One of the units in the 12 week class I teach on birth, baby care, and reproductive health, is on how children learn. I tell them about how children who are deprived of conversation in their first two years of life have a word deficit that can almost never be made up in terms of an intellectual advantage. I tell them that children are natural learners and all they need is for at least one adult in their life to take an interest in what they think and what they discover, and to encourage them in their discoveries, in order to become a life long learner and succeed in school and work. I tell them that if they are hit all the time for making mistakes they will become afraid to try, and afraid to learn. This is of course based on all the latest research on these subjects.
These things are very different for women in this culture to hear. Household violence is common, you rarely hear a child cry, because they are hit when they do. Children are not listened to, or engaged with. Their position, in the family and in the culture, is very low.
Often I hear that it’s nothing we can change. “That’s just the way it is. That’s the culture. It’s very normal for them. You will have a hard time getting them to do things differently.”
All of these things are true. But that doesn’t mean we stop trying.
Last week, we did this unit on how children learn again, for a new group of women. Only I wasn’t teaching this time. One of the older mothers who had already been through my class was now the teacher, teaching young moms what she had already been taught.
She digressed from the prescribed class material to tell this story.
“We have to try and understand our children. When I was a very young mom, I had three very small children. I would get so angry that I would beat them all the time. Like a drunk person beats someone. They would fall down on the floor and I would keep beating them after that. Now that I have been taking this class and learning these things, I wish I could go back and change what I did. Don’t do what I did to my children. Try to understand them and help them to learn.”
I don’t know if you can understand how revolutionary this is, an older experienced woman in their own culture telling them to change, telling them that if they hit their children they will regret it. *
It’s a very tiny step perhaps, but it’s a step, a very significant step in the right direction. It is possible to bring change in this fundamental area of children’s wellbeing.
Together we are making a difference.
*This mother was first in line to bring her children in for family counseling when she learned it would be available at our new women’s center, and we told her that healing is possible with the right help.