This article was written for our sponsor, Children’s Home Society of North Carolina.

Parenting is often an on-the-job learning experience. It’s never perfect, and it involves a great deal of trial and error.

Sometimes, this can lead to ineffective or negative ways of handling situations, ranging from emotional abuse and neglect to physical abuse. But when parents are equipped with knowledge and strategies to do the best job they can, the likelihood of these negative behaviors decrease.

Sebrina Cooke-Davis, the parent education program supervisor at Children’s Home Society in North Carolina, teaches families how to incorporate five “protective factors” into their lives.

These five factors are based on an approach developed by the Center for the Study of Social Policy to “increase family strengths, enhance child development and reduce child abuse and neglect.”

  1. Basic Needs: Families who can meet their own basic needs such as food, clothing, housing and transportation are better able to ensure the safety of their children. Simply being able to fulfill these basic needs alleviates a great deal of stress which, if left unmanaged over time, can lead to negative coping mechanisms such as abuse.
    “If a parent is saying they’re struggling to feed their family or keep the lights on, we know that the rate of abuse or neglect is likely to rise, so we refer them to services that will help,” Cooke-Davis explained.
  2. Parental Resilience: When parents can cope with the normal stresses of everyday life or bounce back from crises, they are more likely to parent effectively.
  3. Social Connections: Parents need to feel like they have an emotional social network, such as family and neighbors. Being able to talk through problems leads to greater resilience and stronger parents.
  4. Knowledge of Parenting and Child Development: A key point of parent education services is making sure parents are knowledgeable about the development expectations of their children so they can understand how to effectively and appropriately discipline them when needed.
    “It helps children thrive more when parents can communicate guidelines for discipline,” Cooke-Davis said. “The more you know, the better you’re going to be.”
  5. Social and Emotional Competence: Both parents and children who can express how they feel, share their emotions, and interact with their peers learn greater emotional and social competence. When children receive early nurturing and positive relationships with their parents, it impacts all levels of their development.

“When these protective factors are in place, there is less of a chance of abuse or neglect,” Cooke-Davis said.

Sharing this information with families helps parents understand what areas they may need to work on to better support their children, and it helps to pinpoint problems when they arise.

At CHSNC, Cooke-Davis often hears transformation stories, especially around issues of discipline from families who have learned these protective factors.

One parent was struggling with effective discipline strategies, and as a father to an older child, he thought that punitive discipline was the only option. He knew his discipline strategy was hurting the relationship he was building with his child and that he had to repair it, but he didn’t know how.

When the Department of Social Services stepped in, he began to attend CHSNC’s classes in parent education. Armed with better information, he was able to put new discipline strategies in place – strategies that focused on positive communication and teaching rather than scaring.

“A lot of times, parents are just doing what they were taught or what was done to them, but it is not effective,” Cooke-Davis explained. “Instead, we give them a tool belt, and they can pull from the different tools — for example, time-outs, consequences, loss of privileges, etc. — and see what does work.”

This article was written for our sponsor, Children’s Home Society of North Carolina.

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