Protective Factors for educators and service providers

Teachers, para-educators and other caregivers are the center of most children’s waking hours. While parents are at work, educators like you have uninterrupted hours of influence on the children in your charge. And because of your regular contact with parents, you have a unique perspective into the dynamic of each family you touch.

You also have the power to maximize the Protective Factors in each of your families.

Protective Factor #1: Nurturing and attachment

Even though you’ll spend much more time with students rather than parents, educators have opportunities to encourage positive interactions that foster healthy attachment between parents and children. Children who are securely attached to their parents, and have nurturing families, behave better in the classroom and are ready to learn.

What we know

Children’s early experience of being nurtured and developing a bond with caring adults affects all aspects of behavior and development. Children that feel loved and supported by their parents and other adults tend to be more competent, happy and healthy as they grow into adulthood.

What you can do

  • Help parents build positive relationships with each of their children
  • Develop trust and working relationships with the parents you serve. Regular communication helps
  • Guide parent observations of their children’s unique characteristics, strengths and development
  • Promote development of daily routines that provides infants or children with ample time for rest, nourishment, and play
  • Link parents to evidence-informed programs to promote attachment such as Parents Interacting With Infants (PIWI) and Circle of Security
  • Know symptoms of maternal depression and make appropriate referrals as needed
  • View the Teacher/Service Provider Tip Chart from Making Meaningful Connections: 2015 Prevention Resource Guide

Specific strategies

Parent nights

Periodic events where parents come to the classroom with their children can give you an opportunity to show new ways for families to interact. By teaching new games and modeling positive interactions, parents have the opportunity to expand their repertoire of behaviors with their kids.

Homework for parents

Send home periodic “worksheets” for parents to fill out that encourage interaction. For example, one worksheet could have the parent interview a child on his or her favorite hobby. The homework could be positioned as a way to help the child develop better conversation skills. Another example might be family art projects, or asking parent and child to develop their own recipe book.

Home visiting services

Many schools in Nebraska offer home visiting services for families with infants and toddlers – such as those in a partnership with the Sixpence Early Learning Fund or working with Early Head Start. Is there an organization in your community that you can partner with to offer weekly home visits to your families who’ve just had babies or have toddlers in the home? Evidence-based home visiting has proven to increase nurturing and attachment within the family.

Protective Factor #2: Knowledge of parenting/child development

As an educator, you have a formal education in child development, plus the day-to-day immersion in the world of children. It’s easy to forget that parents don’t always have the same training!

What we know

Parents that understand child development stages and parenting strategies to support physical, cognitive, language, social and emotional development are more consistent with rules and expectations and communicate more effectively with their children.

What you can do

  • Provide information on developmental stages with examples
  • Be responsive to issues presented by parents in the moment
  • Offer information or coaching on specific parenting challenges
  • Give parents opportunities to network with each other
  • Promote early identification of children’s developmental delays and provide of appropriate assistance
  • View the Teacher/Service Provider Tip Chart from Making Meaningful Connections: 2015 Prevention Resource Guide

Specific strategies

Monthly development info

Share what you know about the age group you’re teaching. Send home periodic letters about the developmental milestones, challenging behaviors that are common, interests that may come up, and age appropriate activities. You can also include quality information on family and parenting like these Parenting Guides from Boystown.

Host infant care classes

When one of your families has a new baby, invite them to periodic infant care classes at the school, where they can learn how to care for their new baby and get face-to-face education on child development.

Protective Factor #3: Parental Resilience

When parents and children can bounce back quickly from the stresses that lives throw at them, they’re far better positioned to respond effectively to the needs of their children, adapt to changes and manage challenges and crises.

What we know

Many characteristics and abilities comprise resilience, such as a problem solving skills, positive attitude, and seeking help when needed.  Resilience is the ability to handle both general life stresses and parenting stresses as well as to recover from occasional crises.

The word “resilience” will not be understood by all parents. Explore alternative ways of talking about these skills, for example, using an affirmation such as, “I have courage during stressful times or in a crisis.” By partnering with parents, you can help them pinpoint factors that contribute to their stresses, as well as the successful coping strategies they use and their personal, family, and community resources. (Making Meaningful Connections, 2015 Prevention Resource Guide)

What you can do

  • Provide information on causes of stress and how it affects health and relationships
  • Help parents develop skills such as planning, goal-setting, problem-solving and self-care
  • Make mental health support accessible and non-stigmatizing
  • View the Teacher/Service Provider Tip Chart from Making Meaningful Connections: 2015 Prevention Resource Guide

Protective Factor #4: Social Connections

Having a strong network of close and even casual friends is a proven factor in positive parent-child interactions. Consistent informal support helps provide for the emotional needs of both parents and children. Holding periodic Parent Nights is a wonderful way to introduce parents to one another and get them comfortable with other adults in the school. Just by knowing someone, it’s easier to reach out for help when it’s needed.

