An essential guide for knowing what’s protecting our kids through divorce and other hardships.
If you’ve been following us for very long (or really even just for a second), you know we love kids. On top of that, you probably even know we really care about loving them well through hardships in life. So, it’s no surprise that we’re going to continue on that journey today.
Recently, we started looking at what’s helping our kids bounce back better through these hardships like divorce and how we can boost that resilience.
We are going to be talking about protective factors – the very things that are already in place that help some children fare better than others through life-altering experiences like divorce.
In our past Podcast, “The Three Things Kids Need to Be Resilient”, we looked at individual protective factors – things like temperament, academic performance, and intelligence – and how those traits unique to our kids help them through hard times.
For this post, we’re going to look at the other pieces of the puzzle: family protective factors and community protective factors and how the level of health and strength in those can help our kids be more resilient.
Remember – this is not a checklist. You do not have to have them all to handle stress and adversity well to be a resilient child.
It is true, however, that often the more of them your child does have greatly affects how resilient they may be and how well they will thrive in the toughest of times.
I’d recommend sitting down with this list, as you did with the first, and really thinking about your child and your family.
I bet you’ll notice several right off the bat that are going well for your child and maybe even several that are not. That’s okay! Our goal here is awareness first. We want to get a good picture of how our kids are doing so that we can from there make a plan to further help them succeed when life gets hard.
Now, we’ll dive into the family protective factors, adapted by the research of Dr. Denis Thomas. Here we go!
Family Protective Factors
This one makes perfect sense, is uber important, and is also a great place where you can immediately help!
The gist of it is simple: Children who have a good, healthy relationship with a parent (and especially both) are more resilient.
Parents, when in good relationship with their kids, are a resource that increases the likelihood of positive behavior and decreases the likelihood of negative choices.
I remember well which of my friends in high school had good relationships with their parents and the ones who didn’t. I’m sure you do too. I think even then, I knew it was making a difference in the choices each were making.
An interesting tidbit from research: The parent-child relationship is so important that play therapy research shows that teaching parents how to use therapeutic play therapy interaction for 30 minutes a week can be even more beneficial than a therapist (which obviously helps, too).
This information is one of the reasons we write so often about becoming a healthy adult yourself and creating healthy, good relationships with your kids. It makes a difference in how they handle life!
2. Family Coherence
The word coherence means all it’s parts fit together well.
So, family coherence is a family who works together well, adapt together well, and are overall emotionally bonded together well.
Divorce is, by nature, divisive, we know that.
Parents who are able to work together in amicable, agreeable, kind ways create more resilient children.
It makes sense really – less stress and more agreeability in decision making protects your kids anytime, but especially in divorce.
3. Family Hardiness
Hardiness is like toughness, grit, enduring hardship.
A family with hardiness has more resources and fewer stressors which reduce the negative impact of the divorce.
Also, families who have healthy ways of coping are hardier and create more resilience for their children, even in the face of multiple stressors (financial, difficult extended family members, health issues, etc.).
Though we often give siblings a bad rap for the grumbling and fighting, simply having a sibling is a protective factor for increasing resilience!
Sure, the sibling may experience the divorce and its effects differently. There’s another person in your similar shoes who has first-hand knowledge of the situation your child is struggling through. This creates empathy and feels so much less isolating.
Often siblings become closer following divorce, which further protects the child, and for older children, the responsibility of looking out for younger siblings may contribute to resilience as well.
Healthy relationships with grandparents are protective for children.
Grandparents may provide tangible support with childcare, finances and housing which increases family hardiness.
Children of divorce report that grandparents can be a safe place to talk and a place where they feel accepted.
For me, my grandparents knew all about the divorce. They knew my mom and my dad before they were married and after they were divorced. I could ask them questions I didn’t feel comfortable asking my parents, and they were more emotionally regulated about the stressful situation. I am certain this was protecting for me and created resilience, as I’m sure it will for your kids as well!
Those are a few factors within a family that increase protection for your child and further promote resilience. It is my hope that you recognized a few within your own family!
Now, we will move onto Community Protective Factors
Community Protective Factors
These factors have a strong impact on a child’s ability to become or remain resilient. Community protective factors are key for all children, but they take a significantly higher level of importance the older your child is. Community impact has a strong impact in children’s lives and development.
1. Peers and Intimate Friendships
Whether you’ve heard it spoken straight out or not, it’s likely you are already aware of this one and possibly even acting on it.
Positive friendships help your children make more positive choices and therefore protect them from harm.
