12 March 2015

Raising parents: Helping Mongolians become better parents

Ganbat with his big brown eyes 
©UNICEF/Mongolia/2015/Zetty Brake

Ganbat is a small two-year-old with big, expressive brown eyes and short black hair. His mother Enktsetseg, 42, says loves his older sister, five. “He follows her around and copies what she does,” she says. "He does not speak a lot, but he is very good at saying 'mother' and 'I love you'". 

The family of six lives in a small, crowded apartment in Nalaikh 40 kilometres east of Mongolia's capital city Ulaanbaatar. In addition to Ganbat and Enkhtsetseg, Batmyagmar, father 46, Ganchimeg, sister 21, Ganbold, brother 14 and Gantsetseg, sister five, live in the apartment. The family is currently supporting themselves on welfare payments, as Batmyagmar recently lost his job and Enkhtsetseg is planning to be a stay-at-home mother until Ganbat goes to kindergarten.

In 2013 Enkhtsetseg attended a parenting training organised by the Child and Family Development Center and the local health department. "I found out about the training from a friend and attended," she says. "Even though I had been a parent for 19 years, I learnt a lot of new things at the training and I am using my knowledge to change my behaviour and be a better parent.”

Enkhtsetseg is very passionate about the training and the positive impact it has had on her family. She explains how she is using what she learnt to improve the family's nutrition, making the home safer to prevent injuries and improving family relationships. "I never thought about how I talked with my husband affected my children," she says. "I now know how to communicate in a positive way with him, that is better for my children".

One of the biggest impacts has been on Ganbat. Before the training he was underweight and the family was concerned about him. His mother says “All my other babies were big and chubby, but not Ganbat. At the training I learnt how to make nutritious food for him and I do it at home.” As Enkhtsetseg is still breastfeeding Ganbat, she also learnt that her nutrition affected Ganbat and is improving it.

Following the training Enkhtsetseg participated in a parenting group organised by her community's social worker. At the group the parents would share their parenting experiences and support each other. "It is very important for parents to come together," she says. "Often families are facing the same issues, being able to talk about it and learn from others who have gone through the same thing is very helpful".

Changing Approach to Training

Ganbat and his mum Eknhtsetseg 
©UNICEF/Mongolia/2015/Zetty Brake

The parenting trainings that Enkhtsetseg attended focused on child development from the ages of zero to six.

Narmandakh, a project officer at the Child and Family Development Center, spearheaded the training program in Nalaikh. Working together with the local health department she organised seven trainings for the town, which over 250 parents attended.

"The trainings take a more holistic approach to child development and will increase child survival and provide children with the opportunity to grow and thrive," Narmandakh says. "There is a lot of interest in the training and it is having a real impact on parents and children."

"Parents are telling us that they are engaging more with their children after the training," she explains. "They are also saying their attitude towards their sons crying has changed. Before they would not let their boys cry, telling them that boys don't cry. Now they understand that he is crying for a reason and they try to find out why".

Narmandakh says the story of one family stood out. "A mother of a five year old boy attended the training and says what she learnt has changed her family. Before the training when her son demanded something, she would give him whatever he wanted to avoid him crying. Now he has learnt yes and no, and he is behaving better. He has boundaries and they are looking forward to him going to school next year".

Building a child friendly community

Ganbat with his mum and siblings, Ganbold and Gantsetseg 
©UNICEF/Mongolia/2015/Zetty Brake

According to UNICEF Community Development Specialist Mandal Urtnasan how parents parent makes a big difference in the well-being of children. “Good parenting practices can prevent the largest causes of death for children, such as pneumonia and child injuries,” Mandal says. “It also helps children develop so they can reach their full potential. The training helps parents give their children the best start in life”.

Mandal says UNICEF helped develop the training advocating strongly for a holistic approach to child development to be taken. "We brought together people from a number of sectors with the aim to getting them to create a training program for parents that looks at a range of topics," she says. "This is a new approach to training in Mongolia. In the past trainings have just focused on one area of child development, rather than a number of topics. The response from implementing partners, such as the Child and Family Development Centre, has been very positive. They especially like the holistic approach the training has taken".

"The training are part of a larger strategy to protect and promote child rights within communities, at a local level," she explains. "Efforts like the training foster community awareness of the need to provide ongoing care and support to children, which is a right that all children have. It is a part of an ongoing effort by UNICEF to create child friendly communities and cities, where policies, laws and budgets reflect child rights.”

"The local authorities in Nalaikh have committed to the programme by providing training venues, human resources and other support," Mandal says. "But more importantly they are really committed to creating a child friendly community, by looking and supporting efforts to improve the lives of children and promote and protect child rights at the local level. We hope that other communities in Mongolia will follow Nalaikh's lead."

For Enkhtsetseg and her family they will continue using that she learnt at the training. “I would like attend more trainings and learn more.There are many families in Nalaikh that can benefit from this training," she says. "We can all learn how to be better parents”.

Zetty Brake is a Communications and External Relations Officer with UNICEF in Mongolia

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