Building Self-Sufficient Families with Natural Supports

 

Overview

Welcome to National Guard Family Program's e-learning lesson on engaging communities and support systems, and the importance of natural support in building resilience. This lesson will provide an in-depth look at types of support for National Guard families. At the end of this lesson, you will be able to discuss how resilience can offset risk factors in families, discuss the connection between natural supports and the building of resilience in families, and identify natural supports within your own community.

Guard families can boost their protective factors by building natural supports.

Natural supports are present in all of our lives.  By learning to identify and develop them, families can boost their resilience—thereby increasing their ability to overcome or adjust to hardship or change.

Resilience and natural supports go hand-in-hand.

At the end of this lesson, you will be able to:
• Discuss how resilience can offset risk factors in families;
• Discuss the connection between natural supports and the building of resilience in families;
• Identify natural supports within your own community.

CHAPTER 1: National Supports Can Increase Resilience

For any family, adverse circumstances occur from time to time that can add challenges to daily life. While no one can avoid stress entirely, natural supports can offer assistance and guard against adversity. Protective factors, or the positive conditions existing in an individual’s life, go hand in hand with natural supports, and can be built up to increase resilience.

Building protective factors and taking a strengths approach are effective ways to build resilience.

All of us face stress and adversity at different points in our lives. How adverse circumstances affect us, however, is partly determined by our level of resilience.

Resilience is one’s ability to recover from or adjust to hardship or change. Though we all have a baseline level of resilience, it’s not a static or unchangeable quality. Resilience can be increased by building an individual’s protective factors. Protective factors are the positive conditions and personal or social resources that promote resiliency, protect and buffer an individual, and reduce the potential for high-risk behaviors. Examples include a warm family environment, a strong social community, group or activity involvement, a mentor or role model, and a consistent and fair family routine.

Taking a strengths approach is also a very effective way to build resilience and natural supports. Put simply, a strengths approach focuses on an individual’s or a family’s strong points, achievements, and positive qualities, rather than areas of weakness or deficiency. “Resiliency theory” is closely related to a strengths approach, and states that risk factors can be outweighed by protective factors to help build resilience.

Building natural supports is an effective way to cope with challenges. Families who learn how to cope with challenges and meet individual needs are more resilient in the face of stress and crisis.

Natural supports that occur in everyday life enhance a person’s quality of life.

Natural supports can be interpersonal or between an individual and a community. They encompass relationships with immediate and extended family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and other acquaintances, as well as public services available to a community, like the YMCA or a local outreach program. Formal supports, on the other hand, usually involve payment for a service—such as counseling, therapy, etc. Here are some examples of natural supports:

Because natural supports are often informal (as opposed to seeing a therapist, for example), some people forget these supports are there or take them for granted. A woman who comes to work and vents to her coworker about her morning commute is taking advantage of the natural support her colleagues provide. An elderly man who volunteers to help serve breakfast at his church is utilizing the natural support of his church community, and of doing a good deed for others. Natural supports can be so small or seemingly insignificant that we forget they exist—but it’s the fact that they are sometimes so small that makes them so easy to build upon. A “little thing” can exponentially benefit a person’s well-being.

It’s also important to remember that natural supports are available to and exist for all people—not just those who are already healthy, active members of a community. In fact, for people with some sort of obstacle or risk factor to overcome, natural supports are even more crucial. No disability (physical or mental) or perceived personal deficiency is an insurmountable barrier when it comes to taking advantage of natural supports.

CHAPTER 2: Building Natural Supports

Natural supports exist for everyone. Risk factors exist for everyone too, though some people are exposed to more risk factors than others. Regardless of which risk factors affect an individual, he or she can balance out risk by focusing on which factors are changeable. Friends, family members, hobbies, and simple activities all offer natural support to help bring balance to an individual’s life.

Natural supports can counteract risk factors.

Risk factors can affect each and every one of us. Some of them can be changed or adjusted, while others are unchangeable. The following list gives some examples of each type of risk factor:

Unchangeable:

Changeable:

When you are working with a National Guard family, it’s important to focus a family member’s attention on the risk factors that are changeable. Dwelling on unchangeable risk factors does nothing to build resilience. Natural supports provide a great way to address and balance out many of these changeable risk factors. None of them need to be seen as barriers to living a fulfilling life. The most vital thing to remember is that by adjusting or addressing the changeable risk factors, we can balance or outweigh the unchangeable ones.

People you already love and trust make great natural supports.

Most of us can probably list a few people we encounter in our everyday lives: friends, family members, coworkers, acquaintances. Even a stay-at-home parent might run into a neighbor, see a familiar grocery clerk, or talk to his or her own parent or sibling on a regular basis. When you are looking at building or strengthening the natural support network that already exists in your life—or when you are working with a National Guard family—focusing on people whom you especially love and trust can help. Ideally, these are people who:

Hobbies and activities are also natural supports that build protective factors.

