When you provide your child with a variety of positive influences that prepare them to succeed socially and emotionally, you’re exposing them to protective factors.

Protective factors help to boost a child’s mental well-being while sheltering them from risk factors (such as being bullied or exposure to violence), which increase the likelihood of negative mental health outcomes.

 Protective Factors: characteristics or behaviors that can help reduce the risk of suicide

Behavior or characteristic that decreases risk of mental illness, reduces the effects of stress or improves mental health.

How Protective Factors Help

Protective factors help children build positive relationships with family, friends, teachers and community members. They encourage kids to develop high self-esteem, problem-solving skills and coping skills.

Building Protective Factors

Some of the most important protective factors for children are the home environment and family relationships. By offering your child structure, stability and clear expectations, you provide them with a safe, secure space to be themselves. Similarly, if you build an open, honest and non-judgmental relationship with your child, they can come to you when they’re struggling with a problem, rather than seeking advice from someone who may be a negative influence.

Other people in your child’s life can also provide protective factors. Positive relationships at school with a teacher, counselor or other trusted adults to talk to about meaningful topics is a protective factor. The same is true of people your child knows through your religious community – your family’s church, synagogue or mosque – or cultural groups, where your family may enjoy social support. Your child will also benefit from healthy relationships with peers. You can encourage your child to spend time with their friends at school or in the community to build those feelings of belonging.

Helping Your Child See Their Larger Community

Celebrating your family’s cultural heritage, whether at home or with a larger community, is a strong protective factor, because it helps instill pride in your child. When children belong to different communities, they have more places to go for help or emotional support.

Other protective factors for your child include:

  • Trustworthy friends and neighbors, who let your child be themselves
  • School activities, like clubs, team sports or the school play, where your child can build new skills and develop self-confidence
  • Mentorship programs, career academies and part-time jobs, where teens can take on new responsibilities in a safe space
  • Positive self-talk and self-praise, which helps children recognize their own self-worth
  • A healthy diet, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep, which help children be at their best physically, so they can handle emotional challenges
  • Healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercising, talking to friends or doing other positive activities

When To Seek Help

Just like with our physical health, where even people with the healthiest habits get sick, kids may sometimes still need help despite having many protective factors. If your child seems anxious or depressed, if they’re self-isolating or hanging out with the wrong kids, they may need to see a therapist. If you’re concerned about your child’s emotional well-being, meeting with a therapist may help them learn how to become more positive, self-confident and resilient.

Anyone can benefit from protective factors and it’s never too late to start! Helping your children to live in a supportive community will help them to develop good mental health habits.