The name “Mamma Zamma” means to try hard to change the circumstances for your children and this is exactly what Child Welfare Tshwane envisaged when we developed this development programme for mothers and children.
We often find mothers who did not reach their full potential, owing to the limitations of the milieu in which they grew up, and they in turn are not equipped to develop the potential of their own children.
Parents often do not know how to “switch on” their developing child’s brain and respond to the toddler’s natural curiosity with harsh control or lack of interest.
The goal of Mamma Zamma is to bring elements of enjoyment and involvement back into the parent/child relationship. Parenting is hard work, with lots of repetition and little short-term satisfaction for the parent. Many parents and primary care-givers “tune-out” when children attempt to get the adults involved in their activities and play.
Their lack of response, however, means that parents miss out on a lot of valuable experiences with their children that will be stimulating for the child and will strengthen the relationship between the parent and the child.
The programme consists of sessions aimed at developing the relationship between the parent and the child during the development phase of 3-6 years. The aspects covered include cognitive stimulation (encouraging the child to think), child and parental guidance and support and developing and strengthening the bond between the primary care-giver.
Bonding is facilitated through three input levels, namely touch, trust, and feeling. Touch activities develop appropriate physical and emotional closeness between the mother and the child; trust activities develop the experiential value of the parent/child relationship through deepening the level of trust between them (the child fosters the feeling that the “parent will be there for them”); and tell activities develop the parent’s level of comprehension of the child’s needs and accomplishments by encouraging positive verbal praise and warm emotional comments.
Bonding is the relationship glue between the child and parent or primary care-giver. It keeps families together and by building a strong relationship with your child, you create more glue to make this bond stronger. This gives the child the assurance that even is he or she makes mistakes, they will be loved for who they are. Children who feel loved and have a strong sense of belonging will bounce back and try again if they make mistakes.
The personal growth of the mothers and children are measured mostly through self-evaluation, but the facilitator also keep process notes and reflection on which parts of the session worked and which not. Often support-groups form in communities so that care-givers and children who have completed the programme can continue to give support to each other.
The programme is offered in the community so that the mothers and children are not inconvenienced through travel and we try as far as possible to use everyday items and materials for activities, thus making it easy for everybody to participate. Lessons also contain three segments, namely an activation (including basic numeracy, colours, shapes and concepts), relate (activities to develop the bond between mother/carer and child which includes touch, trust and tell) and empower (a section in which parental guidance and support is facilitated within the metaphor of building a Kid-safe house).
Anomalies are used to explain somewhat challenging concepts like responsibility, independence, support, structure, socialisation and a safe environment. A house is for example used in this instance where the floor is the basic needs and love a child can expect. The walls are the discipline and structure, support and engagement and the roof represent the responsibility.
By explaining it this way we also assist parents to meet the basic needs of their children, which are food, shelter, clothing and care. Children are totally dependent on their parents and care-givers for their wellbeing and safety. They need balanced meals to develop and grow healthy and strong and parents are taught what balanced and healthy meals consist of. Good hygiene is very important so that children don’t get sick. The parent and child are taught the importance of keeping their bodies and the environment clean. During this process, the facilitator also follow-up on the immunisation status of the child and make sure that clinic appointments are kept.
The safety of children is also emphasised. The programme highlights safety in the house and specifically refers to the storage of dangerous chemicals, cleaning material and other harmful items. Parents are encouraged to also share their fears about the safety of their children and the facilitator then assist them with a plan to make the home environment safer.
Mamma Zamma is also aimed at increasing the parent’s involvement with the child. Parents need to understand that they are their children’s favourite toy – they will much rather spend time with the parent than with anything or anybody else. Children perceive their own worth as good when their parents spend time with them and are involved in their lives. When a parent is interacting emotionally, physically and on a thinking level with the child, the child will experience this as engagement. When a parent engages with the child, the child will be fully responsive to the parent or care-giver. We often see this when an only child spends a lot of time in the company of the parent(s) or other adult company and thrives on the attention and inclusion.
Parents are also assisted to be mindful of their own level of frustration and are encouraged to cool off before disciplining the child. When you are too angry it is difficult to stay in control of the situation and someone might get hurt. To manage frustrations, the facilitator will encourage the mammas to set a basic routine in the house, get the children to help with age-appropriate chores and to set rules in the house. This helps to create a peaceful and harmonious home in which children will respond positively to predictable routine and structure. This all makes a child feel safe!
The programme also assists parents with the skill of talking with their children rather than to their children. Communication is a two-way street which requires listening and responding and it is important that both the parent and the child can do so. We encourage parents to share with children what they are thinking and feeling – in a language that the child will understand. In this process children learn social and emotional behaviour and the skill of effective communication.
Mamma Zamma is available to all people who are interested to develop the relationship between themselves and their children and we have found that it works best in groups as people share experiences and form support groups to monitor each other as well. All of this is aimed at creating better circumstances for children to live in, so they can grow and develop to their full potential.
Families trapped in survival mode can learn how to enjoy the relationship with their children, be better parents and see that their children develop despite the challenges they face. It helps to keep families together as there are structure and routine in the home. And it means that children will not be abandoned, but loved and nurtured.
For more information, please contact Child Welfare Tshwane on 012-4609236 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.