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Reciprocal nurturing the importance of building a secure relationship between parent and child

By Monja Boonzaier

Early Childhood Education is my passion and my dream is to develop a ground-breaking Early Childhood Educational training program, unique to the South African culture. As Founding Director of Hamba Bamba Funda (HBF), my work has evolved over the past 4 years from personal direct community work in 2018, to a non-profit organisation in 2019. A very successful 7-month Pilot project was completed in 2021 in Kliptown, Soweto (An informal settlement in the heart of Johannesburg) Our program is currently being accredited through The Sector Education and training Authority of South Africa (SETA). A dream is slowly turning into a reality!

Woven into the work that we do in Early Childhood Education in underprivileged communities, are principles of Asset Based Community Development (ABCD), trauma specific approaches; such as the work of Gabor Mate (Childhood trauma expert) and Dr Stephen Porges’s Polyvagal Theory which deals with the science of safety, Somatic movement practices such as The Feldenkrais Method®, Chava Shelhav Child’Space Method, Postural Integration® and SomaSensing™.

An essential part of HBF’s work is to pay attention to the young mother’s need for support, trust and to create a safe space to share and explore questions they might have about what they could do with their own lives or addressing concerns about physical or socio-emotional development of their child.

One of the biggest challenges these mothers are facing is how to connect and build on having a positive and healthy relationship with their children when they live their day to day lives in a constant state of survival.

Babies are born with a blueprint to help us connect. When an adult is faced with the responsibility of taking care of a child, it can become very overwhelming. Especially if they are in a survival mode (Fight or Flight), like the mothers in Kliptown. They lose the ability to connect with their child, as most of them are still so young and they themselves need nurturing/love and support. The survival response takes the mothers into action where their nervous system stays on constant high alert. Imagine for a moment: lying in a shack (shelter) with your child/ren every night wondering if someone will come to break in and steal all your belongings, afraid of violence or thinking about where to get your next meal from. These mothers are constantly tuned in to sounds of danger and not sounds of connection. Their voice frequency may shift from soft to being confrontational and loud, their facial expression may shift from neutral to angry and their bodies become stiff, rigid or fidgety. When the nervous system is in dysregulation it makes us disconnect from ourselves and another, in this case the mothers disconnect from themselves and their children.

Being able to engage with a baby through gentle and purposeful touch whilst making eye contact and observing how their expression can shift from frozen to alive makes one feel seen. When offering a toy and seeing how the baby respond by reaching and grasping for it her/himself makes one feel appreciated, accepted and trusted. Witnessing an entire being coming alive with total bodily expression and movement whilst singing a song makes one feel heard.

What an incredible privilege to be part of this process of reciprocal nurturing where sensitive attunement between parent and child facilitates resilience to move through life’s daily challenges.

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