Tib’s Tips: Protective Factors
Sometimes you just need a quick checklist, something you can mentally count on your fingers, while juggling parenting, adult relationships, household tasks, finances, school, or a career. For instance, the checklist you use when you leave the house, baby in tow, shopping list in hand. Let’s see, where are my keys, did I bring an extra diaper, I know my cell phone is in here somewhere, and where’s my wallet, did the gas gauge say empty when I got home last night? Wouldn’t it be great if there was a similar yet simple checklist for keeping track of how your family is doing, for how you are doing? Surprisingly, I ran across one while meeting new partners in home visiting. It’s called the protective factors framework and the research indicates that these six ingredients can strengthen families in just about any situation. I especially like the idea that I can count these six building blocks off on my fingers while doing a quick self assessment and make adjustments where necessary.
Parental Resilience. Think like a rubber band. How pliable and stretchable are you right now? Could you snap back into place if you ran into another challenge today? While you can’t eliminate all stress from parenting and managing a family, you can learn how to tweak and modify your reactions so that you can bounce back from stressful situations. All parents have strengths and weaknesses. And sometimes those strengths and weaknesses wax and wane depending on what’s going on in your life. Just take a moment to identify what has the potential to upset you and what works to restore balance and calm, especially in the most stressful parenting moments. If you find tweaking and modifying stress stressful in itself, reach out and ask for help. Some parenting challenges are easier when faced with a few new tools under the belt.
Social Connections. How are you doing in the friend, neighbor, and/or family department? Can you name at least one other adult who you can count on in a pinch or hang out with for fun and relaxation? In our busy lives, friends may take a backseat to all the other demands. I remember when my daughter was around seven and we had just moved to a new neighborhood. I was hoping to go back to school during this assignment and had already started thinking about all the steps that went into getting accepted and enrolling. Making new friends and meeting my neighbors was way down on the list. While the moving van was unloading the furniture, my daughter took off down the short street. About an hour later, she ran up beaming, “Mommy, I just found five new friends and I found some for you, too.” My seven-year-old was right: having a trusted network of family, friends, and neighbors is a priority. Regardless of how full your plate looks, chances are you’re going to need that understanding ear to help you discover the solution to a problem, find a fresh outlook, or try something new.
Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development. How well matched are your expectations and parenting skills to your child’s development? It sounds simple but it’s even easier to forget how important this is. The truth is our expectations drive our reactions. For instance, if you are expecting your one-year-old to pick up all his or her toys before bed or expecting your two-year-old to not interrupt, to never say no, to always share, or to not throw a temper tantrum, your frustration levels are probably on the rise. You really need skillful parenting to teach your growing child how to master their wants, and needs, and emotions. Skillful parenting means knowing “the possible” based on where your child is developmentally. Being informed of your child’s mental, physical, and emotional abilities can help you avoid many stressful situations completely, which can lead to more enjoyable time with your growing child.
Nurturing and Attachment. How are you connecting with your child? Are you finding time to listen, stay involved, show affection, and have fun with each other? Even small acts of kindness, such as a smile, a hug, asking how the day went, or cuddling, pay huge dividends in helping our children develop into emotionally competent adults. Most of us know that a consistent relationship with a caring adult in infancy plays a huge role in brain development. In fact, some experts believe that the time we spend nurturing a stable and strong attachment in infants and toddlers pays off later when our children are learning how to manage emotions, get along with others, and make good decisions.
Social and Emotional Competence. How are you and your family doing in the social emotional department, especially when it comes to handling feelings such as sadness, disappointment, anger, or frustration? Are you managing those day to day conflicts productively? At each developmental stage until your child reaches young adulthood, he or she is learning how to handle all kinds of new social skills and emotions. There are bound to be bumps in the road, and your child may act out or disguise feelings that are new or overwhelming. You can help your child understand all of these new feelings and skills by being a positive role model and making sure your child knows you can be trusted with his or her budding feelings.
Concrete Support in Times of Need. Would you know where to go and who to contact if your family experienced a crisis? Chances are you or someone you know is going to need concrete support at some time while living the military life. Having a reliable friend, family member, or neighbor to call on for help is not only comforting, but can be a valuable connection; however, in a crisis you may need more formal support. I’ll never forget when my neighbor’s base house caught on fire due to a faulty lamp in an upstairs bedroom. Luckily everyone got out of the house safely, but the family needed concrete support such as a place to stay, clothes, and food until they could return to their home. Knowing where these supports are on the installation or local community and how to contact them can save precious time if and when a crisis occurs.
Please remember that we all need friends, we all need support, and we all need help sometimes. If you want to learn more about the protective factors and how other families and communities are creatively putting them into practice, check out Strengthening Families from the Center for the Study of Social Policy for more information, or visit Military OneSource for resources ranging from helpful parenting tips to contacts for local help. You can also reach out to your local New Parent Support Program. To find contact information, call your installation operator or visit MilitaryINSTALLATIONS and select “New Parent Support Program” in the “Looking for a specific program or service” box.
Mary Campise, LICSW, is a senior program analyst with the Family Advocacy and New Parent Support Program, Office of Family Programs/Children and Youth, Military Community & Family Policy, Office of the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense. She shares responsibility of the policy oversight for prevention and intervention programs addressing child abuse and neglect and domestic abuse in military families. She has worked with military families for nineteen years and has been a military spouse for twenty-five years.