Close parent-child bonds: need of the hour | Sunday Observer

Close parent-child bonds: need of the hour

The lack of parenting skills and the disappearance of close parent-child bonds that this country once boasted of have impacted in many negative ways on our society. From the pre-schooler, primary schoolchild to the adolescent and the 4.1 million youth population, ignorance of proper parenting skills has led to poor nutrition, low IQ development, obesity and non-communicable diseases giving young children a poor start to life. It has made adolescents vulnerable to anti-social habits and caused reproductive health issues. Cigarette smoking and alcoholism is on the rise among youth according to newly released reports by international agencies dealing with child welfare.

The Sunday Observer asked Family Physician, Health Ministry Dr Ramya Premaratne why reviving parental skills is so important in today’s fast changing society.

Excerpts …

Q. Several international children’s agencies recently decided to expand their portfolio to give more emphasis to reviving parenting skills now lacking in many families. As this is a global issue where does Sri Lanka stand? How skilled are Lankans in parenting skills?

A. Parenting is a multidimensional task. To respond to the varied needs of their children, parents must develop knowledge, ranging from being aware of developmental milestones and norms that help in keeping children safe and healthy.

In Sri Lanka multi-disciplinary professionals such as educators, child care, health care and social workers together play a collaborative role in developing parenting skills. The social systems (e.g. institutions, laws, policies) also interact with families and support parenting at all levels of the community: eg; The study on “Awareness in parents of preschoolers in disadvantaged communities” which was conducted for the Child Development Center, Open University of Sri Lanka.

Q. From recent studies done locally, is the bond between mother and child, father and child getting closer or vice versa?

A. The strength of the parent-child bond depends on many factors, including the amount of time invested in the relationship, the hobbies, interests, talents and communication that parents and children share.

Q. The UNFPA has mentioned that education enhances women’s understanding their place in society, provides them with skills and information in giving them a more effective voice in their role as parents. Your comments?

A. Yes. The higher their education and knowledge the more positive will be parent-child interactions and outcomes, specifically, parenting knowledge about proper nutrition, safe sleep environments, how to soothe a crying baby, knowledge about health and safety and how to access health care, protect children from physical harm (e.g., the importance of wearing a seat belt or a helmet), and promote good hygiene and nutrition.

Q. The Health Ministry has identified key issues with regard to parent-child relationships. What are they?

A. Poverty and low-income of the family

Parental mental illnesses

Alcoholism and violence in the home

(The reasons for domestic violence vary. Infidelity of both partners, jealousy, loss of self-worth, alcoholism, low or lack of education, unemployment, employment of women outside the home, financial difficulties, disputes, most commonly regarding land and congested living conditions.)

Inadequate attention for children

Limited understanding of how mothers, fathers, and other caregivers together promote their children’s development

Lack of effective programs for strengthening parenting capacity and parents’ participation and retention in effective programs and systems.

Q. How far have these issues been addressed to improve parenting skills?

A. To give an example, the Ministry of Health conducted a study to evaluate community-based incidence and family-related contributory factors for childhood unintentional injuries in an urban setting (Kolonnawa,) in the Colombo district. According to this study, the majority of unintentional injuries reported were among children aged 1 to 4, whose mothers had little or no parenting skills. These unintentional injuries affecting a child, which require medical attention or result in restricted activity lead to grief and suffering for the entire family. It is to help reduce the risk of children being exposed to such injuries that the Health Ministry has started a national public awareness program that targets early childhood policy makers, pre-school children and teachers, officers engaged in the field, parents, pregnant mothers, etc. Providing assistance to construct preschool buildings under the model villages, provision of educational equipment to preschools, awareness programs for children, etc. have also been carried out this year to benefit those target groups.

Q. What about primary schoolchildren?

A. A School Health Promotion Program has been designed to respond to their specific needs.

E.g. School medical inspections that systematically assess health status and nutritional needs of schoolchildren responding with healthcare referrals and interventions (including deworming, vitamin supplementation and vaccinations); school meals that prioritize smaller, rural, and poorer schools.

Q. Young people aged 15-25 comprise over 4.4 million. Their needs are constantly changing in today’s world. How has the Health Ministry responded to such needs?

A. Considered the second formative stage of life after childhood, youth, is a period of growth, opportunities and challenges both physically as well as mentally. It is usually during this period that young people start to show signs of physical and emotional independence and begin to develop their own sense of identity and maturity. It is also a period of exploration and experimentation with the external world, especially, with substance use/ abuse and sexuality, away from the watchful eyes of parents. Their knowledge of reproductive health including Sexually Transmitted Infections and HIV is found to be poor. Another important issue is the increasing prevalence of risk for non-communicable diseases such as, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular diseases as well as certain types of cancer that affect them in their adult life. These diseases are outcomes of life-style and dietary habits which encourage sedentary and unhealthy way of living which is becoming the norm in young people in contemporary Sri Lanka. The Health Ministry is currently conducting awareness programs for youth on reproductive health, non communicable diseases, etc.

Q. Sri Lanka has a window of opportunity to forestall the spread of HIV among high-risk groups. What are the steps taken by the Health Ministry to prevent HIV and what are the issues and challenges to realize this goal?

A. There are free screening tests available island wide. However, they need to be motivated into visiting these centres. The Health Ministry cannot do it alone. Most at-risk groups are not likely to seek MOH services; therefore, the Ministry needs to continue to partner with NGOs, line ministries, such as armed forces and prisons department; the private sector; and civil society organizations, such as trade unions to reach the at-risk populations. Although these organizations and institutions are better placed to mobilize and provide services to at-risk groups, their technical capacity needs to be strengthened with the assistance of the Ministry of Health.

Q. Your advice on how the Health Ministry can improve parent- child relationships and bring back family values to our health delivery service?

A. In order to give families the skills and knowledge to provide care, food and protection, the Health Ministry should focus on parenting programs tailored to the varying needs of children and their caregivers/parents. For example, programs can focus on training mothers or caregivers to understand their children’s development and respond appropriately or suggest ways for fathers to become more active in the lives of their children.

Trained professionals should visit homes and provide guidance to parents and/or caregivers.

When parents have access to necessary skills and information, children grow to their full potential such as emotionally secure, socially confident, mentally alert, and healthy.

They can also focus on providing parents with skills that, while not directly related to parenting, would enhance the parent’s ability to parent.

It could include job skills courses to enable parents to earn more income and thereby devote more resources for the health, nutrition and education of their children.

Such ongoing care and support include ensuring the child has

  • Protection from physical danger
  • Adequate nutrition and health care
  • Opportunities to learn how to work as a group , sharing and helping
  • A chance to develop independence, take responsibility and make choices
  • Support in the development of self-worth
  • Opportunity for socialization to become group member and to have a cultural identity, i.e. a sense of belonging
  • Positive role models.

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