1 June 2023 - Global

Violence is not the solution: How can we promote safe parenting practices?

Ntokozo, 37 and his sons, smiling at the camera at their home in Zimbabwe

Ntokozo, 37 and his sons, smiling to the camera at their home in Zimbabwe. Save the Children.

What does safe parenting mean? Safe parenting means looking after your child's physical and emotional well-being. It includes: keeping them safe at home, protecting them from abuse and taking care of their health and medical needs.

Having worked with Save the Children now for over 20 years promoting better protection for children, I must say that supporting parents and caregivers with knowledge and skills to parent positively without violence has been the most rewarding for me as a father and now grandfather.

I grew up in Northern Uganda where corporal punishment was widely used in homes and schools to “discipline” children. I got my fair share of the same, especially in the primary schools I went to, largely shaping my view of how children should be corrected when they don’t meet adult expectations.

When I joined Save the Children, my view began to shift as I came to know that children, just like adults, have rights. These are enshrined in the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the most ratified human rights convention globally. The Convention, among other things, recognizes the importance of parents, both men and women, as role models and guides in bringing up their children.

When I was introduced to Safe Families, a rights-based parenting approach developed by Save the Children, the greatest learning for me, and the one that transformed my relationship with the children I am responsible for, was understanding developmental stages and relating those to the challenges parents often face.

When we see the world through the eyes of a 3-year-old or a 13-year-old, we begin to understand their behavior and perspective and hence become more effective parents. I also now recognize the crucial role that fathers and other male caregivers have in supporting their children and their partners. While parenting is joyful and a satisfying experience, it is also an enormous and exhausting challenge which requires both parents to share roles in order to make it successful.

I now find time to sit down and answer endless questions of my 3-year-old granddaughter because I understand that is what helps her brain develop, and she, like many adults is trying to understand how the world works. She needs answers as to why things are the way they are. When she asks me why she should not play in the rain, I have to give her a credible answer instead of telling her to shut up and get out of the rain. It is not always easy, but I know how important it is.

I have seen first-hand parents of 12-14-year-olds who attend our training finally realizing that the challenging behavior of their sons and daughters, like when they broke curfew and refused to join family activities, was not because they were being spiteful, but rather because they are teenagers who are beginning to exercise their independence - which is natural at this stage.  

This realization completely changes the kind of conversation they need to have with their child in order to solve the problem at hand. The parenting challenge here is how to keep your child safe while at the same time respecting their growing need for independence.

 A parent who attended our parenting sessions in Zanzibar had this to say;

“ .. apart from motivating my fellow villagers to be registered, I found it useful for my family to get and use this parenting package. The awareness I currently have on the effects of corporal punishment pushes me to abolish it in my family”. Ali Idrisa Omar – Religious Leader from Zanzibar.

The Safe Families methodology not only empowers parents with knowledge and skills, but also empowers children to express their views in the home and seek help when they feel unsafe.  

This level of child participation greatly helps to promote constructive dialogue between parents and their children from a very young age thereby promoting a warm family climate where children are eager to interact with and listen to their parents.

This short-term compliance eventually teaches long terms positive values to the child. In Somalia the majority of children who attend the sessions attested that their confidence and self-esteem increased.

“Our friends say that there is a big change in our behaviour, especially in how we used to talk before the sessions and how we talk currently…” Focus group discussion with 12-14 year old boys from Somalia

I have learnt first-hand that when a child has a trusting relationship with you as a parent, they are more likely to listen to advice. The same trusting relationship is the foundation we need to solve problems when challenging situations arise.

To me success in positive parenting is achieved when a parent does not need to resort to the use of power and control during parenting but rather can use communication and joint problem solving.

For more information, please see the Safe Families Elevator Pitch, Safe Families Two Page Summary`, and Safe Families Evidence Digest.


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