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How adults’ behaviour can affect children

Social workers and psychologists have always been interested in how parents affect their child’s development, but finding the definate cause and effect links between the specific actions of parents and the later behaviour of children is very difficult.

While the cause and effect is impossible to prove, this blog shows how children’s cognitive and social wellbeing can be affected by parents’ behaviour but how kindness and the right psychological support can help a child recover.

Break down of family life

Bwanbale* was 6 years old and lived in a suburb of Jinja – with his parents and two sisters. Bwanbale’s parents operated a bar where they used to sell alcohol, but they used to drink it themselves and lock the children in the home and come back drunk.

When drunk they abused the children physically and emotionally. The children thought their parents wanted to chase them from the house or kill them to make their lives flexible and free from responsibility. This prompted local the village members to hold a meeting with this family so they could find ways of making the parents responsible and to take good care of their children so they could be raised safely. However Bwanbale’s father continued with the abuse which made the relationship between the father and children very difficult.

Missing his mother’s love

Their mother decided to separate from the dad and moved to Soroti (an eastern part of Uganda) with Bwanbale’s younger sister, so he remained with his father and his elder sister. Unfortunately their mother said something which made Bwanbale feel unloved and not cared for. She said ‘’I will come and take your elder sister and leave you with your abusive father’’.

In Africa it is traditionally believed that a male child is has a greater biological attachment to the paternal clan. That is why the mother promised to come, pick the sister, and leave Bwanbale with the father.

Life became harder and more challenging for Bwanbale. As soon as his mother left, Bwanbale’s father re-married and his new stepmother was not willing to listen and respond to his needs. This caused Bwanbale further emotional abuse, neglect, stigma, discrimination and lack of parental care.  He felt there was nowhere he could happily live because he had lost interest in everything after being treated like this by his parents.

Running away and meeting S.A.L.V.E. International

Bwanbale felt he could not live like this anymore and decide to run away to the neighbours for survival and self-comfort where he used to admire other children who were always happy with their parents. They accommodated him until a village meeting sat and Bwanbale was referred to the local authority. Bwanbale felt a little relieved but could not feel safe as the new home was near his father’s, but he still wished his mother would come and take him like she promised his elder sister.

Such touching words prompted the local council to refer Bwanbale’s case to Jinja police station because he wouldn’t to go back to his father and stepmother after the trauma he had suffered. Bwanbale had developed depression, anxiety, stress and mood issues and if ever anyone said they he would be reunited with his father, Bwanbale would run miles.

Bwanbale was eventually referred to S.A.L.V.E. International’s Halfway Home where he received more psychological support to help him recover in a safe, loving environment.  Bwanbale’s well-being increased with help from the friends and staff at the home and by helping him to cope with the trauma and other challenges he had faced.

S.A.L.V.E. put into action ways of re-integrating Bwanbale into his father’s family (by way of his brother) and also provided counselling for the family to help them through this process. This was because the mother did not feel able to provide for him.

So Bwanbale went to live with his loving uncle who is taking good care of him and helping to re-build and restore the relationship with his father slowly and safely from a distance. We were so happy when we found Bwanbale in school on one of our latest follow-ups, as his Uncle really loves the boy and has paid his school fees to help him to study and grow up well.

Thanks to this kindness we believe that Bwanbale is going to have a happy life now and won’t need to run away again.

*Bwanbale’s name has been changed to a fake name in this public forum in line with our child protection policy.

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