- Lifelong consequences of childhood trauma: A landmark study you need to know about
- Childhood emotional abuse: An invisible problem that lasts into adulthood
- Physical abuse of children: The long term effects that never go away
- Stolen innocence: Long term effects of child sexual abuse and how to protect your child
- Children of incarcerated parents pay the price of their crime forever
- Effects of divorce on children in the long term
- Effects of witnessing domestic violence on children: What happens to kids when they grow up
- Growing up with addicted parents and the adult children of addicts
- Growing up with a parent with mental illness: The lifelong impact
- Physical neglect: Lasting consequences of growing up hungry, cold, unhealthy, and unsafe
- Emotionally neglectful parents: How they harm their children in adulthood
- Adverse childhood experiences: 5 protective factors that build resilience in children
In this series, we have discussed many of the adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that can have a lasting impact on children throughout their lifetime. This includes things like observing or experiencing domestic violence, parental abandonment after divorce, or growing up in a household affected by drug or alcohol abuse. Yet it is equally important to remember that each child also has a level of natural resilience to help them overcome these obstacles. Resilience is the ability of children and adults to bounce back and recover to a healthy emotional state, after suffering from misfortune or negative experiences. All children are built with an innate amount of resilience, but the level of personal resilience we have varies from person to person. Here I hope to share with you how to build resilience in children, and how 5 protective factors can help strengthen your child’s natural resilience during or after troubling times.
ACE resilience test
Maybe you are wondering how you can measure your child’s resilience, after all, things like resilience, bravery, and flexibility can be hard to measure until life tests them. Luckily there are many resilience tests and questionnaires available to help you assess this. The Resilience Research Center has provided a very detailed test divided by age group, while PBS Kids offer a test tailored toward children and Origins Training provides a simple survey to test adult resilience.
Whichever test you choose, they all measure resilience factors that influence how well a child (or adult) can cope with adversity. With this knowledge, you can help build your child’s resilience. While you can’t always prevent adverse childhood experiences, having some preventative factors will reduce the chances of a child going on to develop mental health issues by up to half. Some of the key resilience factors that influence a child later in life include:
- Growing up believing they were loved by their mother, father, and surrounding family members.
- Hearing childhood stories about people who enjoyed spending time with them as a child, and who comforted them when they were sad or worried.
- When they were a child, neighbors or friends liked them, and they had reliable mentors to offer help and advice.
- Their family and friends talked about how to make family life better.
- Their family cared about academic success and had household rules they were expected to keep.
- They believed that life is full of possibilities and were confident and supported to pursue their goals.
- Adults believed in them and allowed them to do things independently.
- They had family or friends to support them during difficult times and they had someone to talk to when sad or angry.
- They were given opportunities to develop skills needed to succeed in life academically, socially, and practically.
Five protective factors
As I mentioned earlier, not all ACEs can be prevented, as sometimes life can take an unexpected turn. In the case where prevention is no longer possible, it is then imperative to focus on protective factors to lessen the impact of ACE’s consequences. There are 5 main protective factors that you should focus on to help both you and your child reach a healthy outcome:
- The first is parental resilience. No matter how bad things are at home, the way you cope and manage stress and your ability to function well during tough times directly impacts your child. It is vital to not let stress limit your ability to provide loving care for your child, but also to care for yourself and ask for help when you need it.
- Second, it is important to develop healthy social connections. Creating a network of family, friends, and neighbors who can help you feel empowered and secure as a parent allows you to be a better parent. New parental confidence and strengthened communication skills will help increase the bond between you and your child.
- The third is increasing your knowledge of parenting and child development. Information is power and knowing what to expect at each developmental stage will empower you with coping strategies to help you deal with challenging times. It will help you to identify your child’s unique needs, and how to handle your child’s misbehavior in a positive and constructive way.
- Fourth is finding steadfast community support in times of need. Sometimes friends and family aren’t enough and we need more concrete community support lines. You need to know what help is available to you in your area so that you can ask for help if you need it. This includes things like local baby groups, teen support meetings, as well as food banks or women’s aid.
- Lastly, it is important to understand the social and emotional competence of children. Helping your child understand their emotions and building their social competence enables them to create healthy relationships. This will help them develop friendships in school, create strong family bonds, and develop transferable skills for dealing with work colleges as they progress in life.
It is also important to know that the Center for the Study of Social Policy determined that everyday actions can have significant changes that prevent substance abuse, delinquency, and depression later in life. These include:
- Having strong, loving, positive parent and child relationships, with highly involved parents.
- Living in a functional, clean, safe, and organized home.
- Understanding clear rules against substance abuse including alcohol, tobacco, and drugs and having parents that emulate these stances.
- Having active parents who monitor children’s activities, friends, and provide consistent mild discipline.
- Participating in strong family customs, traditions, and parents having high expectations toward school attendance and success.
Together will the 5 main protective factors and these everyday actions implemented, your child will naturally build their resilience during difficult times. The most important aspect in all of this is that they have strong, loving parents that they can rely on to get through the difficulties of life. If you feel that this information isn’t enough, and your child has suffered many adverse childhood experiences, then you may be interested in the Strengthening Families Program.
Strengthening Families Program
The Strengthening Families Program is a great place to seek out further help in building a strong resilient family, particularly for high-risk families. High-risk families include those who have suffered the loss of a parent, experience domestic violence, substance abuse within the home, neglect, or other very serious events.
Their website provides many lesson handouts that allow you to work with your family to encourage positive strong emotional development between all parties. Lesson 1 on complimenting the good daily can help with sibling rivalry and build your child’s confidence. Lesson 4 is great for establishing limitations and consequences through positive discipline in school-age children and teens who are trying to find their individuality. Lesson 6 on stress and anger management is helpful for both children and adults who are coping with these problems. Overall the program has 10 lessons and has shown to reduce risk factors leading to delinquency, mental health, and drug and alcohol problems later in life. The benefits of the program include:
- Increased family bonding and parental involvement.
- Improved communication, parenting skills, and family organization.
- Decreased family conflict, youth depression and aggression.
- Increased youth cooperation, social skills, and school grades.
Overall it is important to remember that no matter what your child has been through, there are things you can do to help them lead a healthy adult life. Knowing and discussing things that bother them, being open and supportive, and having clear lines of communication can go a long way. With the preventative measures and the Strengthening Families Program, you can bolster your skills to help them strengthen their resilience, and have a successful future.