprehensive parenting class and become an expert on your child in particular. Seeking to understand your children and their particular needs can make parenting much easier.


Social & Emotional Competence of Children

A child’s ability to effectively and positively interact with others, express their feelings in healthy ways, and self-regulate their behaviors impacts their relationships, including that with parents. Help your child find the words to express how they feel.


And remember those social connections? Give your child opportunities for direct practice in relationships to strengthen this protective factor.

The best part about these protective factors is that they benefit ALL of us as families, regardless of income level, race, religion, marital status, etc.