Child upbringing and Mental Health – Nigeria

Keywords: Child upbringing, mental health, attachment, Adverse Childhood Experiences, parenting methods, Nigeria.

Introduction.

Child upbringing and mental health – Nigeria. Do the ways parents train their children predict children’s mental health? Or can poor parenting predispose to mental illness?

Behaviors of parents towards their children have a huge influence on the mental health of their children. So the mental health of parents and children are interconnected. Parental behaviors can affect the child, psychologically, socially and physically.

Mentally stable parents, practicing good parenting method, will produce children that are mentally healthy. These children will be able to cope with problems in adulthood and have a good quality of life. And they will also be able to function well at home, school and in their community.

Factors that affect upbringing.

The effects of the upbringing of a child in Nigeria depend on many factors. Some of these factors include genetic predisposition, attachment issues, parenting methods and adverse childhood experiences.

Genetic predisposition of the child.

Mental illness is inherited through genetic predispositions from parents.

There is no specific gene responsible for any mental illness, but a combination of genetic influences.

A child can have from 10% to 50% risk of inheritance of mental illness, depending on if one or both parents have mental illness. Children from parents with depressive disorders have three times risk of a mood disorder.

There is also a risk factor of inheritance if a paternal or maternal relation has mental illness.

Infant maternal attachment issues in Nigeria.

Attachment is an emotional tie between a child’s primary caregiver and the child. Most often, the primary caregiver is the mother.

Some children can attach to two caregivers at a time. So it can be the mother and the father or the mother and a domestic servant.

Attachment phase starts at the last three months of pregnancy when the baby is still in the womb. And it lasts through out the first 1 to 2 year after birth of the baby. But for some, it can extend up to 3 years.

Processes of forming a secure attachment.

To form a secure attachment the primary caregiver should provide love, time and support for the new born. And it involves interacting and connecting.

The mother must provide comfort, cuddling, and talking to the baby often. Also there should be frequent skin to skin contact between mother and baby. There should also be frequent eye to eye contact between mother and baby.

The mother must be consistently available, physically and emotionally. So there is need to spend quality time with the child, playing with child and doing things the child loves.

Attachment function:

Attachment is important to help the child have a proper development emotionally, socially and cognitively. The effects of attachment goes through into adulthood.

It also helps provide security and a means of coping with stress.

Types of attachment:
Secured attachment.

This is the proper form of attachment. This occurs when all the processes described above are fulfilled by the mother.

With secured attachment, when the child is separated from the mother, the child will cry. And when the mother returns, the child welcomes the mother.

Insecure attachment.

This has 3 subtypes. Insecure attachment occurs when there is a breach in processes described above. It comes from inconsistent care giving to the baby.

Inconsistent care can be due the mother working long hours away from home. Mothers with mental health challenges can provide inconsistent care giving.

Mental health conditions are increasing among Nigerian mothers, according to research. And the common mental health problem among Nigerian mothers is depression. Depressed mothers are emotionally withdrawn or behave negatively to their babies, leading to insecure attachments.

Even the domestic servants employed to take care of the child in Nigeria, are either under aged or are changed frequently. Majority of these domestic helps are strangers who do not care about the baby. And some have mental health challenges.  Thus all these will lead to inconsistent care giving.

Placing these babies early into non quality daycare services is also a risk factor for insecure attachment. Most of these day care services have caregivers that are not adequately trained. And these caregivers are frequently changed.

Many of these infants spend long hours at these daycare centers, where they spend more than 30 hours in a week. Many spend 40 hours in a week at the daycare.

The different types of insecure attachment are –

Avoidant attachment. A child with this type of attachment does not cry when the mother leaves. The child prefers being with strangers than with the mother.

Anxious attachment. Here, even though the child will cry when separated from the mother, the child gets angry when the mother returns.

Disorganized attachment. Here, the child displays a combination of avoidant and anxious attachment disorders.

Parenting methods in Nigeria.

There are different types of parenting methods, but 4 types stand out the most globally, including Nigeria.

Authoritative Parenting.

Characterized by a high degree of emotional warmth, supervision and acceptance from the parents toward the child. Here, the parents respond well to the child’s need, but demand mature behavior from the child. It provides support to the child and has clearly defined rules with consistent child disciplinary methods. It believes in open communication between parents and child.

