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The parent-child bond, crucial to the development of children facing malnutrition

Health Rehabilitation

HI's actions for children experiencing malnutrition are based on the emotional bond between parents and children. Amina, the mother of a baby who has benefited from HI's activities, tells us about her experience.

Amina Gapili and her daughter Zenaba take part in recreational activities.

January 2024, Hôpital Notre Dame des Apôtres in N’Djamena. Amina Gapili and her daughter Zenaba take part in recreational activities as part of HI's work with malnourished children. | © Kadjara Diontol / HI

In 2021, an estimated 52 million children under the age of 5 were too thin for their height worldwide, and a further 155 million were too short for their age. In Chad, HI offers a range of interventions for malnourished children and their parents: stimulation therapy for malnourished children delivered by our physical therapists, and psychological support, including group recreational activities, provided by our psychological support workers.
More specifically, HI’s rehabilitation specialists have developed an approach called stimulation therapy for malnourished children, which, when combined with nutritional care, medical care and psychological support, gives them the best chances of survival, greater resilience and improves their future quality of life.

UNICEF/WHO/WB Joint Child Malnutrition Estimates (JME) 2021.

The emotional bond – essential during sessions 

The quality of the relational bond is an essential factor in individual stimulation therapy sessions and in the group recreational activities organized as part of psychological support. Young children are dependent on adults, but so is their development. So, all the exploratory activities – play, physical contact and discovery of the environment - are necessary for children's neurological maturity and psycho-affective development and depend on the bonds they have with their caretakers. Interventions are therefore proving effective not only for the development of malnourished children but also for improving parents' ability to stimulate their children and help them grow.

“The interaction between the parents and children is very important. Not only does it strengthen the bond between them, it also allows the children to feel more secure and to fully immerse themselves in play. It's also crucial because it motivates the parents to continue to stimulate their children as much as possible and to be attentive to their needs," explains Nestor Sainkam - HI Psychological Support Officer.

The aim of these sessions is to help establish a relationship of trust so that the children can explore the world around them in complete safety. Therefore, a good quality relationship provides a solid foundation for the proposed activities and games and is the key to successful treatment.

Support for Zenaba and her mother, Amina 

Amina and her daughter, Zenaba, live in Chad. Zenaba experienced severe acute malnutrition with medical complications. The little girl was hospitalized for several weeks in a Therapeutic Feeding Unit and then, after recovering, she was transferred to the Outpatient Feeding Unit in the same hospital. Mother and daughter then received psychological support and stimulation therapy sessions as part of a program to strengthen the parent-child bond.

“Zenaba was 16 months old when she began the sessions. Before malnutrition, she had a very good relationship with her mother, but during her stay in the hospital, she reacted less and less to her mother's stimulation and interacted less with her brothers. After a few sessions of stimulation therapy for malnourished children and recreational activities, and especially after discussions with her parents on positive parenting, Zenaba and her mother were able to work well together. Today, Amina calls us from time to time to tell us how well Zenaba is progressing, not only socially but also physically, cognitively, linguistically and sensorially", adds Nestor Saikam.

Amina and Zenaba participated in stimulation therapy sessions with HI physical therapists, and then went to the teams in charge of psychological support for recreational activities. After an individual interview aimed at strengthening the positive parent-child relationship, and a number of activity sessions (presentations on positive parenting, drawings, games, etc.), Amina expressed her thanks: 

"I'm very happy about everything HI has done for me and my daughter. I have learned a lot about the importance of the affection and attention that a parent should give to their child. These activities have given me a better understanding of my daughter's needs. Today, I'm able to give her all the love and attention she needs to thrive.”

The young mother has now learned about positive parenting, the main pillars of positive education, and the impact of play, contact and shared discovery in stimulating her child and supporting her growth. 

The RIMSCASSA project provides rehabilitation, inclusive humanitarian action, mental health and psychosocial support, as well as a stimulation therapy for malnourished children in sub-Saharan Africa. The project aims to increase access to basic and specific services for survivors of improvised explosive devices and explosive remnants of war, people with disabilities, malnourished children and people in psychological distress among crisis-affected populations. It provides direct support to 4,800 malnourished children who benefit from stimulation therapy for malnourished children and psychological support, and 180 people with physical disabilities who participate in targeted rehabilitation services.


Date published: 05/06/24


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