When I think on the word “thrive,” the vision that comes to mind is that of a vibrant garden where plants grow healthy and strong. The dictionary defines thrive as a “child, animal, or plant growing or developing well or vigorously”; “to prosper or flourish.” Children and families deserve to thrive and I have lately been thinking about the conditions that support growth.

Think for a minute about thriving families you have known. What conditions led to that? Most folks who thrive don’t reach that state alone. Folks who thrive generally have gotten to that place because someone stood in the gap with them or for them.

Frankly, we all stand on the shoulders of those who came before us. All families and children deserve to thrive and can do so when they have information, resources and support from their community. The CDC has some excellent resources about the conditions that support thriving families — search for “ACES” to learn more. Research shows us that the following helps more families to thrive:

♦ Toxic stress reduction: Extended or prolonged stress impacts brain development and can change the way we see and respond to our world. Studies show that chronic and toxic stress can negatively impact an individual’s ability to form healthy relationships and can create challenges in areas ranging from employment success to mental health.

Toxic stress impacts physical health as well — and the societal costs are significant. Parenting is a big job and can go much smoother when resources and supports that reduce toxic stress are in place and available regardless of race or income level.

Help: Families that thrive have help surrounding them. Ideally, that help comes from extended family or friends but can also come from agencies, schools, or neighbors. Help ranges from the practical — that neighbor who watches the kids while you do a quick milk run — to the emotional. Help might simply be a listening ear or reassuring voice. All families benefit from the voice of empathy and understanding (and sometimes we might have to stretch to have empathy or understanding)♦ .

One of the biggest predictors of abuse is isolation or a lack of help from others. Families who are all alone are more easily overwhelmed and stressed. Parenting is a big job and can go much smoother when others help shoulder the load.

♦ Resources: Some resources are actually wants but many are true needs. Those needs include safe homes, housing stability, nutritious food, and access to healthcare. Those who remember studying Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in college psychology class might remember that humans have to have very basic needs of food, clothing and shelter met before they can even begin to address other items — such as education and employment — that can foster the condition of thriving.

Teachers often share that children learn better when they don’t have to move from couch to couch and when they have full bellies. Employers tell us that employees work better when they are present and not absent because of health conditions. Parenting is a big job and it takes access to resources to help children thrive.

♦ Investment: Families that thrive have investment from their communities into their wellbeing. Communities and businesses can invest in families by working to create family-friendly policies that support parents, developing affordable childcare, and providing services for families that need extra support (e.g. counseling or home visitation). Parenting is a big job and it takes communities surrounding families with support to help children thrive.

♦ Vigilance: Families that thrive have a community that is vigilant and stands against violence and practices that discriminate against individuals. Communities and neighborhoods that look out for one another, frown upon hurtful words, and refuse to normalize acts of violence are stronger. Parenting is a big job and it tak♦ es vigilance to ensure safety so that children thrive.

♦ Education: Thriving families have access to education for their children, and parents have access to services that support the development of strong parenting skill sets. Some parents come from family systems that were abusive or from places where no one was available who could teach skills (e.g. parenting skills, child development, life skills)♦ .

Having caring, supportive mentors help children and parents understand best ways to help children succeed in school, manage a budget, or heal through stress and trauma. Parenting is a big job and it takes education to help children thrive.

And here is something simply wonderful — when children and families thrive, communities also thrive. It helps us ALL to prosper or flourish. Want to learn more about helping families to thrive? Visit Georgia’s Child Abuse Prevention Plan at abuse.publichealth.gsu.edu/canpp/.

Tina Bartleson is the executive director of the Exchange Club Family Resource Center, which provides in-home parent education and mentoring to families with children 0-12 years. She has 29 years experience working with families and may be contacted through www.exchangeclubfrc.org.

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