Positive parenting plants the seeds for a healthy future

In remote Timor-Leste, UNICEF is working with the Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion to equip parents and caregivers with the skills they need to raise happy children

UNICEF Timor-Leste
Positive parenting 1
UNICEF Timor-Leste/2019/Soares
17 June 2019

Viqueque, Timor-Leste – High up in Timor-Leste’s rugged mountains, Marcos da Silva is paving the way for a new, positive-parenting paradigm in his community. 

At 52, Marcos is a well-respected leader and is looked up to by many. These qualities led to him being chosen to train as a facilitator for UNICEF’s Parenting Programme in 2017.

The holistic caregiver programme strengthens parenting skills and teaches positive parenting techniques across a range of topics, including child nutrition, early stimulation, positive discipline, education and child protection.

Supporting parents in their most important role 

For many parents in Suco Uabubo, the programme’s positive discipline techniques are a new and welcome alternative to traditionally violent methods. 

“If a child is being naughty, and they enjoy playing a game on your phone, you can tell them that if they keep being naughty, they won’t be able to play the game or watch cartoons on television. That’s an example of a good response,” says Juliana Soares, a Child Protection Officer at the Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion, UNICEF’s key implementing partner for the programme.

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UNICEF Timor-Leste/2019/Soares
The Parenting Programme is equipping parents and caregivers with the tools they need to raise happy, productive kids.

Simple parenting skills such as this and others usually demonstrated during two-hour-long sessions and are already having a positive impact on Marcos’s community. 

“Before we started doing these sessions, people would use harsh words within their homes,” Marcos says. “It’s the way our grandparents used to talk. But now it’s starting to change, to be reduced. We don’t have as many problems anymore.” 

Leading by example 

With two young grandchildren at home, Marcos is taking the skills he’s learnt during his training back into his community, facilitating education sessions and role modelling his newly acquired skillset. He strives to be a good example.  

“I practice the things I have learnt at home. It makes me feel good,” Marcos says. “For example, if a child is crying, you can’t yell at them. You must be gentle. If you’re gentle and speak slowly, they will understand and do what you ask.”

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UNICEF Timor-Leste/2019/Soares
Marcos da Silva with his daughter Nivia Carla and his eldest grandchild at their home in Suco Uabubo.

Sitting on the veranda of his home, Marcos beams with pride as he speaks of his eldest grandchild, who attends a local preschool. “He comes home and asks me to stand up and we clap hands and play games,” he smiles. 

Passing down positive skills 

Marcos’ daughter-in-law, Nivia Carla, 21, was pregnant with her first child when she and her husband joined the first parenting education session held in Wabubu in 2017. Their second child was born just three weeks ago.

In remote districts such as this one, traditional home births are still common place, due to long the distances to health facilities. Tur ahi, or sitting by the fire, is an important part of the home-birth practice. At their home, pile of firewood is still propped by the front entrance, leftover from the recent birth of her daughter.  

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UNICEF Timor-Leste/2019/Soares
Cesarina da Silva, 18, was an expectant first-time mother when she attended her first parenting session. She says the information she received there proved invaluable when her child was born.

A 40-day confinement period is common following a home birth, and Marcos’ youngest grandchild is still snugly inside the home, yet to see her first daylight. 

While Carla and her baby rest through this period, Marcos is providing support and encouragement, particularly around nutrition and early stimulation, which he has learnt during his early stimulation training. 

“Fathers can start teaching their children from within mother’s womb, through touch and talking to the child, even though a baby might not be able to respond to you,” Marcos explains. 

Carla says she has benefited greatly from the education sessions, particularly as a young, expectant mother at the beginning of the programme. “All the information was really new for me. It was really helpful,” she says. 

Friends of Carla’s also join the classes. Some of them are teachers at the local preschool, while others travel long distances just to participate. “We talk to each other about the programme. We’re really happy with it,” says Carla.  

Building healthy future generations 

Supporting parents to understand how a loving and nurturing environment can lead to the healthy growth and development of their children is a key part of the programme. This includes helping parents to understand the impact that malnutrition and violence can have on the development of young brains. 

“If you shout at children, they can become scared and lose their concentration. It can impact their brain development,” Marcos says. “And if you don’t give good food to your child, their bodies can be weak, and their brain development can be impacted by this, too.” 

For Juliana, the positive impact of the programme is being reflected in her reduced caseload. 

“We talk about child protection during the sessions, including child sexual abuse, and now we’re seeing the number of cases starting to drop. The community is starting to understand,” Juliana says.  

For Marcos, it’s all part of creating a positive future for his community by first strengthening families and empowering caregivers with invaluable knowledge. 

“If you teach children through violence, then they will become violent in the future. But if you show love, be gentle, hug them, and use positive words, they can follow the good example of their parents,” Marcos explains. “Parents have to love their children so they can grow up to be healthy and good people. I hope that in the future everyone in the community can know how to teach children positively.” 

The Parenting Programme is currently being piloted in Ermera and Viqueque municipalities. UNICEF and the Ministry of Social Solidarity and Inclusion hope to expand it across Timor-Leste in the near future.