Natural Supports in a National Guard Family Context

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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.

  • When kids are at school, take some time to enjoy a personal activity, e.g., reading, a hot bath, a trip to the gym, coffee with a friend.
  • Arrange play dates for young kids. Parents can share the duties of watching the children while socializing with one another.
  • Invite a friend or extended family member over to help prepare a meal, and then share it with them.
  • Ask a babysitter or family member to watch the kids, and then have a night out with your spouse.

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.

Click to open interactivity There are many paths to natural supports in a child’s life.

There are many paths to natural supports in a child’s life.

Move your mouse over the images to learn more about each of the natural supports depicted below.

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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:

  • Know the individual
  • Communicate
  • Persist

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.

Click to open interactivity Natural supports helped Travis and his family.

Natural supports helped Travis and his family.

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