Chrang Chamreh village, Ruessei Kaev district, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 2020–Dressed in traditional clothing for Muslim women, a small group of women sits in chairs and on wooden steps in front of their houses chatting happily. They are sharing stories and supporting each other to solve the problems they face daily as parents. Some talk about how to care for their children, while others mention tips for dealing with behaviour. This kind of casual conversation became a routine practice in mid-2019, when the Positive Parenting Programme was introduced.
Ms. Sless Sala, 39, is a gas seller and mother of children, a boy aged 10 and a girl aged 5. Since attending the Positive Parenting Programme, Salas has changed the way she disciplines her children.
Before the classed, Salas would shout at her children, blaming them and threatening them if they misbehaved or did not follow her instructions. Bu now, Salas has learned how to use positive discipline. Whenever her children spend too much time playing a video game instated of doing their homework, she asks them to agree to a 20-minute time limit. She practices positive discipline consistently and has noticed that her children have started behaving well at home. Their school grades are improving too.
Housewife Mom Sam Ath, 48, has two children. Sam Ath said that while all parents wanted their children to grow up and become good people, most parents did not know that making children feel scared and afraid was not a good form of discipline. Sam Ath learned about effective ways to raise children when she attended several positive parenting classes at the district hall late last year.
Another woman, Mary, 45, explained that the Muslim community raised children based on norms passed down through families. These norms carry on traditions and culture throughout generations. Before attending the parenting sessions, Mary thought parenting was a simple task and that there was no need to pay much attention, but she found that there were important skills parents needed to learn, skills that make a big difference to children.
Parents and caregivers in this community often spend their free time together at the community centre where they can get peer-to-peer support and help each other to improve parenting practices.
With the aim of reducing violence against children and unnecessary family separation, since 2017 the Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MoWA) has been raising awareness among parents and caregivers at the community level through the Positive Parenting Strategy.
MoWA developed positive parenting toolkits which targeted various parent groups. Toolkit Level 1 provided support to parents who were seeking, willing and interested in learning positive parenting skills. Toolkit Level 2 offered consecutive sessions on training groups of selected parents, guardians or caregivers. These participants must attend every training session.
In 2019, Ruessei Kaev district was chosen as one of the new coverage sites in Phnom Penh where MoWA implemented the programme through the Department of Women’s Affairs (DoWA), the Phnom Penh Municipality and the District Office of Women’s Affairs.
Parents, guardians and caregivers from different communities and Muslim groups, including Sless Salas, Mom Sam Ath and Mary were invited to participate in sessions from the Level 1 Toolkit.
This made a significant difference to the whole community. After attending the official sessions at the Ruessei Kaev district hall, the parents spent time at the village centre discussing, reflecting and sharing what they had learned, and putting it into practice every day.
Sless Salas has come a long way with her parenting. “Before, I used to threaten or beaten my children for any naughty behaviour,” she said. “For example, when they did not listen to me and played too much or insisted on more money for buying cookies or little snacks. I did not know what to do or how to handle it, but to beat or just shout at them.”
When Salas attended her positive parenting session she was not convinced at all when the facilitators talked about the importance of raising children with love and encouragement, rather than using violence.
Her ears heard the facilitators’ explanations, but her mind was ignoring them, and she simply disagreed with what was being taught. “I told myself that I must be strict with children, otherwise they will not listen or respect me,” Salas said.
After a while, Salas would see her neighbours getting together to talk about positive parenting matters. One day, she joined them. People shared good things that had happened with their children after they had used tips from the positive parenting training. Salas decided to try using what she learned from her peers, and she began to treat her children with love and care.
“Now, whenever my children ask to play video games or want money to buy unhealthy snacks, I listen and pay more attention to them. I wait until they finish, then I ask their reasons and offer them alternative options. Most of the time we end up with an agreement or solution,” Salas said.
Salas’s efforts are paying off and good things have started happening. “My children listen to me more and follow my instructions,” she said. “They behave well at home and their school grades are getting better.”
With UNICEF support, MoWA trained 6,958 parents (2,486 fathers) in Toolkit Level 1 from September 2018 to December 2019. The total number of parents trained in Toolkit Level 2 has reached 1,073 (33 fathers) largely as a result of the generous contributions of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
In 2019, MoWA and non-government partners assessed the different modalities being implemented to review their effectiveness and efficiency, and the Positive Parenting Programme was integrated in the Cambodian Gender Strategic Plan, Neary Rattanak V (2019-2023). MoWA will scale up implementation of the Positive Parenting Programme for every level from 2020 onward.