Our friend Rica Hodgson (1920 – 2018). Freedom fighter and devoted friend of Ububele by Hillary Hamburger

Rica was born in South Africa on the 1st of July 1920. Her adult life was devoted to the struggle for democracy. She was banned, detained, house arrested and exiled by the apartheid government, only returning after 27 years. In her book “Foot Soldier for Freedom”, published when she was ninety, she recounts her remarkable story. At her moving memorial, a true celebration of her life, everyone agreed that she was not a mere foot soldier.

Our paths had crossed in the early days but it was only when she came home that we became close friends and she became a significant person in my life.

By the dawn of the new century our freedom euphoria was diluted by our anxiety over the signs of severe social dislocation. While we had emerged from an oppressive history it was clear that we remained a traumatized nation.
What we didn’t read in the newspapers we heard more directly from the victims. As psychologists we focused on minds that had been warped by 300 years of colonialism and the harsh vicissitudes of everyday life. We set about converting a two story building into a mental health center which we called Ububele, an isiXhosa word which means kindness but which extends to include the idea of compassion and concern for others.

When Tony and I began to think about Ububele our friend Rica endorsed our idea. After a lifetime of service to struggle she had retired from her job as Walter Sisulu’s secretary. When we opened the pre-school in 2000 she was there to help. I cooked for the children then and Rica helped by going to the market to buy a weekly store of vegetables. As we grew and acquired a full-time cook, Rica continued to help wherever she could. She delighted in the children and never missed a graduation and Xmas concert.

Our principal, Mrs.Thembi Motsoane, gave a talk on Alex FM about Ububele in January 2000. She talked about early education and the kind of pre-school we would set up. Within two hours a young mother, Zanele Ndlovu arrived, tugging two little boys, Tshepo and Sizwe, after her.

She told us that she wanted her children to learn and be happy but she didn’t have money to pay us. Both she and the father of the boys were out of work. We told her that she didn’t have to pay but suggested that she help out at Ububele for one morning a week instead.

Zenele brought her two happy little boys to school every morning. We soon became aware of the fact that she stayed on doing all kinds of chores and helping out where ever she was needed. We spoke to her, concerned that she had not understood that we had suggested she work one morning a week. “I want to come everyday”, she answered, “you don’t understand that Ububele has changed my life. I am so happy to be in this beautiful place watching my children”. We understood – Ububele softened the hardship of her life in the township.

Well into the second year when Sizwe was about to graduate we noticed that Zanele was losing weight. Soon Sizwe reported that his mother couldn’t come to school because she was sick. Zanele wasn’t at the end of the year concert when Siswe graduated and when school started the following year Tshepo didn’t return. We were shocked to hear that Zanele had died over Xmas and that both the children had gone to live with Zanele’s mother. How could they possibly deal with this? In the light of this tragedy they needed a safe place to contain and help them to deal with this tragic loss of a loving mother. Added to this was the loss of a familiar and safe haven in Ububele.

We tracked their gogo down and asked her to make an appointment to discuss Tshepo and Sizwe with us.
It was difficult to make a definite appointment as she worked in Pretoria . She would get in touch with us when she had some time off.

A week later we were having lunch in the boardroom. Rica had joined us. While we were chatting and munching away, there was a buzz from the receptionist at the front desk to tell us that the grandmother of Tshepo and Sizwe wanted to see us. We expected a worn-out old gogo to appear. Instead a nifty, youngish woman in the uniform of the S.A. Defense Force appeared.

She introduced herself as Rosie, the gogo of Tshepo and Sizwe . as we shook hands. Then she saw Rica and exclaimed, “Oh my God! Rica! Am I dreaming?” Rica looked slightly bemused as she asked “do I know you?” Rosie responded with excitement. “Yes you do. I’m Rosie from Tanzania. Remember the Solomon Mahlangu Freedom College.” She walked over to Rica and threw her arms around her. Rosie joined us for lunch and told us the following story.

She was 16 years old back in 1976 when the children rose up in Soweto. She had gone back to school after having given birth to Zanele when she was 15. After the uprising she left S.A. to join Umkhonto we Sizwe. Her mother had brought up her daughter Zanele. When she came home again her daughter had grown up. They were strangers to each other. She felt bad that she had left her child. But she had a good job with the Defense Force and was able to help Zenele until she died. Now she would try to be a good mother to her children.

