Protective Factors
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Building Prevention Skills in Children
December 2022

Substance use is a part of everyday life. Sometimes we forget that headache pills, nicotine and caffeine are categorized as drugs. Children learn about drugs in school, from other kids, social media and on television. But you are your children's most important teacher. Your words and actions help shape their ideas about substance use. 
It is important to start talking with children when they're young as these years are important in building good values, self-esteem and the skills needed to prevent the misuse of substances.

This Snapshot offers suggestions on ways parents can begin to equip their children to prepare for and handle the pressures and influences to use substances.  

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Risk and Protective Factors
To understand how to prevent problematic behaviours, it is important to understand the connection between risk factors and protective factors. These concepts are well supported by many years of research.

Risk and protective factors help to explain why a problem occurs. These factors suggest why certain individuals or groups are more or less likely to become involved in unhealthy behaviours.
Risk factors are life events, experiences or conditions that have a negative influence in the life of an individual. 

It is helpful to understand that children experience different levels of vulnerability based on risk factors related to their personality, genetics, peer group, school, community, and so on. 
Some Risk factors for substance misuse may include:

  • Early and persistent challenging behavior
  • Rebelliousness
  • Low perception of risk towards substance use
  • Genetic susceptibility
  • Family conflict/neglect
  • Lack of commitment to school
  • High availability of substances
  • Engaging in substance use at a young age
  • Normalization of substance use in the community
Protective factors are positive influences that can improve the health and well-being of an individual. Some protective factors that may prevent substance misuse include:
  • Resiliency 
  • Strong bonds with family, school, community
  • High self-esteem 
  • Parent involvement
  • Opportunities for positive social involvement
  • Recognition for positive behavior and achievements
  • Clear and consistent expectations from family, school and community about substance use
As parents, it is most important to focus your attention on what you can do to increase the number and quality of protective factors while doing your best to minimize some of the risks your child may be exposed to.
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Short Video on Risk and Protective Factors

Enhancing  Protective Factors

3 Ways to Build Resilience

Resilience is the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. 

Individuals who lack resilience are more likely to feel overwhelmed or helpless and rely on unhealthy coping strategies such as substance misuse, among others.
Parents can help kids build resilience by teaching them to solve problems independently. When your child comes to you to solve their problem, your initial response may be to take over.  A different strategy is to ask questions. By bouncing the problem back to your child with questions, you can help them think through the issue and come up with solutions.
When kids have the skills and the confidence to work through their problems, they learn that they can confront difficult issues.

The more they bounce back on their own, the more they internalize the message that they are strong and capable. Without this skill-set in place, children are more likely to experience anxiety and shut down in the face of adversity.
Another way to build resilience is to acknowledge emotions. Support your child to identify and express their feelings so they feel heard. Feelings usually settle down when they‘ve been verbally acknowledged. 

When feelings are minimized or dismissed, they will often be expressed in unhealthy ways.
A third way to build resilience is to embrace mistakes. When parents focus on end results, children get caught up in the pass/fail cycle. They either succeed or they don‘t. This can cause them to avoid taking positive risks in case they "fail".  Embracing mistakes helps promote a growth mindset and gives kids the message that mistakes help them learn. It can be helpful to talk about mistakes you have made and how you recovered from them.

Build Self Esteem

Parents can help their children feel good about themselves in many ways. Children need to feel that they are an important part of the family. Spend time with your children and listen to them. Let them know that you want to hear about their thoughts and feelings.

Children can help with family jobs such as making beds or doing the dishes. When you recognize their work as helpful—even when it is not a complete or a "proper" job—you build their self-image and their sense of belonging and responsibility.
Let your children play and have fun. Children get a sense of pride when they learn new skills or take on challenges. Remember, the point is for children to enjoy themselves and get involved—not to win or be the best! 

A good sense of self-worth will help your child say “No!” to risky behaviors. 

Opportunities for Positive Social Involvement

Check to see that the friends and neighbors your child spends time with are safe and have values similar to yours. 

Find ways to get your child involved in sports, hobbies, school clubs, and other activities. These usually are positive interactions that help develop character and lead to good peer relationships. Look for activities that you and your child or the entire family can do together.

Clear and Consistent Expectations

Let your child know what your expectations are around drugs, smoking, and alcohol by providing simple, relatable facts. Research shows children are less likely to use substances if their parents set clear rules and consequences for breaking these rules.

When rules are steeped in love and care, they are more likely to be respected and followed by children. 

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Strong Bonds with Family

Children develop coping skills within the context of caring relationships, so it‘s important to spend one-on-one time with them. When kids know they have the unconditional support of a parent or family member, they feel empowered to seek guidance and make attempts to work through difficult situations. Positive connections allow adults to model coping and problem-solving skills to children.
Let your children know how much you love them—"just because"—regardless of what they do or how they act. Let them know this "unconditional" love and respect is there, even when you are angry or disappointed in how they're behaving.

Recognition for Positive Behavior and Achievements

Kids need affirmation to build a healthy degree of self-esteem, but if overdone, they could end up feeling like the world owes them everything they want. 

 Be specific and descriptive when praising instead of “You‘re a great artist!” try “I like how the zig-zags follow the squiggles — how did you think of that?”

Appreciate their work and effort, not their traits. This shows kids evidence of their own talents and lets them draw their own conclusions about what they might do with those talents rather than telling them who and what they are.

Parent Involvement

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The content provided through the Snapshots is for information purposes only. The Snapshots include information that is general in nature and cannot address the many individual child rearing challenges parents and caregivers may experience. Therefore it is the readers‘ responsibility to determine the suitability of the information for their specific needs.

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