It takes a village to raise a child

Blog post by Jane Prothero, Headteacher, Bradford Christian School

In 1996 Hillary Clinton, the wife of the President of the United States, published a book on children and family values entitled “It Takes a Village”. The advert for the book says she ‘chronicled her quest—both deeply personal and, in the truest sense, public—to help make our society into the kind of village that enables children to become smart, able, resilient adults.’

However, this proverb originated from the Nigerian Igbo and Yoruba communities; it is echoed all across the world and exists in many languages, acknowledging the importance of community, or a group of people, in raising children. In Nigerian culture, children are considered a blessing from God for the whole community. Other African proverbs have similar themes – for example in Tanzania there is a Sukuma proverb “One knee does not bring up a child”.

The multiple uses of this Nigerian proverb and similar other African proverbs show their timeliness and relevancy in today’s world.

Rev. Joseph G. Healey, M.M. (1998) described African culture as one which ’emphasizes the values of family relationships, parental care, self-sacrificing concern for others, sharing, and even hospitality… close to the Biblical worldview as seen in scripture texts related to unity and cooperation.

However, caring for one another’s children is not exclusive to Africa – it is embedded in so many cultures and communities, and although it’s outworking may look different.

Raising a child requires more than just a parent. There can be many individuals and professionals who have significant roles to play in helping to raise a child, which could include combinations of guardians, siblings, grandparents, aunties, uncles, teachers, midwives, doctors, neighbours, friends, religious leaders… the list goes on.

‘The village’ in the proverb naturally becomes a community of people who have a shared responsibility in the development of a child. Through caring for each other, building each other up and holding each other accountable, there are benefits that include exposing children to a variety of knowledge, experience and world views. It enables them to learn not just about themselves, but the world they live in. They can learn how to interact, communicate and build relationships.

In a post-pandemic world it has been challenging to re-establish such communities, even in a school context. Families became more insular in a locked-down world when interacting with others was limited for extended periods of time.

This generation of children can say they grew up with social media, and whilst every child is different, as a whole, this generation is starting from a level much less connected to self and much more used to comparing themselves to others than any generation before them. This can lead to mental health deteriorating.

Recent NHS research found that students today can experience more isolation and anxiety, and even depression. They do not always know what they are missing but fear missing out.

As teachers, we face the tension of trying to help families without treading on toes, or not wanting to come across as judgemental in telling people how to parent. The village mentality can feel threatening to an increasingly isolated and disconnected community.

Alexandra Hamlet, a clinical psychologist of the Child Mind Institute, says, “The less you are connected with human beings in a deep, empathic way, the less you’re getting the benefits of a social interaction,” and “the more superficial it is, the less likely it’s going to cause you to feel connected, which is something we all need.”

My school is an independent Christian school, with 150 children aged 3 to 16. We have a government-funded EYFS, and 28 children in our autism provision.

One of the lines in our vision and mission is:

Through partnership with parents, churches and the wider community, all BCS students are loved, valued and respected. Each child is accepted, nurtured, challenged and encouraged. They are inspired to discover and develop their unique God-given abilities as they grow in confidence to see themselves the way Christ sees them.

‘It takes a village to raise a child’ is attractive for me in trying to build a thriving community in school, and achieve this part of our vision and mission in the next few posts I will be considering ways of building and developing ‘the village’ that is my school community, and hope some of these ideas may be transferable.

Jane attended Nadia’s LEAP programme for headteachers and wrote this blog in response to the module ‘Broaden Horizons’. If you would like more information about LEAP or would like to share a blog on this space, please feel free to reach out: nadia@destinocoachinguk.com

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