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Finding the keys to building a strong family

Do you know anyone who wants to be weak? Everybody wants to be strong. Now that it is spring, I see folks out there jogging, walking, and biking. We all want strong and healthy bodies, and some of us work hard to get fit. We also want strong and healthy communities, strong and healthy families. But how does a family get fit?

This spring I attended the Strengthening Families Summit in Concord where we learned that there are five protective factors that make a family strong. And if a family is missing any of these five factors, that’s where problems develop. What are these five protective factors?

Being loved and cared for is top on the list. Children need to bond with caring adults — right from the start. This bonding will affect all areas of their behavior and development. Children who are loved learn to trust, have self-confidence and will thrive. The home visiting program at The River Center focuses on getting new families off to a great start. We visit pregnant young women and their babies in their homes to help strengthen this bond between parents and their new babies. During and after the pregnancy, our home visitors work with the new mom as well as the grandmother, father, and other significant adults in that baby’s life.

The next protective factor is knowledge about parenting and child development. “What do I do now?” is a frequently asked question by every parent. It seems like every time you turn around, your child has hit another developmental stage. And each stage has its own set of distinctives and limitations. They roll over, then they crawl, then they are walking, and before you know it they are dating and asking for the keys to the car. How do you keep up? There is a certain amount of knowledge needed to know the appropriate way to nurture and care for children as they grow. How much responsibility should I give my 2 year old? My 9 year old? My 13 year old? We learn about developmental stages through our own growing years, through babysitting experiences, and through books. But every child is different and every stage of development is different. The River Center offers parenting classes to learn about developmental stages so parents cannot only cope with where their child is at right now, but are ready for the next stage before it comes.

Another protective factor is resilience. Strong families have parents who can bounce back from hard situations. Stuff happens. Life gets difficult. How parents handle everyday stressors and occasional crises is important. There is a saying, when the going gets tough, the tough get going. The ability to figure out creative solutions, to not panic, to reach out for help, to give each other support within the family — these are all healthy.

And one of the most important protective factors? Being connected with other people. We need each other. Caring friends and family help support and encourage us in our parenting journey. I can remember frequent phone calls to my friend Sharon when I was alone all day with my first baby. Sometimes I felt like I didn’t have a clue what I was doing, but Sharon had children just a little older than my baby. She gave me a listening ear, ideas of things to do with my crying baby, a friend to get together with for tea and adult conversation. Sharon helped me through that first year. We all need a Sharon. We need friends and family members we trust to leave our children with while we get a little break – whether it is date night or being able to run an errand without the children. Children benefit from other adults being in their lives. Families need to be socially connected with others to be strong.

The last factor of a strong family is having basic needs met. We all need food, clothing, shelter, transportation, a way to provide for our families. It’s hard to focus on raising happy, healthy kids when stress is present in these areas. On this side of the mountain we have the resources to meet these basic needs. We have subsidized housing, transitional shelters, 10 food pantries, at least eight community suppers, and CVTC for transportation needs. There are resources for our intellectual, emotional, physical and mental health needs. But how do you find out about these services and get help? One of the services we provide at The River Center is Information and Referral to community resources. Folks can call us 924-6800 and we will help them connect with the services they need. You can also go to www.factbook.rivercenter.us to find our community resource guide specific to the Eastern Monadnock Region.

We all want strong families and a strong community. How fit is your family? Which protective factor does your family need help to strengthen?

The River Center is a family and community resource center. We are here for everyone — to help us be strong. Give us a call at 924-6800 to join a parenting class, find out about community resources, or to help us help families in our community.

Margaret Nelson is the executive director of The River Center in Peterborough. You can reach her at mnelson@rivercenter.us.

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