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Gentle parenting: Transforming parenting in a context of violence

In the low-income urban communities of India where we work, children often grow up in a socio-cultural context of violence. Gender-based violence, neighbourhood violence, violence against children and among children is routinely seen. In a parenting context, it is not uncommon to see caretakers hit children on their heads, ears or slap them as a ‘punitive’ or ‘corrective’ measure. Our Idea is to equip caretakers of children to replace violence with gentle guidance through the medium of contextual stories and culturally appropriate imagery. Local women in communities will be oriented in gentle parenting principles and equipped with skills to create culturally appropriate stories and flannel board props and story books to share their stories.

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Manjula is a domestic worker who lives in a slum in Bengaluru. She is part of a local women's self help group (SHG). The SHG meetings are held once in two weeks in one of the members' houses. In the meeting she saves money in the SHG's bank account and seeks loans when she has a financial need. The loan is given out from the pooled savings of the members and the interest is divided among the members periodically. The SHG is an important part of her life since it is her only link to the formal financial system and saves her from the need to approach usurious money lenders for small credit needs. The SHG also plays a key role in giving her a space to voice her opinions and discuss issues with other women in her context.

Women’s self help groups (SHG) in low-income areas are a useful starting point for this intervention in a community. (In case SHGs are not available, any child related centres within communities where women gather can also be a good alternative to self-help groups). Since many of the SHG members are young mothers and several of them live in the context of violence in their homes and neighbourhoods, they would be key in designing the solution to parenting in the context of violence.

The SHGs provide the platform for discussing issues related to the context of violence and conducting orientations on replacing the culture of violence through the principles of non-violent and gentle parenting. Real life stories of violence in the environment of the child and in the parenting context are shared by the women in the SHGs. The impact of these incidents on the child and the care-takers are discussed. Then, through brain-storming and using the principles of non-violent and gentle parenting the stories are rewritten in a manner where the well-being and development of the child and caretakers are upheld. (For example, see L.R.Knost, A Tale of Two Tantrums). The SHG members debate the pros and cons of each of these approaches and integrate them into their story line. These stories are created at two levels. At one level, the stories are created to address the parenting approach and its impact. This is targeted at the parent and caretakers. The theme of the story is used to create a parallel story-line using animal characters and other culturally appropriate characters which can be used by the parents or caretakers to communicate with the children. The SHG members then create contextually relevant flannel board props and story books to illustrate the parallel story. The members are trained in creating these props and boards. These flannel board props and story books are then shared, distributed or marketed within their communities by the SHG members. The dissemination of these props and books are accompanied by sharing of the stories by the members to young mothers and other care-takers of children who can then use them for telling stories to their children.

The creation and sharing of these stories helps in opening up new possibilities in responding to their challenges in their everyday context. The shared conversations about these issues also supports the care-givers by giving them new tools to deal with the context of violence in their own lives. The flannel board props and story books can turn into a livelihood option for the SHG members who can then market their products to the external world too thereby spreading their local wisdom and culture beyond their boundaries.

Rekha is a member of an SHG is an urban slum in Bengaluru. She has the responsibility of earning for her family, cooking, cleaning and dealing with an alcoholic husband. She is constantly stressed and her interactions with her 3-year old daughter are mostly negative and violent. Her SHG discussed about the issue of parenting and violence in its bi-monthly meeting. The women in her SHG shared stories of their own challenges with violence in parenting. Rekha soon realised that she was not the only one dealing with this issue. The facilitator of the SHG who is from a local NGO showed them videos on the impact of violence on children and the principles of gentle parenting. Rekha could already see many of the impacts in her own daughter and she wanted to do something about it. In the next SHG meeting, the women did an interesting exercise. They decided to retell their stories by changing the narrative and incorporating principles of gentle parenting which they had all agreed on during the previous meeting. The meeting turned out to be the most intense SHG meeting which Rekha had ever attended. She could feel the solidarity in the room and each one trying to work with the other in dealing with their current situation and dreaming about a beautiful, kinder future for themselves and their children. The changed stories opened up new possibilities of interaction and were a beacon of hope for her and her daughter. Some of her SHG friends had been trained in making stories and props for children using the themes they had discussed. In two weeks they had prepared flannel board props of a conflict-ridden elephant family, very much like her own. The story parallelled the plot of the story they had reimagined in the SHG, but was told from the baby elephant's perspective. The SHG members who had created the props narrated the story using the flannel board props they had created. Rekha cried imagining how she was going to tell her child these stories and how it was the beginning of healing for her precious daughter and herself.

Who will benefit from this idea and where are they located?

The idea will benefit communities in low-income areas across the world, especially where there is an underlying socio-cultural context of violence with regard to parenting. The pilot program will be conducted in urban slums of India where we have facilitated the setting up of women’s self help groups (SHGs). The idea will benefit the children through increased communication and use of interactive, creative communication tools by their parents or caretakers. It will also equip the caretakers and parents with concrete tools to communicate with their children on contextually relevant themes through stories and interactive story boards. The shared conversations between SHG members, parents and children will also help in creating a shared culture of empathetic and kinder social interactions thereby transforming the culture of violence.

How could you test this idea in a quick and low-cost way right now?

Firstly, we will conduct group discussions with women in self help groups from low-income areas regarding the issue of violence and parenting to test the assumptions and to redefine the contours of the intervention. Secondly we will examine the principles of gentle parenting within a low-income context through discussions and creative means like collaborative story-building. Thirdly, we will explore the potential of flannel board props and ready-made story books as a livelihood option for women from low-income backgrounds.

What kind of help would you need to make your idea real?

We look forward to hearing experiences of people from across the globe with regard to violence and parenting. More research and practical inputs on the role of non-violent and gentle parenting in the growth and development of children and its impact in later life would be useful. Design inputs for strengthening the intervention plan for greater outreach and longer-term sustainability would be valuable. One of the aspects which needs to be strengthened is with regard to the livelihood component of the idea. How do we ensure that the poorest households can access these materials once it becomes commercialized? The second component of the idea which needs to be strengthened is how to reach out to the men in the household.

Is this an idea that you or your organization would like to take forward?

  • Yes. I am ready and interested in testing this idea and making it real in my community.

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