This has been shown to be the most beneficial and leads to standard and normal development of the child. It also gives the child some autonomy, and produces little or no symptoms of psychological distress.

Authoritarian Parenting.

The parents use hostility and harsh punishment to control and gain compliance from the child. There is no open communication between the parent and the child.  And the rules are not clear and can be inconsistent. But the parents expect obedience and conformity to these rules. The parents provide too much supervision on the child. Psychological support to the child is minimal and so is the response to the child’s needs.

This type of parenting predisposes the child to a high level of psychological distress. The Nigerian culture permits this type of parenting practice.

Indulgent or Permissive Parenting.

In this type of parenting, the parents are very responsive to the child’s needs. There are little or no rules and the parents make little demands on the child’s behavior. So the child is very free to behave as he/she wants. There is open communication.

A child raised in such a family feels independent and insecure. There is a high risk of psychological distress.

Neglectful Parenting.

Parents in this family are self centered, and they seldom practice child rearing.  They do not provide psychosocial warmth, no guidance and no rules for the child.

The child raised in such a family has a high risk of psychological distress, like delinquency, etc.

Adverse Childhood Experiences.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are negative issues a child is exposed to while growing up. Unfortunately, the child experiences these in the hands of his parents who are supposed to show love and protection. Any of these experienced frequently, can predispose to mental illness.

There are different types of ACEs, a Nigerian child can be exposed to.

Physical abuse:

Corporal punishment is an accepted disciplinary measure in Nigeria.

It entails beating the child, either with the hand or with objects such as belt, sticks, etc. And the child could also be slapped or given a knock on the head, kicked, burnt with iron, etc.

Physical neglect:

This could also come about as a disciplinary measure, or due to poverty. Nigeria is saddled with unemployment and under employment, may not provide for the child.

It entails denying the child basic necessities like food, clothing, school books, medical attention, etc.

Psychological abuse:

This is another culturally accepted disciplinary measure in Nigeria.

The child is called all sorts of names, like idiot, stupid, good for nothing, goat, olodo, etc.

Psychological neglect:

Some children feel unloved by their parents. Many Nigerian parents culturally do not believe in expressing their love verbally to the child. While some will not even express it in any form.

Sexual abuse:

The prevalence of child sexual abuse in Nigeria is not fully known, due to secrecy. But it is estimated to be between 5% to 38% across the different parts of Nigeria.

Separation from parents:

Parental death, separation and divorce are risk factors. And divorce rate in Nigeria is increasing. Parental incarceration also affects the child psychologically.

Parental mental illness:

Despite the genetic predisposition, a child raised in a family with a mentally ill parent, feel a sense of loss. The longing for the parent gives the child emotional pain.

Such a child becomes parentified.  And the child not only takes care of the siblings, but also bears the burden of caring for the ill parent. In Nigeria, this most often will affect the child’s academics. Also not knowing what the ill parent will do next causes the child fear and anxiety.

Parental substance abuse disorder:

When parent(s) abuse substance, poor parenting methods will be used in training the child. And in some of these families, one of the children, especially the eldest may become parentidfied. This can predispose the child to mental illness.

Community violence:

Violence is rampant in most communities in the present Nigeria. From the north to south, from east to west, communities are affected by Boko Haram insurgency and farmer/herder conflicts.

Other types of violence include kidnappings, incessant arrests with police brutalities, community boundary clashes, etc. These have been on for years. So it is common for a child to have a long standing witness of community violence.

Child upbringing and mental health in Nigeria.

So, does the method of raising a child, affect the mental health of he child?

The simple answer is YES. No one can predict who is carrying a genetic predisposition to mental illness in Nigeria. But the parenting methods that many Nigerian parents use in training their children tilt more towards negative practices. In the modern society today, parents spent less time with their children, from birth through toddler age. And this can predispose to attachment disorder.

The Nigerian culture permits the authoritarian form of parenting, where there is unquestioning child compliance to harsh parental authority. This has lead to child abuse being a norm in child disciplinary measures. And the present poor economic situations in the country, predisposes many parents to physically neglect their children. With the enormous amount of wide spread violence in the country, a child is predisposed to being exposed to multiple sources of it.

Unfortunately, many Nigerian children are exposed to multiple forms of ACEs. Thus with all these, a child who has a genetic predisposition, will easily breakdown with any mental illness in adulthood. And these include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, etc. The child may even become a victim or a perpetrator of bullying.

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