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Building Blocks: Your Prevention Tool

As children grow up, they are exposed to many things that may either increase their risk for, or protect them from, drug abuse and other risky behaviors. Protective factors are any circumstances that promote healthy behaviors and decrease the chance that a child will engage in risky behaviors, now or in the future.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), some risk factors may be more powerful than others at certain stages in development, such as peer pressure during the teen years. And, some protective factors, such as a strong parent-child bond and early academic success, can have a greater impact on reducing risks during the early years. Building Blocks was created to enhance these protective factors and reverse or reduce risk factors for young children.

Risk and Protective Factors

Risk and protective factors may be organized into several categories:

  • Individuals
  • Family
  • School and Peers
  • Community

As an educator, you can have a powerful impact in each of these categories, through observation, identification, and action.


NIDA describes some signs of risk that can be seen as early as infancy or early childhood-aggressive behavior, lack of self-control, or difficult temperament. As a child gets older, interactions with family, at school, and within the community can signify a child's risk for later substance abuse.


A child's earliest interactions are within the family. Risk factors include poor nurturing or ineffective parenting. But, a family also provides important protective factors-a strong bond built by communication and spending time, parental involvement and monitoring, and clear limits and enforcement of rules.

School and Peers

The government's program, Helping America's Youth describes why you, as an educator, have an excellent opportunity for identifying risk factors and building in protective factors. Do you see problem behaviors, poor academic achievement or low self-esteem? What activities can you provide that will motivate a positive attitude, student bonding, academic achievement, improved reading and mathematics skills, and provide opportunities for rewards and the support of caring adults?


Is the child living in a high crime neighborhood where drugs and firearms are the norm and children feel unsafe? What can you do as a member of the community to provide supportive activities within the community-through community agencies and groups or through non-profit organizations?

Risk and Protective Factor Assessment

Working with others in your school or community, use the Risk and Protective Factors Handout (PDF) to identify and consider those factors that have the most impact for your students.

Next, use Building Blocks to work with your students and to support actions by families and community groups to increase the protective factors and reduce the risk factors you have identified.

  • Building Blocks Lesson Plans offers educational classroom games, school activities, and other useful teaching resources.
  • Building Blocks for the Family provides information and activities that reach out to families and support family discussion and activities that address six action steps that protect young children from developing risky behaviors.
    1. Good Talking, Good Listening offers parenting tips on using active listening and communication skills to establish and maintain good parent-child communication.
    2. Time With Your Kids emphasizes the importance of parent involvement and helps you make spending time with your children a priority.
    3. Living With Rules suggests ways to use positive reinforcement for child discipline and for enforcing family rules.
    4. Walk the Walk encourages positive role modeling to promote positive child behavior.
    5. Kids With Kids offers parenting advice on teaching social skills and helping children learn how to make friends.
    6. Show and Tell recommends easy ways to monitor your children's activities, feelings, and health.


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Updated on 3/22/2014