Protective
factors are defined as characteristics of the child, family, and
wider environment that reduce the negative effect of adversity on
child outcome (Masten and Reed 2002). For
protective factors to come into play it is important to understand
risk factors. Risk factors refer to the
stressful conditions, events, or circumstances (e.g., maternal
depression, substance abuse, family violence, persistent poverty)
that increase a family’s chances for poor outcomes, including child
abuse and neglect. With this in mind protective factors can also be
described as conditions or attributes of individuals, families,
communities, or the larger society that mitigate
risk and promote healthy development and well being. Protective
factors serve to protect children when they are exposed to risk and
decrease the chance of a
child experiencing mental health difficulties. The more
protective factors there are in a child’s life, the lower the
chances of them developing difficulties.

Protective
factors within a child include: Positive
expectations of themselves and
the future, an ability to develop positive and lasting relationships
with friends and family, a sense of independence, express and manage
their behaviour and emotions, good, problem-solving, social
and communication skills and
an easygoing temperament.
Having
support from a wide circle of family, friends and community members
enables
children to be protected from the possible negative effects of events
such as: Loss
of a pet, death of a family member or experiencing family separation.
It
may be observed that periodically, the presence of internal risk
factors could be suggested by behaviours from the child. Examples
of these behaviours include: Becoming
irritable, aggressive, withdrawing
from or avoiding new situations and
not being able to follow rules or instructions.
Building on a child’s internal protective factors, such as them
achieving developmental milestones and a positive sense of self, can
help them develop resilience.
Resilience has been defined as the maintenance of healthy ?
successful functioning or adaptation within the context of a
significant adversity or threat.
Protective
factors have the ability to build family strengths and an environment
which encourages optimal development, Also
known as “promotive factors”

Throughout
a child’s early life,
they will be involved in events, which could be considered risk
factors that leave their well-being vulnerable.
When children are exposed to risk factors, developing mental
health issues is not an absolute, surrounding a child with supportive
adults reduces the impact of risk factors. A few examples of risk
factors are: Loss (family member, pet or friend), being diagnosed
with an illness, family separation and being affected by natural
disasters.
When children experience
uncertainty in their world,
they can become frightened and may respond in
ways unexpected or out of character such as feeling
anxious, clinging to their
parents, feeling angry
or irritable, losing motivation, wetting the bed or sucking their
thumb. When children are provided with a stable environment
where they understand their daily routines, are supported and their
emotions and behaviour can be monitored, they will have the best
opportunities to overcome these challenging times. When coping with
major change or loss, children need plentiful, consistent reassurance
from caring adults, If the parents become disconnected or
unavailable, the child may conceal these feelings until they are
unable to handle
them alone
any more. Communication from caring adults supports children
through change and distressing events. Supportive environments that
promote safe, consistent and loving care offers children
opportunities to develop close relationships. Positive
well-being and mental health is advanced by close
relationships with family and peers.

Reducing
risk factors and increasing protective factors supports children’s
resilience. It is important for families to be able to communicate
openly with one another, and imperative for adults to notice
children’s feelings and behaviours, this enables them to effectively
support children’s well-being. Being mindful of these things helps
adults identify areas of risk e.g. social and emotional development,
and address them appropriately. From time to time children will
experience changes that are out
of one persons control, with that in mind, there are also aspects of
life where risk factors
cannot be addressed. In this situation, it
is beneficial to increase both internal
protective factors (such as a child’s positive coping skills) and
external protective factors (such as a supportive environment).
Together, these can help reduce the number of changes in a child’s
life and help them feel secure. When
a child feels secure with the responsive adult taking care of them,
they also feel reassured that their needs are
being looked after and,
which
by extension,
helps
to reduce the stress and disruption in their life. 

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