Protective Factors are attributes in families that increase health and well-being. We could take that a bit further and state that family and community in and of themselves can be Protective Factors. Families who establish and maintain healthy habits, support each other, and engage in community are more likely to live more satisfying and fulfilling lives. Additionally, many studies have shown that these protective factors contribute to either the prevention of or reduction in symptoms of disorders such as depression and anxiety.
Giving limited attention to the pandemic, let’s consider that out of nowhere families were forced to be in each other’s space with little to no opportunity to interact with others. As the pandemic eases, therapy professionals are beginning to see an increase in families seeking therapy. Some families leaned into their resilience and established foundations and experienced their bonds grow deeper. Other families were forced to acknowledge the unhealthy foundations that couldn’t support them during this challenging time. What helped some families thrive and deepen their connection? Here are a few strategies strongly associated that support the family as a protective factor.
How parents/caregivers/guardians relate with each other establishes the environment of the home and teaches their children how to engage. A strong bond, showing affection and resolving conflict in a healthy way sets the pace for learning to do so in the family and beyond. Numerous studies have shown that integrating some of the parent relationship strategies below develops and solidifies protective factors as a family:
Maintain healthy individual interests and growth. This allows for a couple to strengthen the “Us” of the relationship. The “us” is the unique combination of the two that doesn’t exist in any other context.
Develop and maintain healthy relationships with other parents. Parents can feel isolated at times. It helps to gain perspective when witnessing and sharing similar joys and pains with other parents.
Consistently grow together. Go on dates, learn new hobbies together and learn how to love the other in a way that speaks to their individual heart.
Maintain good health. Exercise together, try new dishes (particularly with good nutrition), explore spirituality, and learn something new each month.
Create a Nurturing Environment
Food for thought, the role of “child” is one that we all share. Not everyone becomes a parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle yet we all are someone’s child. The impact of that experience and relationship cannot be understated. We know that by ages 2 and 3, children begin to identify themselves in multiple ways. The environments in which they live, relationships they have, and communities they live in provide the paint for a potential masterpiece.
Provide love and trust. This is vital to the development and building of identity. Children need a place where these two qualities are vibrant and abundant.
Celebrate them for them. Whether you have one or many, support each of them as they discover who they are.
Maintain healthy boundaries. Allow children to be children, not “little adults.” Give responsibilities and freedoms appropriate to their age.
Encourage generational and multicultural relationships. Exposing children to diverse communities builds sensitivity and respect for others and themselves.
Offer Extended Family and Community
There is an African Proverb that states “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.” It is so easily said that children are the future and it is equally easy to forget the impact of our current actions on the children that surround us. Consider the following suggestions as ways to build strong protective factors from the community perspective.
Expose your children to other cultures. Different doesn’t equal wrong. Exposure to others helps build a cultural lens that reduces bias and builds acceptance.
Build healthy peer relationships. Parents weren’t built to do it alone. In the pursuit of becoming healthy parents, it is beneficial to be connected to others who are in the same pursuit.
Encourage mentors and role models. Encourage your children to know other trusted adults. It is official – there is a season in a young person’s life where they don’t believe their parents or, feel they can communicate with them. Encourage them to connect with other trusted adults as resources for such seasons.
Whether amid a Pandemic or in regular day-to-day life, families who practice these habits, establish and sustain wellness. According to the great theologian, Google, the definition of Family Wellness is –
“Everyone in the family has healthy mental functioning, productive activities, and fulfilling relationships with one another and people outside the family. Family wellness allows everyone in the family to adapt and bond together to help one another through change and difficult times.”
As a family, look within to discover and enhance those protective factors that are naturally present. Where you are lacking or need support, look to those who surround you.
Michael S. Cox MA, LPC is a Level 2 Certified Restoration Therapist and seeks to utilize this training in assisting individuals, marriages and families to discover their God-given potential and to see it actualized. He had been in private practice and consulting since January of 2020 and utilizes a holistic approach in providing treatment. Together with his wife they conduct marriage seminars, coach couples in preparation for marriage and walk with families seeking to live healthy lives. Additionally, he utilizes his 20+ years of working with young people to inform and drive his work with adolescent development and emotional regulation. He is the proud husband of wife Coloma and father to their three young boys.
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