"It is essential to recognize your signs of stress as a parent and then look after yourself as best possible so that you are in a place (physically AND mentally) where you will be able to take care of others."
How important is evidence-based substance use prevention and the UNODC International Standards on Drug Use Prevention?
As advocated by the UNODC/WHO International Standards, evidence-based substance use prevention strategies call for a shift in the response paradigm; they focus on the people rather than the substances. With this in mind, prevention efforts focus on fostering resilience, social, emotional, intellectual competencies and skills to reach and guide young people. Such prevention models address vulnerabilities associated with substance use and other risky behaviors, including violence, poor mental health, and beyond. The importance of such modality and thinking process goes beyond the ethical, human-rights, health-focused, or effective/cost-effective responses to prevent substance use; they also fulfill the commitments expressed in the Sustainable Development Goals on the road to 2030.
With your expertise in parenting skills and programs, can you tell us where and how to access effective parenting resources?
Family and Parenting Skills tools have been a core focus domain for UNODC (and many other UN agencies) to support healthy and safe development for children and youth. As a result, UNODC has been availing many open-source, low-cost materials for parenting support designed for low- and middle-income countries. These tools prioritize parenting under stressful circumstances (including humanitarian, refugee, or conflict/post-conflict settings).
One of these programs, UNODC “Strong Families,” piloted on families in over 20 countries and observed notable improvement in parental adjustment and functioning and children’s resilience in different stressful circumstances. UNODC “Family UNited” is a more recent, easy-to-use program that addresses a broader spectrum of families. Both these programs are available for interested parties in the UN Member States. However, they require the training of the people who will facilitate their dissemination to parents and families.
We also developed specific self-help tools on parenting for families dealing with the significant stress brought on by COVID-19. UNODC also joined partner agencies under the INSPIRE initiative to end violence against children and availed further parenting tools and leaflets to support parenting. These approaches have all been evaluated, with positive results published in peer-reviewed journals. I strongly encourage parents and families to access them and stakeholders to disseminate these tools to support families facing challenging times at home.
Social distancing and school closures during the past year have increased parental stress. What are your best tips for parents on how to cope during COVID-19?
These factors and managing to balance work, caring for children, maintaining household duties, economic strains, and separation from usual support networks are also playing a key role in this emerging COVID-19 stress on all family members. First and foremost, it is important to recognize your own signs of stress as a parent and then look after yourself as best possible so that you are in a place (physically AND mentally) where you will be able to take care of others. It is also important to recognize the new stress your child might be experiencing and avail yourself to console them in an age-appropriate way.
Another unexpected challenge comes when one loses family or friends to COVID-19. It is difficult to deal with grief, especially in circumstances where your child may have been close to the departed. We have recently launched an interagency-developed leaflet that tackles the complex issue of dealing with COVID-19 bereavement-related matters within the family. If you’re struck with similar hardships, please remember to let yourself and your child grieve in your own ways, take care of yourself, and spend some time every day with your child.
These are challenging times for everyone, so you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. It is helpful to maintain regular routines with your children, such as bedtimes or eating times, so that daily schedules are more predictable in these uncertain times. Being patient and affectionate with your child and giving praise will help reassure and comfort them and help maintain a positive relationship. Staying active, as much as possible, to exercise but also play is equally important. And, last but not least, listening actively and maintaining open, honest communication is fundamental in raising happy, healthy children.
This advice relates very well to the content of Listen First’s 'The Science of Care'. How can this material be utilized?
'The Science of Care' can be used in many different ways and for various stakeholders. First, the materials are an important tool to encourage policymakers to focus on 'family' as a core social institution for drug prevention and healthy and safe development in general. They are also beneficial on the community level to direct grassroots efforts towards the family and help set the stage for evidence-based materials in prevention. And of course, on the family unit level, it nudges parents to account for essential skills that sometimes are taken for granted, ignored, or even dismissed, but that have a significant impact on the health and safe development of children and youth. Finally, it is wonderful to see these materials' geographical spread and dissemination in several countries and languages, recently in Slovenia, Serbia, and the UAE. UNODC is also working on embedding 'Listen First' materials in its larger scope of parenting and family skills as we provide technical assistance globally.
Dr. Wadih Maalouf is a Public Health Professional from Lebanon with a Ph.D. in Mental Health and Drug Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. He joined UNODC first in Cairo in 2006, supporting health responses to drugs in the Middle East and North Africa region. As of 2010, he coordinates a global program on prevention of drug use, HIV and violence from UNODC HQ in Vienna. In this role, he disseminates the UNODC WHO International Standards on Drug Use Prevention, avails technical assistance on development, piloting and effectiveness assessment of family skills and life and social skills programs and supports several interagency initiatives such as the INSPIRE to end violence against children and Helping Adolescents Thrive (HAT) to promote and prevent mental health.
All the mentioned tools are available here:
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