We were all moved by her story and her wish to make reparation. She was warm and engaging as we talked. Rica took all this in her stride as they exchanged stories. We, on the other hand, were left with a sense of wonder and a renewed conviction in the value of Ububele, Rica’s favourite

Rica’s death is surely a time to celebrate a remarkable woman. When she turned 90 she told me lightheartedly that she thought no one should be allowed to live beyond 90. I think that Rica lived much longer than she wanted to, but since we humans don’t have a say in such matters. She faced her old age with grace. The devotion of her loved and loving Spencer, Claudia, granddaughter Tanya and husband Victor, cushioned her frailty and helped her fade away gently.


Reflections of a former intern counselling psychologist

New Beginnings

Every year, unknowing educational, counselling and clinical psychology students depart from the path of student psychologists into the realm of intern psychologists. I ventured onto this journey at the Ububele Therapy and Assessment Centre. I was privileged to have commenced on this trek with three fellow psychology interns. Looking back at the year, I cannot fathom the possibility of embarking on this journey on my own – as many interns at times have to do. The internship year is filled with so many personal, contextual and situational dynamics and challenges. To me it felt important to engage with individuals who were experiencing a similar journey.

Choosing an internship site was in itself a daunting task. I personally applied to sites that were linked to my interests. My reason for applying to Ububele was based on their focus on the importance of attachment, and with it their recognition of the importance of early caregiver-child relationships. The primary focus area of Ububele is thus on infants and young children, whilst I was particularly interested in how the experiences of early childhood impacts and manifests in adult behaviour.
The internship programme at Ububele provided exposure to different forms of interventions. These included the Baby Mat programme, Parent or Caregiver-Infant Psychotherapy, Child Psychotherapy, Adult Psychotherapy, Parenting work, Assessment, and the Bus Play group. I believe that the diversity of programmes provided me with an opportunity to explore my possible passions and interests. I found myself surprisingly pulled into the world of Parent and Caregiver-Infant-Psychotherapy, as well as the potential this intervention has for an individual’s life course.

The reality of the South African context
One of the most challenging, and equally rewarding parts of my internship year, was working within a context faced with many structural inequalities, as well as the implications of those disparities. When I initially decided to pursue a vocation in psychology, I carefully examined the different programmes available. I applied to Wits, because they offered a Masters in Community-based Counselling Psychology programme. Although I was passionate about the potential of individual counselling, I believed more strongly in the criticality and the need for broader interventions that could drive and sustain systemic change on societal and community levels.

My internship at Ububele provided me with the opportunity to work closely in, and at times with the Alexandra community. Our baby mat sessions were held at various clinics in Alexandra, we offered therapy at the Brownhouse at Alexandra Clinic and some of us had the opportunity to do home visits. An intervention that was however particularly close to my heart was the Bus Play Group. It involved us driving to a particular site in Alexandra with the Ububele bus, which was filled with reading material, toys and mats, and engage with the children residing at the site.

I initially felt very excited about the play group, but soon became quite ambivalent about going every week. It was immensely difficult, and I knew I would return to the office feeling both emotionally and physically exhausted, but I also felt devastated when something prevented me from going. The playgroup reminded me of all the different reasons I applied for a programme that was community-based and, yet it was also difficult to work within the reality that many of the children I had come to care for, had to manage daily. I had to remind myself continuously that community interventions require intense work and at times refocus. Of the different play groups, there was one play group that had community input and parental involvement. Though I felt so inspired by this group, it reminded me that different sites could not be viewed through one lens. As such, the team for our playgroup continuously strived to find ways of connecting with the families and role-players and searched for interventions that worked for our children at our site. The experience taught me that there was no ideal scenario, though I found the process to be a deeply enriching experience.

Final thoughts
Though I realise that every intern’s journey will be unique, I’ve taken the liberty to include a few notes that future interns may find useful on this sometimes-turbulent expedition…

Grasp every opportunity
Recognise that every moment during your internship is an opportunity to learn – either about yourself, the workings of the human mind or the dynamics of relationships. You won’t know where you may find yourself in the future, so grasp onto every source of knowledge that those brilliant minds around you are willing to share.

You are the instrument
A central learning during your internship is how to sit with your own emotions and how to work with it in therapeutic relationships. So, remember that you are a human being with emotions! Sometimes you need to honestly ask yourself, whose feelings you are really dealing with in the therapy room, on the baby mat or in the play group and how is it impacting the work that needs to be done.
Writing the transcript

It is not only for supervision… When you are still new to world of psychotherapy, and exploring the potential of your own knowledge and skills, there is nothing more valuable than an honest transcript. Noting the cringeworthy elements of your transcript is most likely one of the most powerful ways to learn. You may not be able to go back in time, but you can do better in your next session.

