There is growing evidence that responsive parenting can have lifetime effects on all aspects of children’s development, including their health, nutrition and learning.
This lesson has sunk in the minds of a group of parents in Mukuru Kayaba slum for the last two years.
Poverty is evident in this settlement, which has also been home to Nitunze Project, a Child Fund Responsive Parenting Programme.
The project titled Assuring the Essentials of Optimal Development for Infants and Young Children Affected by HIV/Aids aims to address the needs for stimulation, responsive care and protection of children below five years in communities heavily affected by HIV/Aids.
For Esther Kemunto, a mother of five children, the programme has been life changing.
“When my children stressed me out, I used to scream and beat them up,” she says. But she has learnt not to overreact when her child misbehaves. “I now know that I must be patient, give him love and play with him at least one hour a day,” she says. For slum dwellers like Kemunto, instilling discipline the correct way, especially amidst all the violence in the impoverished community is almost impossible. Furthermore, all the parents in the programme are casual labourers, whose earnings can barely put food on the table.This constant pressure to survive the difficult life in the slum, places many parents at risk of repeating the harsh disciplinary practices they learned from their parents and grandparents, practices that often tip toward abuse. These habits perpetuate aggression that children tend to imitate when they grow up and become parents themselves.
It’s the pervasive, multi-generational kind of violence Nitunze project is working to end. Kemunto also learnt about the importance of toys for her children. “My older children never had toys to play with. It was always a scuffle when they saw a toy on sale, but they were too expensive,” she adds. But through the programme, she understood the role of toys in childhood development, and that one does not need money for their children to own one. She started making toys for her youngest child.
“I cannot believe that I denied my older children a chance to play with toys and yet I can simply make them at home,” Kemunto says as she shows off a ball and car she hand-made out of plastic bags and bottle tops.
It also turned out to be more rewarding, engaging in fun do-it-yourself projects with her child. This is just one example of the ways the Responsive Parenting Programme, which also includes training in play and communication, health, nutrition, child development, early learning, positive discipline, child protection and safety, is empowering parents in the slum to support their children’s physical, social, emotional and cognitive development.
Keep the safe
Another participant, Velima Kanguha, a mother of three-year-old Miguel and three-month-old Valentino Kitonyo said the programme has been an eye-opener.
“My firstborn was one year old when I joined this project and since then I have noted positive change in my children because I feed them better, keep them safe as well as changed my disciplining techniques,” she says.
Regina Mwasambo, Child Fund project coordinator during the end of project evaluation tour to the slum, said the project was implemented by Child Fund through its four local implementing partners; Mukuru Child Wellness Centre, Nairobi Integrated Programme, Kisumu Development Programme and Lake Victoria Child Support Programme in Siaya county.
“Before starting this project we encouraged caregivers to share openly about how they care for their children from birth until they are five years old. Through sharing, we were able to understand both the positive and negative caregiving practices happening in the community,” she explains.
The project worked with a network of volunteers known in the project as Community Support Structures facilitators, some working under the community health strategy and others working in existing community groups. Two approaches of service delivery namely household visits and group parenting sessions were employed to reach the 2,701 caregivers of children aged zero to five years. Both approaches were geared towards supporting the building of strong and healthy caregiver–child relationships.
“In both home visits and group parenting sessions, caregivers engage in two-way discussions and later make commitments to take actions that will support positive growth and development of their children. Games, role play and other engaging activities were used to teach positive disciplinary practices,” she says.
And the effects have been astounding, there has been general increase in knowledge by the caregivers on the importance of play and communication, which is very important for stimulating the brain cells.
During a class activity, the caregivers’ reported a change in caregiving knowledge and skills that promote good health, adequate nutrition, child development, child protection and safety and use of alternative positive discipline techniques.
Children and caregivers are enjoying a positive, strong and healthy relationship, which is important for child development.