Million Ways to Nurture

Oct 24 , 2020
By Kidist Yidnekachew

Everyone seems to have an opinion on how other people’s children should be raised. They swear they know what is best for the children and even insist on making sure their advice is taken and applied.

No doubt, Ethiopians mean good when they do this. It is meant out of care. No matter, it sometimes becomes annoying. It is not just neighbours caring enough to discipline children. In fact, this does not occur often anymore, with parents being more protective of the people their children come into contact with and neighbours being more cognizant of the distance they need to keep.

The annoying part is that the intervention tips for raising children people fire our way fail to respect tact, and neither are they helpful. Take my son's paediatrician. Her job is to check if he is healthy and just that. But she gives unwarranted advice about everything else except the specific questions I have for her. This is why these days my Google search engine is full of results such as, "how to put your baby to sleep," "how to know if you baby is attached to you," "how to teach your baby self-soothing."

Maybe being a first-time parent is what is making me read too much into the issue. But I have often found that there is no dearth of answers and perspectives to such questions.

Take American-German psychologist Erik Erikson's psychosocial stages of development. Each child goes through eight of them. For instance, the first stage, from birth to 18 months, is a formative period for developing a predilection for either trust or mistrust. If infants receive reliable and consistent care from their primary caregivers, they tend to develop a sense of trust for the world around them. If this stage is completed successfully, then the virtue acquired will be hope. But if mistrust is developed, infants will grow to be fearful or afraid of the world around them.

Let us also not forget Sigmund Freud's theories, which are unproven, if not fantastical. Most of us have probably come across it. For instance, poor development of the first stage, which has to do with the mouth part of an infant, manifests itself in fixations such as smoking, overeating or overconsumption of alcohol.

How about the Ferber method, where children are left to cry for time intervals before comforting them?

That way they learn to self soothe and sleep independently, it is claimed. But it is hard to handle watching and hearing one’s children burst into tears even for a few minutes. More crucially, we have a culture specifically negating such detachment, often to the detriment of the self-sufficiency of children.

Parents are often interrupting children's learning and do not allow them to do things on their own, which later creates emotional dependency. Children would grow up often looking for confirmation and validation for the things they do. We are also afraid of losing the leash on our children. Thus, we keep them from exploring their surroundings.

At the same time, we are great at teaching our children manners and etiquette that the rest of the world would find conservative and traditional. For instance, it is usually frowned upon to brush one’s hair or just groom in the living room. I, having been conditioned by the social forces passed along to me, happen to like such etiquette as it seems justified. There is a reason why hair is not combed in the living room; it is because a strand of hair could find its way into food.

Ultimately, all of our attempts to shape children in a certain way might be for naught. I was standing in a queue waiting for a taxi the other day when I had this conversation with an older guy who was standing behind me. We talked about raising children and if there was a right way of doing it.

“You can't really control the individuals your children grow up to become,” he said. “Even if you do everything right by them, they might turn out to be bad.”

Even if we teach them manners, when they go to school, they might meet other children who are raised in a completely different way and diverge significantly in their life path. They may forget what they have been taught.

In the end, it does not really matter, and we should not blame ourselves or feel like we have failed them. While there is a good argument to be made on the effects of the environment on children beyond their immediate family, nurture in a household does matter. The things we instill in them at a young age, the examples we set through our own actions, lays the foundation for the person they will become tomorrow.

Children are like plants. Nurtured with care and loving, they have a greater chance of turning up fine.

PUBLISHED ON Oct 24,2020 [ VOL 21 , NO 1069]

Kidist Yidnekachew is interested in art, human nature and behaviour. She has studied psychology, journalism and communications and can be reached at (

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