Appreciate supervision!
It may not always feel nice hearing what other people may have to say about what you do in the therapy room, but being defensive about it won’t encourage learning. During your internship year, any form of critique is a good thing!!! You have the opportunity to think about the critique received, and if you choose to, use it to improve.

Accept the limits of any intervention
Any intervention is likely to have its unique set of limitations. Be willing the accept the limitations of even your most valued intervention, and think about how it could be further improved upon.

Recognise your own limitations
None of us are perfect and that’s okay. You are in your own personal therapy, right?

Support Systems
If you don’t have an amazing support system inside the site, ensure that you have an amazing support system outside of it. Even if you do have an amazing support system inside the site, still ensure that you have an amazing support system outside of the site. Whether your support system comprises of friends or family, make every effort to spend quality time with them.

You, You and You
Know yourself beyond the therapy rooms, corridors and corners of your internship site.
Your internship year requires incredible dedication and work ethic, but ensure that you maintain a balance and can recognise when you are starting to run on empty.
Always remember… Your internship year has the potential to be tough, but so do you!

Lynne Goldschmidt
Counselling Psychologist

Rough and Tumble Play

By Mary-Anne Tandy, Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist

Much research has taken place on the importance of parent-child interactions, including parent-child play. Play offers children the opportunity to develop social competence, learn, explore and build secure attachments across cultures and social groups. Although mothers have been the primary parent, increasingly more emphasis and research is focusing on the relationship between fathers and their children. This includes the differences in play, as men tend to take on play that is more physical while mothers offer a more caring role.

What is rough and tumble play? It is a specific form of physical play, characterized by aggressive behaviours such as wrestling, grappling, jumping, tumbling, and chasing, in a play context [Pellegrini and Smith, 1998]. Physically active play is emerging as a key component of fathers’ influence on children’s wellbeing. Children’s relations with their peers, for example, are rated more positively by their teachers when fathers physically engage with their children (especially boys.) (Macdonald & Parke 1984)

Play is often seen as a waste of time. Many parents and educators hold the belief that the child is not learning anything useful through play. However, children who have little opportunity to play are more likely to become anti-social and disaffected. Furthermore, it seems that children are being given increasingly fewer opportunities to play both at home and school. Hours are often spent in front of a screen of some sort. There are fewer environments in which joyful and exuberant play can happen. The way in which the curriculum is structured with the focus on sitting down, sitting still, being restricted, places enormous demands on a young child at the expense of more “rough and tumble” or physical play.

Rough and Tumble play with a parent may enable children to learn how to decode emotional cues, regulate their heightened emotions, and express their emotions in appropriate ways. Sadly, playing in natural outdoor spaces has been removed from the lives of too many children. They have too few outdoor rough and tumble opportunities. Instead there are play dates and structured sports for more affluent children and a lot of hanging around unsupervised for children who are not.

In a world where children’s mental health problems are on the rise, in particular anxiety and the inability to regulate, fathers’ can take up the role of opening the child to the outside world. Encouraging children to explore or take initiative in unfamiliar situations, be braver, more courageous and stand up for themselves. This play moderates aggression; it enables children to be competitive without being aggressive.

Rough and Tumble play costs nothing, it only takes time and even then 15 minutes will do.



By: Amy Shirley, Counselling Psychologist

There are many people who believe that newborn babies only begin to really become aware of their surroundings and able to interact with those around them after a few months in the world, or when they start walking or talking. In fact, much research has shown that this could not be further from the truth.

“…Newborns come into the world with a wide array of mental skills and predispositions and a set of abilities that are uniquely suited to the critical needs of early life”. (Nugent et al. 2007)

Newborn babies are able to:


Newborns are sensitive to eye gaze from the very start of life.

Newborn babies are able to track / follow objects and faces.

They have a preference for faces over other stimuli, showing how social they are and how geared for bonding.

They also have a preference for their mother’s face, and can tell the difference between their mom’s face and that of a stranger.

They are also, amazingly, able to search the features of the face and use this to find clues about another person’s emotions. And they are capable of copying or imitating facial expressions!


Newborns are able to hear and orientate themselves to sounds.

They are able to tell the difference between their own home language and foreign languages.

They prefer high pitched voices, and can differentiate between the voice of their mother and strangers.

