Protective Factors for Children Experiencing Toxic Stress

What are they and why do they matter?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, protective factors are “individual or environmental characteristics, conditions, or behaviors that reduce the effects of stressful life events.” Many of these stressful life events fall within the list of Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, which research has shown can lead to negative health outcomes later in life.

Protective factors are important in mitigating the effects of these stressful events because they can help children avoid risky behavior while promoting social-emotional competence – circumstances that will help them thrive in their youth and beyond.

Parenting Resource Center

What kinds of protective factors are there?

The CDC lays out two kinds of protective factors – those that happen on the individual/family level, and those that originate on a community level.

Below are lists of potential protective factors from both categories.

Individual and Family
Protective Factors

  • Families who create safe, stable, and nurturing relationships, meaning, children have a consistent family life where they are safe, taken care of, and supported
  • Children who have positive friendships and peer networks
  • Children who do well in school
  • Children who have caring adults outside the family who serve as mentors/role models
  • Families where caregivers can meet basic needs of food, shelter, and health services for children
  • Families where caregivers have college degrees or higher
  • Families where caregivers have steady employment
  • Families with strong social support networks and positive relationships with the people around them
  • Families where caregivers engage in parental monitoring, supervision, and consistent enforcement of rules
  • Families where caregivers/adults work through conflicts peacefully
  • Families where caregivers help children work through problems
  • Families that engage in fun, positive activities together
  • Families that encourage the importance of school for children

Protective Factors

  • Communities where families have access to economic and financial help
  • Communities where families have access to medical care and mental health services
  • Communities with access to safe, stable housing
  • Communities where families have access to nurturing and safe childcare
  • Communities where families have access to high-quality preschool
  • Communities where families have access to safe, engaging after school programs and activities
  • Communities where adults have work opportunities with family-friendly policies
  • Communities with strong partnerships between the community and business, health care, government, and other sectors
  • Communities where residents feel connected to each other and are involved in the community

How do we create protective factors for children?

As the list above shows, families, friends, and community members all have a role to play in creating nurturing environments that allow children the chance to succeed.

For families or households, finding ways to allow children to feel safe and supported is at the core of most protective factors. In this sense, learning more about Positive Parenting strategies and continuing the journey of learning about child development and parent-child relationships can go a long way. So can seeking outside help from friends, family, loved ones or community support systems.

For communities, finding ways for children to feel and experience connectedness – to their school and other resources in their area – is at the heart of most protected factors listed above. Growing these connections can happen on a small scale, when individuals volunteer or assist local organizations, or on a larger scale, by championing for systematic changes that put measures in place to allow more kids to receive the support and community services they deserve.

baby crying - shaken baby syndrome prevention

Positive parenting leads to positive futures for generations to come.

American SPCC provides parenting education and support as the most effective way to support families and nurture children. The following resources are made possible through contributions by child and family advocates like you.

Parenting Resource Center

Protective Factors for Children Experiencing Toxic Stress