This is the most recent blog post in a series we’re running on Protective Factors. If you missed the earlier posts, you will want to go back and check out our overview and previous article on building parental resilience.
Whenever we have something to celebrate in life, for example, finding a new job that will help us better care for our families or the birth of a new baby in the family, what is the first thing we do? We share our joy with those close to us! Depending on your generation, you call, text, or post the good news on social media, right?
And when we experience a hardship or challenge at home or work? We probably lean on a (perhaps smaller) group of others for support and comfort. When a family member receives a difficult diagnosis or your mechanic gives you and estimate for expensive repairs, you often need a person to just listen.
Both of the above responses are fundamentally just part of what people do. Whether you tend to be introverted or extroverted. Whether you tend to wear your emotions on your sleeve or keep them close to your vest, there are times when we all need others. So, it is not a surprise to realize that parents with strong social connections raise healthy, happy children.
Why are social connections significant?
Parents with a network of emotionally supportive friends, family, and neighbors often find it easier to care for their children and themselves. Most parents need people they can call on once in awhile when they need a sympathetic listener, advice, or more tangible support like transportation or occasional help with child care.
In other words, a positive community environment—and the parent’s ability to participate effectively in his or her community—is an important protective factor. On the other hand, research shows that parents who are isolated and have few social connections are at higher risk for child abuse and neglect.
Social connections support children in multiple ways:
- A parent’s positive relationships give children access to other caring adults including extended family members, mentors, or other members of a family’s community.
- Parents’ social interactions model important relational skills for children helping them learn how to develop positive relationships and gain support from their peers.
- Social connections increase the likelihood that children will be involved in and benefit from positive activities.
Social connections are especially important during transition.
There are certain phases in life when strong social connections are extra important. Here are some examples:
Being new to a community: When you move to a new city, start a new job, or your child starts at a new school, having a support system in place can provide a safe space to vent frustrations and brainstorm ideas for solving problems.
Recently divorced: Divorce marks a transition in all aspects of a family’s life. The adults and children all work together to figure out what new arrangements will work best to maintain stability for everyone involved. A strong social network can provide a crucial outside perspective.
First-time parent: Being a parent for the first time is perhaps one of the biggest transitions human beings experience in life. With all the information available, figuring things out can be really overwhelming. On top of that, you have a small person who is totally dependent on you and very demanding. Having a trusted support system to help you sift through the noise and give you break can be a true lifesaver.
Activity to Help Parents Reflect on Social Connections
Who do you know who could help you out once in awhile? Make a list.
Who can you call for advice or just to talk? How often do you see them?
What kind of support do you need? Make a list.
Do you find it easy or challenging to make friends? If it’s challenging, what specific things make it hard for you?
What helps you feel connected?
Create an EcoMap:
This exercise is designed to help you think about the people and institutions that are available sources of support in your life and how they connect to you and each other.
Find a blank sheet of paper and something to write with.
Draw a large circle in the middle of the page and write the names of each member of your household in the circle.
Next consider all the outside systems that influence each member of the household (e.g., work, school, church, extended family, health care, recreation, and friends). Draw smaller circles around the large circle and label them to represent these outside systems.
Now draw connecting lines between family members and the systems as well as between the family as a whole and systems that support it.
Finally, considering the list you made of support you need (Question #3 above), think about who you could ask for that support. Are there community resources like the Exchange Family Center that you could seek out? Often, opportunities exist within faith-based organizations, schools, hospitals, community centers, and other places where support groups or social groups meet.
If this activity is useful, take it to the next level. Here is an example and instructions for creating a more complex EcoMap.
Having a supportive network of friends, family, and community members is a crucial resource for parents. At the Exchange Family Center, we’re here for families who want help making social connections. We offer workshops for both parents and caregivers where you can practice approaching other parents, as well as communicating with your child’s school and navigating other institutions. We can also help connect you to other resources that you might need.
There are always individuals and organizations willing to help. In most cases, all you have to do is ask for the help you need. Remember, you do not have to deal with your struggles alone!