Having a network; an important protective factor – Part 5

A network of friends and neighbors who care about you and your children can provide support during difficult times.

Parenting your own children or providing care for children in your life can be an overwhelming responsibility. According to Michigan State University Extension, children grow and develop at what often feels like a lightening pace. Just trying to keep up with the changes in motor skills, language and the ever-changing roller coaster of emotions may leave you feeling overwhelmed. There are so many things to consider and worry about. Who is the best person to call when my child is sick? Who do I talk to with concerns about my child’s development? How do I find help when I need it most? Who can I really talk to when I’m overwhelmed with my daily schedule and parenting tasks?

When parents and caregivers identify and develop relationships with adults who are supportive they are providing a network of people who can assist them when times are tough. These people can act as a safety net that can lift you up, catch you if you start to fall, and provide extra support when and if you need it. The more family members, mentors or community connections you have - the stronger the net! Social connections can include other parents, teachers, family, friends or your day care provider. Social connections will assist you best when they provide practical assistance (transportation, child care, help with housework) blended with strong emotional support.

The Center for the Study of Social Policy recommends several ways that you can create and improve your current social connections.

  • Look for opportunities to meet new people. Attend school or community events to meet other parents and caregivers.  Explore playgroups, story hours at your local library and happenings at the community center or neighborhood church.
  • Volunteer in your community. Community groups and civic organizations are always looking for people who will help with an upcoming project. Opportunities may range from answering the phone to hanging flyers in the community, to serving food at a holiday meal.
  • Take walks in your neighborhood with your children. Go to the local playground with your child. Look for low, or no-cost, activities that you can do as a family. Be a tourist in your own community to discover new and interesting places to visit.
  • Introduce yourself to your neighbors and offer your assistance. Get to know the people who live near you.
  • Contact your local Cooperative Extension office to find programs that education, health information, parenting, money management and youth development opportunities.

When you experience life changes that affect you and your children it is even more important to identify those who can help and add them to your network of support. MSU Extension suggests that finding the right people to help may require some homework on your part. The people who will be the most beneficial as social supports are those who are positive role models. Identify the traits that you admire in other care givers and seek out teachers, neighbors, family and friends you trust to assist you when you need a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on.

Having strong social connections, along with the other five protective factors (nurturing and attachment, knowledge of parenting and child development, parental resilience, concrete supports and social and emotional competence,) can act as a buffer against daily frustrations and lead to a sense of security and more confident parenting.

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