Staying busy doesn’t mean someone completely avoids or ignores adverse life circumstances. On the contrary: staying busy can balance these circumstances via tasks, hobbies, or social interactions that hold appeal and add positive feelings to help dilute stressful life circumstances.

Keeping busy doesn’t have to mean scheduling every single hour of your day with a different activity. Every family’s life is hectic, but finding even short periods of time in which to do something that relieves stress can go a long way in building resilience. This is also a common strategy used for people with depression. The goal is to distract or remove a person from the circumstances that are making him or her feel depressed. Staying busy is certainly not a cure-all; over time, however, building these new habits can increase feelings of self-worth, comfort, and competency.

Simple:

With more planning:

Activities in which a person gives something of him or herself (volunteering) can be just as satisfying for the caregiver as they are for the person being cared for. Volunteerism enhances feelings of positive self-esteem.

CHAPTER 3: Natural Supports in a National Guard Family Context

For any family, natural supports are vital for both parents and children. For kids of all ages, a warm family environment is the most important factor in building resilience. Parents need support that helps them maintain a life separate from caring for their children, that encompasses their own hobbies and interests. When you’re working with a National Guard family, remember to get to know each individual, communicate openly, and persist in helping each member develop natural supports.

For parents, natural supports can ease stress in times of adversity.

Natural supports are important for any parent, but for a parent dealing with the stress that can sometimes come with National Guard or other military involvement, these supports are even more crucial. As we’ve discussed, sometimes natural supports can be overlooked as a source of comfort or strength because they’re not as formal as a doctor visit or therapy session. It’s important for parents to remain conscious of their natural supports, especially when one parent is absent from the home temporarily or permanently. A deployment or unplanned relocation, for example, may throw off a family’s equilibrium or feelings of competence. On top of that, when parents get wrapped up in the duties of raising children, going to work, and running a household, they risk isolating themselves. Left unchecked, this isolation may prevent them from developing more natural supports, and leave them feeling alone when help is needed most.

Parents need their own natural supports—separate from their children’s lives.

While parents should have a strong, nurturing relationship with their kids, they should not rely on their children’s social lives for their own support. Mothers and fathers need their own friends, hobbies, and interests. Children may make life busy and hectic, but managing a child’s life should not be a parent’s sole activity. If a parent is currently having a difficult time maintaining his or her own personal life, consider suggesting the following simple steps. Big, sweeping changes aren’t necessarily required to make a difference in a parent’s quality of life, even little changes can help.

For parents, maintaining a "grown-up" life separate from the hectic schedule of raising children can remind them of the natural supports that already exist in their lives and help build additional supports.

Strong connections at home, at school, and with peers are vital for children.

The parent-child relationship is reciprocal, meaning that the better a parent’s physical and mental health, the better their child will do. Interaction with other youth can contribute to strengthening social skills. A strong connection to school also goes a long way in helping youth value education. Most middle and high schools are packed full of opportunities for youth to develop supportive relationships with friends, make new connections, learn life skills, and explore personal interests. It’s also a setting in which they have the opportunity to develop natural mentors, like teachers, guidance counselors, club advisors, and coaches. Youth who take advantage of these opportunities are less likely to drop out.

The most important protective factor that a child can have, however, is a warm, nurturing family environment. Psychological researchers have identified commitment, time together, communication, faith and values, and coping skills as characteristics that are present in healthy families. Youth who experience consistency in family rules (rules developed through discussion and interaction with their parents) are often more resilient. Research has also shown that teens who have a wide range of social support, including from parents, family, and friends, are less likely to participate in risk-taking activities such as drinking alcohol, smoking cigarettes, and practicing unsafe sex. Teens who rely on only friends for support, however, have a higher likelihood for engaging in risk-taking activities. Natural supports begin in the home, and a home that encourages flexibility, stability, and clear, open, consistent communication is well equipped to cope with adversity.

Knowledge, communication, and persistence are essential for effectively working with families.

Up to this point, we’ve discussed what natural supports are and how they can boost a person’s resilience by building both self-confidence and a sense that an individual is not alone when times are hard.

When you are working with National Guard families, keep these three points in mind to improve the dialogue and help build supports:

Remember, support building is a continual process. Relationships change, develop, evolve, begin, and end over time. Maintaining and expanding your support network, or helping others extend theirs, is an ongoing task, but one that reaps many rewards.

Summary

Natural supports can help an individual or family build protective factors in their life. By building protective factors, we can balance out risk factors. Moving a family’s focus from their deficiencies to their strengths ultimately helps increase resilience. Thank you for taking the time to learn about the importance of natural supports in building resilience.

Families can harness natural supports to build resilience and strength.

By taking advantage of the supports that already exist in their lives, such as peers, community programs, or enjoyable activities, family members can build protective factors that make them more resilient in the face of adverse circumstances.  As a Family Program employee, you can help Guard families recognize and build these supports.

These resources provide more information on natural supports.