Babies are able to shut out certain environmental noises.


Newborn babies have a highly developed sense of smell.

Babies can tell the difference between the smell of their mother and other people.

They are also able to distinguish the smell of their mother’s breast milk from another’s.


Babies are highly sensitive to touch.

Touch is a primary way that infants are able to connect to their caregivers.

Much research has been done on the positive effects that stroking an infant gently has on the infant’s behaviour, and the relationship between them and their caregivers.


Infants show a preference for sweeter tastes over bitter and salty ones.

They have also been demonstrated to show preferences for some sweet tastes over others.

These incredible capacities of newborns are all geared towards the advancement of the caregiver-infant relationship, which serves one of the primary functions of this early period.  A caregiver’s sensitivity and responsiveness to the needs of their child plays a major role in the development of a secure attachment. Relationships that make children feel safe create a sense of security and confidence impacts on their physical, emotional and cognitive development.

This information is based on: Understanding Newborn Behavior and Early Relationships: The Newborn Behavioral Observations (NBO) System Handbook (2007)  J. Kevin Nugent ,  Constance H. Keefer , Susan Minear , Lise Johnson , Yvette Blanchard.  

Bridging the Gap – The experiences of an Ububele Home Visitor

By:  Khosi Sithole

I was born and raised in Alexandra. I am a mother and I am a home visitor at Ububele, amongst other things. I have been part of the home visiting project for over two years.
One of my neighbours had seen the application form at Ububele and persuaded me to apply. She appealed to my love of babies in order for me to apply. I was not sure exactly what home visiting entailed when I applied for the job. According to the form, they were looking for mothers around Alexandra, women that are warm, understanding, and able to walk long distances, amongst other things. I thought I fitted the bill perfectly as I possessed all the listed requirements.
We were short listed to take part in the training process that lasted for two months. These were one of the most emotional and taxing weeks of my life. The training required participants to be honest and open about their experiences about motherhood, childhood, relationships and feelings. I remember thinking: “What are they trying to do to us? Why are we asked to think about our feelings and thoughts? Why do we begin everyday sitting silently in a circle”? Note that sitting still was one of my biggest struggles, as I was always fidgeting and uncomfortable in the silence.
As the weeks went by, a few people dropped out of the training for various reasons. For most of the training, it felt like being led to a destination using an unknown path. The methods used were completely different to any other training that I have ever found myself in. In the beginning, I felt uncomfortable and unsure because of the manner in which the training unfolded.
None of the participants knew exactly what the panel was looking for at this point in the process. “Please be yourselves and do your very best” that was mostly the answer we got. Wheels in my head would spin as I wondered what if “myself” is not what they are looking for? It became clear to me that the only thing I could do was to be me and in that way I would not regret pretending to be someone that I am not if they did not choose me. I was chosen!
I was part of the second group of home visitors ever to be trained at Ububele. The first group was trained in 2012. Currently there are six home visitors.
It was not easy coming into the field of mental health. The nature of the work requires one to be constantly aware of one’s own feelings, thoughts, and the impact that these have on one’s relationships. I did not know much about infant mental health and its impact on the development of babies. I was one of those people that believed that babies do not understand and that the most important thing was to be physically healthy and being able to provide financial support. I never considered how my own mental state influenced my baby until I came at Ububele. It is common knowledge in my community that you must not breastfeed your baby if you are experiencing negative feelings, as these will affect the baby. I never really took that to heart, as I thought that it was old wives tales. The training helped me to realise that actually it is fact that both negative and positive feelings have an impact on baby’s development and how important it is to be aware of one’s own personal feelings.

Umdlezane is an Nguni word used to describe a woman who has recently given birth. It also refers to the period where the woman who has just given birth is in the care of the females in her family. They would rally around the mother and the baby. It is in this time that they would help the mother with her daily tasks. For example cooking and cleaning the new mother’s house. The women also look after and support the new mother. The need for the mother to be totally with her new baby is of the utmost importance. This facilitates the process of bonding and attachment between mother and baby.
In a place like Alexandra, where many women have their families in the rural areas, the Umdlezane period can be lonely and unpleasant. The support of family in this fragile time is very crucial. This is where the Home Visiting Project comes in. We are not there to take care of the household chores but we are there to support the relationship between mother and baby. We are there to acknowledge, witness, think and reflect on the experiences of mothers in Alexandra in a non-judgemental manner.

