Parenting in poverty

Childhood is an important foundation for adulthood.


The role of parents and caregivers cannot be underestimated in shaping  the future of the child.

While it is true that parenting is a learnt art, there is significant research that shows that parenting in poverty is extremely stressful.

Poverty is a state whereby a person or community lacks the financial affordability and essentials for a minimum standard of living.

To be poor implies that one’s income from employment is so low that basic human needs cannot be met.

All children need emotionally stable adults, who will always show them through interactions with them that they are bigger, stronger, wiser and kind.

These adults also do well to meet their basic needs as and when necessary.

This kind of envelope that makes children feel secure is a far cry from the reality in poor homes.

Parents who struggle to make ends meet face high levels of stress constantly.

They have to deal with issues of overcrowding, and the pressure to meet the general needs of the home.

Their mental health suffers and they tend to lack the mental capacity to understand and give the needed responsive care to their children.


Globally, it is estimated that 333 million children live in extreme poverty.

 In Africa, it is projected that two in every five children will be living in poverty by 2030.

In Ghana, about 30 per cent of the national population live below the poverty line (less than $1.25/ day) as of 2022, with Ghana ranking 133 out of 189 countries on the Human Development Index (HDI) of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

These statistics should give sleepless nights to any well-meaning leader entrusted with the responsibility of ensuring the well-being of children and the country.

According to Franklin D. Roosevelt, we may not be able to prepare the future for our children, but we can at least prepare our children for the future. 


A child in a poor environment begins to feel the impact of poverty right from conception.

Mother’s poor nutrition can lead to malnutrition, anaemia, low birth weight babies, metabolic adaptation that place them at a risk of non communicable diseases in later life and in worse cases, foetal loss.

Poverty can be the greatest source of parental conflict around the parenting of this child who survives the harsh birth experience.

Exposure to these parental conflicts and the spill over from these misunderstandings negatively impact on child outcomes and their future life chances.


These include behavioural problems, such as, aggression and lack of self regulation, lack of school readiness and heightened tendency to drop out, poor physical health, social and interpersonal relationship problems.

Other health and developmental risks often associated with poverty include the exposure to lead and other pollutants in the air and water, involvement in neighbourhood violence, substance abuse and negative peer pressure, high risk lifestyle leading to all forms of trauma.

While children are known to be resilient, toxic stress that exceeds a child’s ability to adapt can occur when the stressful experience overwhelms the brain’s ability to withstand.

This can also happen when the compensatory abilities of the brain and the body are compromised.


The lack of cognitive stimulation due to the absence of books and educational materials in the home, poor engagement in language, and a lack of regularity in school affects brain development radically.

This is how we lose human resource.

“Investing in the health and survival of the most deprived children and communities provide more value for money, saving almost twice as many lives for every $1 million spent as equivalent investments in less deprived groups” says UNICEF analysis of 2017.

The writer is a Child Development Expert/Fellow at Zero-to-three Academy, USA.

E-mail: [email protected]

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