Nigerian Journal of Psychiatry

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Child Rearing Practices in Nigeria: Implications for Mental Health

O O Omigbodun, MU Olatawura


Understanding traditional child rearing practices in the Sub-Saharan African region and the changes that have occurred over time are important, especially as this region is undergoing rapid transformation. Child rearing practices that promote mental health and ensure survival through the years as well as negative aspects that have detrimental effects also need to be identified. Concerns about the breakdown in traditional child rearing practices in Sub-Saharan Africa as well as the inadequate use of information on child rearing practices for programme creation have been expressed.

To identify temporal trends in child rearing practices in Sub-Saharan Africa and their implications for child mental health, using Nigeria as an example.

Using the literature, temporal trends in child rearing practices and beliefs related to conception, birth, nutrition, weaning, attitudes toward children were examined. The implications of these observations for child mental health are highlighted.

Cultures in sub-Saharan Africa value children highly. Healthy practices include confinement following delivery, breast feeding, carrying the child on the back and sleeping with the child. Taboos against pregnant women eating nutritious foods, delivery in traditional healers' homes, unhygienic care of the umbilical cord, food taboos, hierarchical or gender biased food distribution have a negative effect on child mental health. There are suggestions that child fostering and labour may also have negative consequences.

Through policy and aggressive health education, traditional child rearing practices in sub-Saharan Africa that promote child mental health should be encouraged and built into health programmes while negative practices should be actively discouraged. There is also an urgent need for further research.

Keywords: Child Rearing, Nigeria; Mental Health

Nigerian Journal of Psychiatry Vol. 6 (1) 2008: pp. 10-15
AJOL African Journals Online