Child with protective factors against substance use disorder
Published On: August 30, 2018|Categories: Teens and Young Adults|

Just as there are risk factors for developing a substance use disorder, there are also factors that lower the risk. Protective factors are aspects of a child’s life that lower his or her chances of developing an issue in the future. These fall into two broad categories: internal protective factors and external protective factors. Internal protective factors are on the individual level, while external protective factors are related to a person’s relationships, communities, and society. Here are some ways of identifying existing protective factors and fostering additional protective factors in your child as well.

Individual Protective Factors

  • Having a positive self-esteem: Help your children have a positive self-esteem by stating things you like about them and praising their accomplishments. It’s important that in addition to saying the things you like about or are proud of your children for, you encourage them to identify and state things they like about themselves.
  • Being able to exhibit self-control: To foster an ability to exhibit self-control, encourage your child to count to ten before reacting when angry or upset. Have rules that encourage personal space and delaying gratification, like not hitting others and waiting until after dinner to have dessert.
  • Being resilient: Help your children become more resilient by processing their challenges and setbacks with them. Ask them what they learned from these experiences, and what they think they can do differently to be successful in the future. Avoid framing challenges as finite failures.
  • Having goals: Show an interest in your child’s goals and dreams. Ask them where these goals came from, what steps they plan to take to get there, and how you can help them reach their goals.

External Protective Factors


  • Have consistent rules and appropriate verbal discipline: Caregivers should work together to develop rules that they agree to implement consistently, even if they are not living together. They should also agree on appropriate ways of verbally disciplining their children if they break the rules. Both rules and consequences should be presented to the children in a format they can understand.
  • Provide reliable support: Be there for your children no matter what. Listening to them when they are sad, angry, scared, and anxious helps them to feel that they have a reliable outlet to express their feelings to.
  • Protect children from harm: Listen to your children and trust them. If they feel scared or think they are in danger, validate their feelings and discuss how you are going to protect them.
  • Encourage conflict resolution: When arguments occur, encourage family members to find resolution through communication. Do not “sweep things under the rug”, since this creates a belief systems that secrets are okay.


  • Have good relationships with positive peers: Encourage your children to make friends in school and through any other activities they may be involved in. Make an effort to get to know your children’s friends by hosting playdates at your home. Also try to get to know the friends’ parents.
  • Engage in healthy recreational activities: Encourage your children to engage in healthy recreational activities with their friends like riding bikes, playing board games, cooking, and drawing. Children who are able to feel fulfillment and enjoyment from healthy recreational activities are less likely to feel bored.


  • Feel connected with their teachers: Check in with your child to make sure they are developing a healthy, trusting relationship with their teacher. Try to view and utilize your child’s teacher as another positive adult role model in their lives.
  • Follow rules at school: Remind your child about the importance of following rules both at home and at school. Have an open mind if teachers bring up behavioral issues they are experiencing in the classroom and work with them to resolve these issues.
  • Feel engaged in and accomplished in their schoolwork: Have discussions with you children about what they are learning in school, what they like learning about, and what they feel they are good at. Recognize accomplishments like positive feedback from teachers, good grades, and creativity.

If you would like to learn more about promoting mental health in your child, browse our free resources. If your child is in need of counseling for a substance use disorder, learn more about our rehab program for teens, Rehab After School.


Article Written by Shaylyn Forte, LPC, CAADC

A man suffers from persistent depressive disorder, or dysthymiaThe Difference Between Persistent Depressive and Major Depressive Disorders
Kids suffering cyberbullyingWhat Is Cyberbullying and What Are Its Effects?