We all know that parents and other individuals responsible for the daily care of children (usually referred to as “caregivers”) need good parenting and caregiving skills to support their children’s healthy development and well-being. Most parents and caregivers do fairly well raising their children without receiving any parenting education or external support. However, some do need it. This is particularly important for parents and caregivers with little education, who don’t have access to health and social services, and who are dealing with different stressful situations in their family, such as poverty, disability, substance abuse, domestic violence, illness and death, and stigma and discrimination. Young and inexperienced parents and caregivers, and those who are very old and no longer have the energy or skills to deal with the challenges of raising children, may also have a difficult time coping with their parenting and caregiving responsibilities.
Experiencing multiple stressful and painful situations can trigger mental health problems in parents and caregivers that can make them engage in abusive and neglectful behaviors toward their children. This is particularly true when parents and caregivers do not have a strong family or social network that supports them and that also holds them accountable for their children’s well-being. For instance, many households affected by HIV and AIDS in Africa are led by single women who are poor, who are often socially isolated due to the stigma attached to this disease, and who lack information and financial resources to access services and support. Studies have found higher rates of anxiety and depression among parents and caregivers and higher rates of violence against children in these households.
The lack of adequate parenting and caregiving skills can have many negative short-term and long-term effects on children, families, and even societies as a whole. These effects include poor bonding and poor relationships between parents and caregivers and their children, and emotional and behavioral problems in children. Parents and caregivers who feel incompetent and unable to parent or care for their children well may also decide to give up or abandon their children, leaving them without the love and protection of a family. Parents are also children’s first teachers. Children raised by individuals with poor parenting skills are more likely to make bad decisions when raising their own children later on, since they did not have good role models. Furthermore, children who are abused because their parents or caregivers lack parenting skills are more likely to be perpetrators or victims of violence as adults and are at increased risk for many behavioral, physical, and mental health problems as adults, including depression, smoking, obesity, high-risk sexual behaviors, and alcohol and drug misuse.
Children and families are important to God. The Bible is full of verses on how parents should teach, nurture, and discipline their children and be good examples to them. As Christians we must do our best to help parents and caregivers confronting difficult situations obtain the information, skills, and support they need to care for their children well.
There are many ways in which churches can support these types of parents and caregivers. One of them is to provide parenting education. Parenting education can lead to positive short-term and long-term outcomes both for parents and caregivers and for their children, as shown in the box below.
Your church can work in partnership with local churches or community-based organizations (CBOs) in developing countries to provide parenting education. For example, your church can train the staff and volunteers of a local church or CBO during a short-term mission trip. Those trained would then be responsible for educating parents and caregivers. This approach builds on local resources and assets and promotes local ownership and leadership, which are basic principles of effective partnerships and short-term mission trips, as explained in Journeys of Faith.
The first step your church should take to enable a local church or CBO to provide parenting education is to identify a good parenting curriculum or training manual. Ideally, your church will identify one that is evidence based, meaning that it has already been tested and has proven to be effective in improving parenting skills. One example of this type of curriculum is the “Nurturing Parenting Program” and its Christian version, “Nurturing God’s Way.” You can find more about this curriculum here under “Tools.” Also, in preparing to provide parenting education, it’s important that your church and local partners consider the following recommendations:
- When choosing a curriculum, make sure that it is culturally appropriate and that it responds to the needs of the parents in the context where it will be implemented. If no such curriculum exists, your church may have to make changes to an existing curriculum.
- Your church should also make sure that the selected curriculum uses active learning methods rather than passive ones. Active learning methods include activities such as group discussions, role playing, homework exercises, etc. These are more engaging and more effective for adult learners.
- It is also important that the chosen curriculum provide opportunities for parents to share their experiences in a safe and nonjudgmental environment and to learn from one another.
- Whenever possible, fathers or male caregivers should also receive parenting education. Research indicates that fathers’ participation in parenting education strengthens family cohesion and cooperation in parenting.
In summary, parent and caregiver education is important because it strengthens families and improves outcomes for children. When parents and caregivers improve their parenting knowledge and skills, they become more confident and provide better quality care to their children. As a result, children are happier and healthier and have a greater chance of success in life.
Tanya is Technical Advisor for Vulnerable Children and Youth at FHI 360’s Global Health, Population and Nutrition department. She has more than 20 years of technical and program management experience in HIV/AIDS programming in the Caribbean, Africa and the United States, including 13 years of experience in programming for orphans and other vulnerable children. She was the founder and director of PROINFANCIA, the first NGO established in the Dominican Republic to address the needs of children and youth affected by HIV/AIDS. Tanya holds a master’s degree in Youth Development, and post-graduate diplomas in Management of Social Services and Early Childhood Education.