Friends are important for younger children, but they become more important developmentally as children move into adolescence. Peer influence becomes stronger and friends’ opinions matter more.
Your child’s closest friends are highly influential, and my bet is that you already want them to be the best kinds of friends.
If you’re wondering about your child’s friends, get to know them yourselves. Create a home environment where your kids and their friends want to be around. Better yet, even get to know their parents!
If your child is already knee deep in adolescence, it is no surprise to you that adulthood isn’t far around the corner where there will be natural space from you, the parent, and excessive time with peers. Whatever age your child is, start encouraging them and modeling for them how to make the kinds of friendships that will help them through all of life’s storms.
Your child spends 35-40 hours a week at school, and that environment shapes your child.
If this learning environment feeds your child’s curiosity, improves intellect, builds esteem, and cultivates compassion, then it is likely to be beneficial and boost resilience.
Caring teachers and leadership in activities are also protective factors.
How much do you know about your child’s school? Can you tell if it’s a safe place for your children and their growing minds?
Maybe you love their school and they love their school and you know this is a protective factor easy. That’s great.
Maybe your child is zoned for a school that you know isn’t the best but it’s the best you can do. That’s okay too! Making note of that is the most important, because then you can follow suit and help your child be in positive community environments in other ways like church youth group or scouts or sports leagues.
School is a place where your child spends a lot of time, so finding ways for it to be a place of protection and growth is great. Maybe it’s well known at your local high school that one of the teams or clubs is bad news but another one is really great. That’s great information!
No matter the school, staying present and encouraging your children along the paths that lead toward growth and resilience is key. As parents and former students ourselves, we all know you can find the best and the worst kind of community in any and every place!
Where you live and how you connect with your local community is another factor in resilience.
Neighbors, places of worship, family friends, and living situations that contribute to safety and security are all helpful for supporting your family through divorce.
Do you know the neighborhood kids that get together each evening? Do you know the people who live directly next door? What about those in your church or small group? What about the kids your child always plays with at the park or local pool? If your child has an after school or summer job, do you know that environment at all?
Think about it for yourself – who makes up your community? Your friends, family, book club, small group, colleagues, classmates, etc. Then think about who is supporting you through this hard time. Who are the people calling you and checking in or coming over for dinner?
Your community as an adult is vital for getting you through. It’s vital for getting your kids through as well. Their community, especially if they are adolescents, is much the same.
4. Positive Life Events
When a community comes together and rallies in rebuilding after a tornado, that positive event helps heal the disaster.
It doesn’t change the event, but it may radically change how the event is understood. The same is true after divorce.
Positive events help buffer the upset and reframe the way it is seen.
How can you be a part of these type of life-building, reframing, positive events for your children?
So, there’s a look into several of the family and community aspects that help protect your kids and build resilience.
As parents, none of us are able to control all these things for our children, as much as we’d all like to do so!
They may have friends you don’t like in your ex’s neighborhood, teachers that are critical, or learning disabilities that make school hard. No one has it all. And that is okay!
Like I said before, it’s not a checklist. Focusing on one or two things that would be helpful will make a huge difference in the resilience of your child.
What if you picked a couple protective factors you clearly see need work in your child’s life and worked on that?
Maybe it’s as simple as being intentional in your parent-child relationship and also getting your family hooked up with a positive community outside the home.
What tends to happen with each of these is that they build on each other! If your parent-child relationship improves, it’s likely your family hardiness will as well. And maybe from there, you’ll even have created a springboard where your kids come talk to your about the positive and/or negative friendships in their life. How beautiful and rewarding would that be for everyone?
Remember this as well: you are dealing with this divorce too and could likely use some protection as well.
Even the seemingly best divorces are difficult. Take a look at these protective factors on this blog and the previous one now with yourself in mind. Would you score yourself as fairly resilient and protected?
These factors buffer your ability to be in a healthier state physically, emotionally, spiritually, and socially. That translates into healthier parenting, which we agree is one of the biggest protective factors of all.
Protective factors: The specific elements that make up resilient people; the factors that decrease the stress of life’s adversities and protect a person from negative effects.
We look forward to partnering with you as you continue boosting your child’s resilience and strengthening the factors protecting them in life.
- Making Order of Their Needs - December 1, 2017
- From Bah-Humbug to Christmas Cheer: How to Handle the Holidays after Divorce - December 1, 2017
- What Your Son Needs When The Ground is Shaking: Specifics for Mom and Dad - December 1, 2017