Protectivefactors are defined as characteristics of the child, family, andwider environment that reduce the negative effect of adversity onchild outcome (Masten and Reed 2002). Forprotective factors to come into play it is important to understandrisk factors.
Risk factors refer to thestressful conditions, events, or circumstances (e.g., maternaldepression, substance abuse, family violence, persistent poverty)that increase a family’s chances for poor outcomes, including childabuse and neglect. With this in mind protective factors can also bedescribed as conditions or attributes of individuals, families,communities, or the larger society that mitigaterisk and promote healthy development and well being. Protectivefactors serve to protect children when they are exposed to risk anddecrease the chance of achild experiencing mental health difficulties. The moreprotective factors there are in a child’s life, the lower thechances of them developing difficulties. Protectivefactors within a child include: Positiveexpectations of themselves andthe future, an ability to develop positive and lasting relationshipswith friends and family, a sense of independence, express and managetheir behaviour and emotions, good, problem-solving, socialand communication skills andan easygoing temperament.
Havingsupport from a wide circle of family, friends and community membersenableschildren to be protected from the possible negative effects of eventssuch as: Lossof a pet, death of a family member or experiencing family separation.Itmay be observed that periodically, the presence of internal riskfactors could be suggested by behaviours from the child. Examplesof these behaviours include: Becomingirritable, aggressive, withdrawingfrom or avoiding new situations andnot being able to follow rules or instructions.Building on a child’s internal protective factors, such as themachieving developmental milestones and a positive sense of self, canhelp them develop resilience.Resilience has been defined as the maintenance of healthy ?successful functioning or adaptation within the context of asignificant adversity or threat.
Protectivefactors have the ability to build family strengths and an environmentwhich encourages optimal development, Alsoknown as “promotive factors”Throughouta child’s early life,they will be involved in events, which could be considered riskfactors that leave their well-being vulnerable.When children are exposed to risk factors, developing mentalhealth issues is not an absolute, surrounding a child with supportiveadults reduces the impact of risk factors. A few examples of riskfactors are: Loss (family member, pet or friend), being diagnosedwith an illness, family separation and being affected by naturaldisasters.When children experienceuncertainty in their world,they can become frightened and may respond inways unexpected or out of character such as feelinganxious, clinging to theirparents, feeling angryor irritable, losing motivation, wetting the bed or sucking theirthumb. When children are provided with a stable environmentwhere they understand their daily routines, are supported and theiremotions and behaviour can be monitored, they will have the bestopportunities to overcome these challenging times. When coping withmajor change or loss, children need plentiful, consistent reassurancefrom caring adults, If the parents become disconnected orunavailable, the child may conceal these feelings until they areunable to handlethem aloneany more. Communication from caring adults supports childrenthrough change and distressing events. Supportive environments thatpromote safe, consistent and loving care offers childrenopportunities to develop close relationships.
Positivewell-being and mental health is advanced by closerelationships with family and peers.Reducingrisk factors and increasing protective factors supports children’sresilience. It is important for families to be able to communicateopenly with one another, and imperative for adults to noticechildren’s feelings and behaviours, this enables them to effectivelysupport children’s well-being. Being mindful of these things helpsadults identify areas of risk e.g. social and emotional development,and address them appropriately. From time to time children willexperience changes that are outof one persons control, with that in mind, there are also aspects oflife where risk factorscannot be addressed.
In this situation, itis beneficial to increase both internalprotective factors (such as a child’s positive coping skills) andexternal protective factors (such as a supportive environment).Together, these can help reduce the number of changes in a child’slife and help them feel secure. Whena child feels secure with the responsive adult taking care of them,they also feel reassured that their needs arebeing looked after and,whichby extension,helpsto reduce the stress and disruption in their life.