Parenting programmes are creating positive change in Papua New Guinea communities

Elementary School Teacher, Naomi Muriang
Naomi Muriang is seeing changes in her son and she is happy. Photo: UNICEF
May 15, 2023

LAE, Papua New Guinea - Humble and respectful is how Elementary School Teacher Naomi Muriang describes Emmanuel, her 14-year-old son.

But Emmanuel wasn’t always like this. His mother made some drastic changes at home almost four years ago.

“I was a rough mother before when I was raising my seven children, five of my own and two others that I adopted," Naomi recalls. "That’s many children to look after so I was harsh when disciplining them. I didn’t respect them, I mistreated them, I hit them, shouted at them and I didn’t have time for them because I was always busy. I was the boss, I gave orders and I expected everyone to follow them and if they didn’t, they had another thing coming.”

I was harsh when disciplining [my children]. I didn’t respect them, I mistreated them." - Naomi Muriang, parent

That changed when Naomi attended a two-week, Spotlight Initiative-supported Parenting for Child Development (P4CD) training course offered by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Papua New Guinea (ELCPNG) in Lae, Morobe Province. There, she learned about positive discipline, a non-violent child disciplining approach that she knew nothing about. It completely changed her attitude towards her family.

“After the training, I had a lot of regrets because my children were teenagers at that stage, and I realized the mistakes I made in their upbringing. I understood why my sons were difficult and talked back to me all the time. I could see my youngest son, Emmanuel, going down that path too. I cried for my children because I realized I had contributed to the way they were turning out and it hurt me. I apologized to my children and reconciled with them,” Naomi says.

Naomi vowed never to repeat the same mistakes. She transformed into a calm, approachable and caring parent that even her own family didn’t recognize at first. Her new attitude impacted Emmanuel, then 9, the most.

“I saw the most change in my youngest son. P4CD has changed myself and my son. He is so humble and obedient. He is doing things that I have never seen my older sons do.”

Naomi is among more than 4000 parents and caregivers to attend the P4CD programme in the past year. It is delivered by UNICEF in four provinces across Papua New Guinea and enhances parenting skills by teaching caregivers non-violent child disciplining techniques. It aims to reduce physical violence as well as aggressive, hostile and verbally abusive relationships between parents and children.

"It is so important to teach them positive behaviours... I only understood this after the training and this is key for me.” - Naomi Muriang

While there is no nationally representative data on violence against children in Papua New Guinea, several small-scale studies reveal that about three in four children experience physical violence, eight out of ten children experience emotional violence and one in two children suffer from sexual violence in their lifetime. Children’s safety, wellbeing and opportunity for development are threatened by exposure to high levels of violence and abuse in all settings.

Research shows that violent parenting and maltreatment, especially with young children, increase the risks of antisocial behaviour, drug and alcohol misuse and mental health problems as they grow up and can lead to more serious problems in adolescence.

Furthermore, the P4CD program emphasises brain development that contributes significantly to child development in the early formative years of life.

“I never understood how the brain develops. I though children were children and, in my control, but I learned that a child’s brain is like a sponge that absorbs everything that is happening around them. So when they are very young, it is so important to teach them positive behaviours and mould them to be good people. I only understood this after the training and this is key for me,” Naomi explains.

The faith-based organization, Evangelical Lutheran Church of PNG  (ELCPNG) is a key partner implementing this programme in Morobe Province, in addition to more that 10 partners around the country. It will be scaled up to reach even more families by 2023.

Like what you read? Spread the word.