We’ve all heard of risk factors that contribute to problems within families.
Protective Factors are the positive counterpoint to risk factors. Protective
Factors help families stay safe, healthy and strong.
According to national research, when multiple risk factors are present in a family,
there’s a greater likelihood of negative outcomes, including delayed
development and child maltreatment. But when multiple Protective Factors
enter the picture, we see a greater probability of positive outcomes for
children, families and communities.
Protective Factors are critical for all children, youth, families and
communities. They are the difference between families and communities
that not only survive, but thrive. Each of us has a role to play to help
strengthen Protective Factors in our community and the families around us.
NebraskaPinwheels.org is dedicated to helping visitors discover basic
characteristics and resources all families need to thrive and what you can
do to develop as a parent, caregiver, teacher, service provider or other
PROTECTIVE FACTOR #1: NURTURING AND ATTACHMENT
Research shows that babies who received affection and nurturing from their
parents have the best chance of developing into children, teens and adults
who are happy, healthy and have relational, self-regulation and problemsolving
skills. Research also shows that a consistent relationship with caring
adults in the early years of life is associated with better grades, healthier
behaviors, more positive peer interactions and increased ability to cope with
stress later in life.
As children grow, nurturing by parents and other caregivers remains
important for healthy physical and emotional development. Parents nurture
their older children by making time to listen to them, being involved and
interested in the child’s school and other activities, staying aware of the
child or teen’s interests and friends, and being willing to advocate for the
child when necessary.
PROTECTIVE FACTOR #2: KNOWLEDGE OF PARENTING AND
Parents who understand the usual course of child development are more
likely to be able to provide their children with respectful communication,
consistent rules and expectations, developmentally appropriate limits and
opportunities that promote independence. But no parent can be an expert
on all aspects of infant, child and teenage development or on the most
effective ways to support a child at each stage. When parents are not aware
of normal developmental milestones, interpret their child’s behaviors in a
negative way or do not know how to respond to and effectively manage
a child’s behavior, they can become frustrated and may resort to harsh
As children grow, parents need to continue to foster their parenting
competencies by learning about and responding to children’s emerging
needs. Information about child development and parenting may come
from many sources, including extended families, cultural practices, media,
formal parent education classes or a positive school environment that
supports parents. Interacting with other children of similar ages also helps
parents better understand their own child. Observing other caregivers
who use positive techniques for managing children’s behavior provides an
opportunity for parents to learn healthy alternatives.
Parenting styles need to be adjusted for each child’s unique temperament
and circumstances. Parents of children with special needs may benefit
from additional coaching and support to reduce frustration and help them
become the parents their children need.
PROTECTIVE FACTOR #3: PARENTAL RESILIENCE
Parents who can cope with the stresses of everyday life, as well as an
occasional crisis, have resilience—the flexibility and inner strength to
bounce back when things are not going well. Parents with resilience also
know how to seek help in times of trouble. Their ability to deal with life’s ups
and downs serves as a model of coping behavior for their children. This can
help children learn critical self-regulation and problem-solving skills.
Multiple life stressors, such as a family history of abuse or neglect, physical
and mental health problems, marital conflict, substance abuse and domestic
or community violence—and financial stressors such as unemployment,
financial insecurity and homelessness—can reduce a parent’s capacity to
cope effectively with the typical day-to-day stresses of raising children.
Conversely, community-level protective factors—such as a positive
community environment and economic opportunities—enhance
All parents have inner strengths or resources that can serve as a foundation
for building their resilience. These may include faith, flexibility, humor,
communication skills, problem-solving skills, mutually supportive caring
relationships or the ability to identify and access outside resources and
services when needed. All of these qualities strengthen their capacity to
parent effectively, and they can be nurtured and developed through skillbuilding
activities or through supportive interactions with others.
PROTECTIVE FACTOR #4: SOCIAL CONNECTIONS
Parents with a network of emotionally supportive friends, family and
neighbors often find that it is easier to care for their children and themselves.
Most parents need people they can call on once in a while when they need
a sympathetic listener, advice or concrete support such as transportation or
occasional child care. In other words, a positive community environment—
and the parent’s ability to participate effectively in his or her community—is
an important protective factor. On the other hand, research has shown that
parents who are isolated and have few social connections are at higher risk
for child abuse and neglect.
Social connections support children in multiple ways. A parent’s positive
relationships give children access to other caring adults, a relationship-level
protective factor that may include extended family members, mentors or
other members of the family’s community. Parents’ social interactions also
model important relational skills for children and increase the likelihood that
children will benefit from involvement in positive activities (individual-level
factors). As children grow older, positive friendships and support from peers
provide another important source of social connection.
Being new to a community, recently divorced or a first-time parent makes
a support network even more important. It may require extra effort for
these families to build the new relationships they need. Some parents
may need to develop self-confidence and social skills to expand their
social networks. In the meantime, social connections can come from other
caring adults such as service providers, teachers or advocates. Helping
parents identify resources and/or providing opportunities for them to make
connections within their neighborhoods or communities may encourage
isolated parents to reach out. Often, opportunities exist within faith-based
organizations, schools, hospitals, community centers and other places where
support groups or social groups meet.
PROTECTIVE FACTOR #5: CONCRETE SUPPORTS
Families whose basic needs (food, clothing, housing and transportation)
are met have more time and energy to devote to their children’s safety and
well-being. When parents do not have steady financial resources, lack a stable
living situation, lack health insurance or face a family crisis (such as a natural
disaster or the incarceration of a parent), their ability to support their children’s
healthy development may be at risk. Families whose economic opportunities
are limited may need assistance connecting to social service supports such as
housing, alcohol and drug treatment, domestic violence counseling or public
Partnering with parents to identify and access resources may help prevent
the stress that sometimes precipitates child maltreatment. Offering concrete
supports also may help prevent the unintended neglect that sometimes
occurs when parents are unable to provide for their children.
PROTECTIVE FACTOR #6: SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL
COMPETENCE OF CHILDREN
Children’s emerging ability to form bonds and interact positively with
others, self-regulate their emotions and behavior, communicate their
feelings, and solve problems effectively has a positive impact on their
relationships with their family, other adults and peers. Parents and caregivers
grow more responsive to children’s needs—and less likely to feel stressed
or frustrated—as children learn to tell parents what they need and how
parental actions make them feel, rather than “acting out” difficult feelings.
On the other hand, children’s challenging behaviors or delays in socialemotional
development create extra stress for families. Parenting is
more challenging when children do not or cannot respond positively to
their parents’ nurturing and affection. These children may be at greater
risk for abuse. Identifying and working with children early to keep their
development on track helps keep them safe and helps their parents
facilitate their healthy development.