Promoting Positive Mental Health: Protective Factors for Parents

May is a time to highlight mental health and this year we are focusing on the importance of mental health as a protective factor against child abuse. The Child Welfare Information Gateway defines protective factors as “conditions or attributes in individuals, families, and communities that promote the health and well-being of children and families. By using a protective factors approach, child welfare professionals and others can help parents find resources and supports that emphasize their strengths while also identifying areas where they need assistance, thereby reducing the chances of child abuse and neglect.”

Taking care of our mental health and finding healthy ways to deal with stress is an important protective factor that helps build resiliency in caregivers and children, allowing them to thrive in the face of adversity or when they go through a traumatic event.

Based on recommendations from the CDC and NIH, we have provided strategies for caregivers to help cope with stress and ensure self-care.

According to the CDC, stress can cause the following:

  • Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration.
  • Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests.
  • Trouble concentrating and making decisions.
  • Nightmares or problems sleeping.
  • Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, or skin rashes.
  • Worsening of chronic health problems and mental health conditions.
  • Increased use of alcohol, illegal drugs (like heroin, cocaine, or methamphetamine), and misuse of prescription drugs (like opioids).

Find Healthy Ways to Deal with Life Stressors

We all know stress can have negative effects on our physical health, but it also has the potential to affect our parenting. When caregivers are stressed out, frustrated, or overwhelmed, it’s hard to focus on positive parenting.

Ways to cope with stress:

  • Take breaks from news stories. While it’s good to be informed, news and social media can also be an overwhelming source of bad news and negative energy. It’s ok to take a break from all the negative stories and thoughts people share on social media.
  • Take care of your body:
    • Eat healthy.
    • Get enough sleep.
    • Get exercise to boost endorphins. Take walks outside and get fresh air, or find ways to sneak in exercise during the day, even if you have to break it up in little bits throughout the day
  • Recognize when you need a break. Taking short breaks throughout the day may help relieve stress. Just a few minutes of mindful breathing or stepping away from a stressful situation can help.
  • Try a relaxing activity. This could be creating art, walking, meditating, or anything you find calming.
  • Make lists. Prioritize what you need to do now and what can wait.
  • Practice gratitude. Remind yourself daily of things you are grateful for. Be specific. Write them down at night, or replay them in your mind. There are lots of great app that help you track and think of things to be grateful for.
  • Focus on positivity. Remember words matter. Try daily affirmations with a positive message and make sure to give yourself plenty of self-love. Focus on your strengths, especially during tough times.

Practicing self-care is intentional and requires diligence. Remember, self-care looks different for everyone, and it make take trial and error to discover what works best for you.

Focus on Building Social Connectedness

According to the CDC, social connectedness is having high quality and diverse relationships in our lives that create a sense of belonging. When we have valued relationships in our lives, we feel more cared for and supported.

When caregivers have a quality support network in their lives it can help when times get tough. Parenting is not an easy job and all caregivers need support from time to time.

  • It’s important for caregivers to have a listening ear, receive quality advice and when needed, get access to concrete support.
  • New, overwhelmed parents can benefit from having good supports in their lives to help when they are over-tired and need help with crying babies. Having supports can help reduce the risk of shaken baby syndrome.
  • Good, quality child-care, whether it be a childcare center, or a family member or babysitter, is important to keep children safe and to help them thrive.

There are other reasons why connection matters, according to the CDC, connectedness helps because:

  • High-quality relationships can help people live longer, healthier lives.
  • Supportive and inclusive relationships can protect against the harmful health effects of loneliness and social isolation.

If you or a loved one is struggling with their mental health, please reach out to your healthcare provider. While these strategies are helpful in reducing stress and practicing self-care, they are not a replacement for getting professional care.

If you or someone you know is struggling or in crisis, help is available. Call or text 988 or chat

For more information on protective factors to prevent child abuse and neglect and promote overall well-being, you can visit: Protective Factors to Promote Well-Being and Prevent Child Abuse & Neglect – Child Welfare Information Gateway.

Resources on Mental Health:

NIMH » Caring for Your Mental Health (