What we know

Parents that are connected to constructive, supportive family, friends and community have better child and family outcomes. Everyone needs people in their lives that offer, positive emotional support, positive parenting norms, resource sharing and mutual help.

Identifying and building on parents’ current or potential social connections, skills, abilities, and interests can be a great way to partner with them as they expand their social networks. For parents who have difficulty establishing and maintaining social connections, your discussion may help them identify what is holding them back.  Encourage parents to express goals regarding social connections in their own terms, such as, “I have friends and know at least one person who supports my parenting.” (Making Meaningful Connections, 2015 Prevention Resource Guide)

What you can do

  • Create spaces or opportunities for parents to socialize
  • Help parents choose positive social connections
  • View the Teacher/Service Provider Tip Chart from Making Meaningful Connections: 2015 Prevention Resource Guide

Protective Factor #5: Concrete Supports

The Protective Factor means that parents have access to tangible goods and services to help families cope with stress, particularly in times of crisis or intensified need. The school is the center of the community for families with children. And many schools capitalize on this by offering other services to families at the school itself. What are the concrete needs facing your families at risk, and how can they be met at the school?

What we know

Parents need basic resources such as food, clothing, housing, transportation and access to essential services in order to ensure the health and well-being of their children. Many families do not get the resources and services for which they are eligible. Stigma can be one significant barrier.

Most parents are unlikely to use or identify with the words “concrete supports.” Instead, they might express a goal such as, “My family can get help when we need it.” Working with parents to identify their most critical basic needs and locate concrete supports keeps the focus on family-driven solutions. As a partner with the family, your role may simply be to make referrals to the essential services, supports, and resources parents say the need. Some parents might need additional support in identifying their own needs, addressing their feeling about asking for help, navigating eligibility requirements, or filling out forms. (Making Meaningful Connections, 2015 Prevention Resource Guide)

What you can do

  • Use trusting relationships as the gateway to services and service networks
  • Help families know what is available in the community as well as how to access local resources and services
  • Promote service designs that support family integrity and build on family strengths
  • Strengthen connections between service providers
  • View the Teacher/Service Provider Tip Chart from Making Meaningful Connections: 2015 Prevention Resource Guide

Specific Strategies

After-school/summer learning programs

Child care in the non-school hours is a critical need for working families. Having the kids safe and engaged in meaningful activities after-school and during the summer means that parents will have the peace of mind they need to earn the income that will help the whole family get ahead. Your school may already have these programs in place. Are they serving all of the children who need them?

Food distribution

Making food available, via a backpack program or another discreet method is a way to ensure that families who are food insecure have what they need. After all, it’s difficult to maintain secure family bonds and positive interactions when the stress of chronic hunger is very real.

Central access to family services

The community’s network of supports for families isn’t always the most accessible. Often, even adults have a hard time navigating the system and they don’t know who to go to. Since they’re already familiar with your school, be a place parents can come and get access to other community services. Having easy and low-visibility access to the services they need can make a major difference in how families interact.

Protective Factor #6: Social-Emotional Competence of Children

This is a protective factor that all educators are familiar with. When social and emotional competence is present, children experience, regulate and express emotions to develop secure adult and peer relationships. Over the last few decades, teachers and administrators have added a range of social and emotional teaching methods to their toolkit as it became clear that without these critical skills, children couldn’t succeed.

What we know

Children who learn to communicate their emotions effectively and develop self-regulating behaviors interact more positively with adults and peers and are more likely to fare better in school and in life.

As a partner with parents, your role may simply be to explore how parents perceive their children’s social and emotional development and how that is affecting the parent-child relationship. Not all parents will relate to the terms “social and emotional competence.” They may choose to communicate its importance in terms of the desired outcomes: “My children feel loved, believe they matter, and can get along with others.” (Making Meaningful Connections, 2015 Prevention Resource Guide)

What you can do

Assist adults and caregivers to:

  • Have positive perceptions of each child
  • Respond warmly and consistently to each child’s needs
  • Create an environment in which children feel safe to express their emotions
  • Talk with children to promote vocabulary development
  • Help children separate emotions from actions;  model empathy
  • Encourage and reinforce children’s social skills such as taking turns
  • View the Teacher/Service Provider Tip Chart from Making Meaningful Connections: 2015 Prevention Resource Guide

The Pyramid Model

Across Nebraska, the Pyramid Model is being implemented in facilities that educate children from birth to age five. This is an evidence-based approach to promoting social and emotional competence in infants and young children. Learn more about the Pyramid Model.

 Learn more about Protective Factors and child abuse prevention in Nebraska. Download the eBook now.

Nebraska Children and Families Foundation supports children, young adults and families at risk with the overall goal of giving our state's most vulnerable kids what they need to reach their full potential. We do this by building strong communities that support families so their children can grow up to be thriving, productive adults.

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Posted in Cradle to career

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