Introducing New Protective Norms for Parents and Caregivers Raising Children
Updated: Oct 13, 2022
by Njeri Omesa
Save the Children in Tanzania, (STC) through funds from Comic Relief and with support from Save the Children UK, is implementing the Tuwekeze Pamoja Project in Mbozi District in the Songwe Region. The project, including research which Citizens4Change staff are supporting with, focusses on improving children’s learning outcomes by providing a continuum of support for girls and boys from conception to six years old that ensures their physical, socio-emotional, cognitive development and learning needs are met. This will be realised through enabling caregivers to provide a more supportive environment at home, enable more effective teaching in pre and early primary within a conducive learning environment, and ensure that communities and local government provide an enabling environment for these changes.
As a Citizens 4 Change team member, I had the opportunity to engage with parents and children who are part of the intervention as well as community volunteers and STC and APD Mbozi staff who are implementing the project during a recent qualitative study. This piece of research was designed to discover the ways in which care givers in the project are supporting the optimum development of their children. The research design relied on in depth conversations with care givers as well as observation of dynamics in the households I visited in rural Mbozi.
What I uncovered during the research
As part of the project new protective norms are being introduced to the target families to improve supportive parenting practices across all areas of children’s development. My time spent with these target families highlighted some of those new protective norms, people’s changing attitudes towards being a ‘good’ parent and the benefits these norms can have.
New protective norm: early nutrition and engagement is vital to development
One of the new protective norms being instilled in the participant families, is the importance of early nutrition for a child. Regardless of economic factors, most mothers can provide a vital source of nutrition to their newborn babies and the project is encouraging women to do this if they can. The nutrition and anti-bodies within the breast milk give the child a strong chance at a healthy future. Additionally, families are being encouraged to interact with their children from birth. Stimulation, such as talking to the baby, singing and gentle play can improve the child’s cognitive abilities and provide it with feelings of happiness and affirmation.
New protective norm: caregiving is the responsibility of women and men
Traditionally, care giving has been a predominantly female role, with men expected to simply provide financial stability for the family and ensure discipline of the children. Many men perceive care giving to be the responsibility of mothers only. The Tuwekeza Pamoja Project is encouraging of male participation in care giving. From my experience of conducting research at the homes of these target families, I found evidence of more men taking an active role in the care of their children than I believe is occurring across Tanzania more broadly. In some of the households I visited, both parents were home. It was encouraging to observe that after introducing ourselves and our intention to interview one of the care givers, the father would take over the care giving of the child who was home to allow us to speak with the mother. We observed one father who picked up his daughter and joined a group of his friends but still gave attention to his young daughter as we interviewed his wife. The father and children related easily, played and shared snacks together.
New protective norm: building a warm relationship with your child is important
The project also encourages the care givers to invest in their relationships with their children, which challenges the traditionally held belief that showing love and affection or verbally praising the child will ‘spoil’ them. One of the project participants we interviewed shared that she had learnt a lot about care giving and that her participation in this project has changed her style of care giving. She wished she had this knowledge earlier as she has older children who did not benefit from her building on her relationship with them as she has with her youngest. She shared that although many in her village dismissed the project (because it did not provide material things but rather provided knowledge) she has seen the fruits of implementing the lessons she has learnt through the parenting course.
Many mothers shared that in the past they were “wakali” and resorted to canning, pinching and verbally abusing their child when they believe he/she was misbehaving. However, they share that they now make every effort to talk to their children and resolve conflict in healthier ways. They show affection to their children and involve them in various activities in the home. They also make an effort to play with their children, teach them songs and sing to them, and help them with their homework. Mothers we spoke with shared that they understand that beating or pinching their child will make him/her lose confidence about trying something new thinking he/she will be beaten again. They are instead trying to talk to their children and encourage them to stop doing the things that could harm him or her.
Children also shared that they enjoyed undertaking various activities with their parents and siblings. In many of the homes they shared that their parents do not beat them when they make a mistake. When we visited the project participants, it was planting season and we observed families working together on their farms. Parents and children also shared that they are taking the time to play together, help their children do school assignments and learn various roles in the home.
Other positive outcomes of introducing the new protective norms
We also had the opportunity to interview local government authority representatives who had been involved in the project. They shared that in the course of their interaction with the project they are themselves learning new norms. One government representative shared that he has changed how he interacts with children in an effort to hear their opinions on matters that concern them. In this way he is finding that he is more approachable and that children are speaking with and consulting him. In addition, all the community volunteers we spoke with also shared that in the course of implementing their role in conducting the parenting classes, it has had a positive influence in their own lives.
It is really encouraging to see these, and other, new protective norms in practice in the communities where the Tuwekeze Pamoja Project is being implemented. Even more encouraging is that the families are reporting benefits to implementing these new protective norms. The more these families employ these new positive protective norms, the more other members of the community will feel encouraged to trial them. In time, the old, outdated and often harmful practices some parents use will be the exception not the rule, and it will be the exception that I hope their community will frown upon.