Positive parenting sessions improve a couple’s relationship
BATTAMBANG, Cambodia, December 2019 – A friendly, welcoming atmosphere greets visitors at the family home of Vith Saoloy, 36, and his wife Yai Chantry, 35. The couple lives happily in a small wooden house in Baydomram commune, Banan district, with their five-year-old daughter, Srey Sor, and a new baby. Srey Sor loves going to kindergarten in the local community.
Saoloy works as a construction worker in the area when he is not doing seasonal farming in rice fields, while Chantry does housework and grows vegetables at home for extra income.
Saoloy and Chantry’s parents arranged their marriage, and like most married couples in rural areas they were counselled and taught how to live as a couple. This was done by the grandmaster, elders and their parents, as well as other family members. But the couple was never taught how to take care of children.
Thus, Vith Saoloy and Yai Chantry did not understand how to nurture their children without using corporal punishment. They followed traditional patterns and prevalent cultural and social norms that allowed male family members to use violence at home. It is not uncommon for some men in Cambodia to hit their wives and children when they are angry.
Vith Saoloy did not know about children’s rights, for example the human right of every child to receive basic care and support. He never took his children to a health centre when they were sick.
“In the past, my husband never learned how to raise children,” Chantry said. “Whenever he tried to advise our child, he always failed to do so.”
Saoloy’s abusive behaviour with his child created serious conflict within the marriage, and the couple almost broke up.
“I felt so much pity for my little girl,” Chantry said. “My husband left the duty of taking care of the children to me and I did not know much about raising a child. I just did what I believed was right and followed the usual ways.”
In July 2019, Saoloy and Chantry’s family was invited by the village chief and the commune committee for women and children to join the Positive Parenting Programme, a community-based parent group. Saoloy and Chantry attended each of the 12 group-based sessions organized by officials from the District Office of Social Affairs and staff of the national non-governmental organization, Improving Cambodia’s Society through Skillful Parenting (ICS-SP). Since 2017, the Ministry of Women’s Affairs has rolled out the Positive Parenting Programme in four provinces, with support from UNICEF.
Saoloy and Chantry learned how to raise their children in a positive way by listening to the facilitators and other parents.
The training programme opened Saoloy’s eyes, and he realized that he regretted the way he had treated their child. “I’ve done a lot of things that were wrong to my children and my wife,” Saoloy said sadly. As he studied each lesson, he learned about the negative impacts of corporal punishment on children.
Since doing the Positive Parenting Programme, Saoloy has stopped being violent at home, and is committed to taking care of his wife and children, particularly his small daughter. When his daughter was sick, he took her to the health centre immediately.
Chantry is happy that her husband has changed and says he now uses positive words to praise and encourage his child.
“By the time I finished the course, I understood that my children would behave differently if I talked to and listened to them in a positive way.” Saoloy said. He has learned many things, including anger management, using positive words with children, and how to improve his relationship with his wife.
The domestic violence ended and the couple’s relationship improved. Saoloy and Chantry understand each other’s hearts and minds. They talk openly and discuss things truthfully. Their daughter has also begun to behave better, and she plays with her father. The relationship between this husband, wife and children is now very close and friendly.
Saoloy and Chantry never missed a positive parenting session, no matter how busy they were. They have even begun sharing what they learned with other parents, especially fathers, and they encourage families to join the sessions.
The couple seeks to learn more about child rights and reducing violence against children, and they help mobilize villagers to come to parenting sessions. They also helped parents who missed sessions to catch up on what they missed. Both Saoloy and Chantry recommended that the positive parenting sessions be expanded to every village across the province.
Saoloy and Chantry’s story is an example of how the Positive Parenting Programme has helped vulnerable parents and caregivers in rural areas nurture their relationship with their children and create a safer environment for them.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs developed the Positive Parenting Programme, together with various toolkits targeted at different parent groups. The toolkits were used to raise awareness of positive parenting and to increase parents’ knowledge and help them change their habits.
UNICEF provided technical and financial support to the ministry and other partners to implement the activities, so they could offer more coordinated and quality support for parents and caregivers.
Since 2018, ICS-SP has implemented the Positive Parenting Programme at the community level and has reached, cumulatively, 5,656 parents and caregivers and 17,876 children. This huge achievement was made possible with support from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).