What are Protective Factors?

Mother looking at her baby

Written by: Jackie Newson, Director, West Virginia Home Visitation Program, WV Office of Maternal, Child and Family Health

West Virginia has a long tradition and proud history of strong families and communities.  Neighbors help neighbors and West Virginian’s feel empathy and reach out to others that are suffering or that need help. There are ways to build and strengthen the characteristics that keep WV families strong and resilient.  Through the strengthening of coping strategies and by building resilience, WV families can deal more effectively with stressful events and eliminate some of the risk and negative impact of times of stress and anxiety. By building the factors that protect us from breaking down and/or giving up, we can learn to find balance and overcome negative impacts more constructively and effectively.  Strong families build stronger communities!

The good news is that it’s never too late to build and strengthen resilience. Local home visitation programs partner with families to help them see their individual strengths that have helped them through tough times.  Home Visitors provide support and can provide families and children with ideas and strategies for meeting challenges and building resilience.  All of us can use a lot of resilience right now!

Here are the “Protective Factors” that can help make all of our families stronger and more resilient.

Strong Parents/Caregivers Matter. All caregivers of children need help and support. When parents and caregivers recognize their own characteristics that have seen them through tough times, they can consciously use those skills to strengthen their family and teach their children ways to cope with challenges. Once we realize we cannot always control what happens to us, especially as children, we can understand that what happened was not our fault and that it isn’t “what’s wrong with me” but “it’s what happened to me and what I learned from it.”

Relationships Matter: Healthy, nurturing relationships are important to parents and to children. Positive interaction with family members, friends and the community make everyone stronger and better able to cope when there are stressful times and/or during everyday challenges. Home Visitors and families build trusting relationships that provide opportunities for discovering inner strengths as well as a connection to resources and other families with young children.  These connections can build stronger support networks for families and their children.

Understanding Child Development:  Watching a two-year old having a meltdown can puzzle and frustrate the most experienced parent.  But understanding that seemingly unexplained tantrums are a part of the two-year old’s brain development certainly can help the parent cope with the event and move on to the next positive experience with a child.  Knowing what is appropriate behavior and physical development for a child can prevent anxiety and frustration for the parent.  Children have different personalities and develop at different times.  Home Visitors can provide fun, interactive activities to demonstrate what to expect from your child and ways to encourage development through play and interaction. While there are always challenges and stressful times for parents and children, understanding why a child is doing what they are doing can be the key to having more fun and more positive experiences as a family. 

Concrete Support:  Families need help sometimes. Home Visitors can provide information about local resources when a family needs support services.  Home Visitors support families as they determine their needs and navigate resources.  

Social-Emotional Development of Children:  There has been a lot of information recently about the importance of paying attention to and encouraging the social-emotional development of children. While children are physically developing, their brain development is in overdrive. They are learning about who they are, who cares for them and how to respond to the world.  It is important for children to know how to express their feelings, to know how much they are loved and valued, and to be able to communicate effectively with caregivers and their peers.  Parents and caregivers have a unique opportunity to encourage children to feel loved, safe and special from the moment they are born.  This promotes feelings of self-confidence, competence and readiness to enter the world as a good citizen.

One step you can take to strengthen your family is to enroll in one of West Virginia’s community-based home visitation programs.  Your Home Visitor will work with you to support you and your family on the road to a good beginning for your baby and a bright future for all of you!