The Invitation
It is an honour for me to work in my own community. Alexandra Clinic is where I am stationed, the very clinic in which I was born. Expectant mothers and mothers with infants are invited to the project at the various clinics in and around Alexandra. I stand in front, greet the mothers and have a “talk” with them. Each home visitor has their own style of inviting mothers to the project. I strive to speak about some of the changes that are occurring in their lives as new mothers or as pregnant women. I try to highlight a need for a space to share all the good, the bad, the high and lows and everything in between about being pregnant, being a mother for the first time or being a mother again. It is entirely up to the women to decide if they are interested in being part of the project. The women write down their details and we follow up with them as soon as possible. It is not easy to stand in front of strangers, and speak to them about the value of having a stranger come into your home and allowing them access into your and your baby’s life. There is still an understandable resistance and scepticism from the women. We see this in the number of women who will give out their details but, in the end, they do not take up the visits. We make follow-ups by telephone and set up appointments with interested women. At times, mothers would sign up but change their minds in the early stages of the visits. This is what we call “duck ‘n diving”. It is in the supervision spaces that we get to share our experiences and feelings around the nature of recruitments and think about how best to proceed. These weekly sessions help me to think with my supervisors and colleagues about aspects of a case that I feel has a need for more minds. These two spaces contain me as a container in my supporting of mothers and babies.

The case of Thandi and Thoko
It was in 2015 that I met Thandi and unborn baby Thoko
Thandi lives in a shack with her partner in Alexandra. It was difficult to find Thandi’s home as she stays in the part of Alexandra where the signal is not very good. On other visits, I would phone the mothers to ask them to fetch me from the gate, but in this instance I had to find my own way to Thandi’s home through a maze of shacks. Eventually, with the help of one of the neighbours, I found Thandi.
At the time of our meeting, she was seven months pregnant and a mother to a twelve-year-old boy. The boy stays in the Eastern Cape with his paternal family. She was thirty and the pregnancy was unplanned. This was her third pregnancy. The second had resulted in a miscarriage two years previously. In the pre-visits she communicated her anxiety about the amount of movement that the baby was making. She was concerned that this particular baby seemed to be not very active. Thandi had consulted her doctors and they had told her that the baby was fine and developing well. She would compare this to her prior pregnancies and this would raise concerns for her. This allowed us to talk about the uniqueness of each pregnancy and how this might be an opportunity to see how different baby is. I thought about how movement in the womb is a sign of life and how lack of movement may be interpreted as a sign of death. Given Thandi’s history, it was easy to see why she would be so anxious about the amount of movement in her womb.
From the onset, one of the themes that were carried was of life and death. She revealed her HIV positive status and how she had contracted multi-drug resistant TB. She shared her experience of being in isolation and alone in a TB hospital. Each day she would watch other patients dying around her. It was terrifying and she wondered whether she would be next. The absolute terror, feelings of hopelessness and despair were not shared with any of her family or her partner. She felt her environment was not conducive enough to share those terrifying moments. They were only able to manage the woman who came out of the hospital and not the woman who lived in hospital for a year.
The miscarriage had hurt Thandi very much. There was no logical explanation as to why it happened. She felt she did not want to have other children after it. The pain she felt and the fact that she felt she was too old to be having other children motivated her decision. Her partner was the one who informed her that she was pregnant. Thandi was in denial about the pregnancy. She thought the TB treatment had hindered her ability to have children and she had no desire to be pregnant again. She was shocked, disappointed and scared when the test confirmed her partner’s suspicions. It was hard to watch her excited partner, as she did not share that excitement. She questioned her body’s ability to carry to term, the impact the treatment might have on the baby’s development, and what would happen after she gave birth.
My role as home visitor allowed Thandi to shine a light and share the feelings and thoughts she holds about her experience in the hospital and the miscarriage. I faced my own mortality and my fears as to what would happen if I died. I found myself questioning my capacity to contain Thandi, who seemed to have gone through a lot in the past. She had been in a dark pit with no one. As a home visitor, I went down with her and stayed with her. There were initial thoughts of fleeing and escaping the pit. Will I be able to get out? How will this experience shape our relationship going forward? Will we make it to the other side? It got to a point that I started exhibiting symptoms of TB. It was in the supervision that I realised that my body was responding to the overwhelming feelings that Thandi had placed in me. I realised that maybe this is what she might have felt herself. This we refer to as transference and counter-transference: the exchange of feelings between us. I brought this back to Thandi who admitted that she does feel unsure, anxious and overwhelmed by the prospect of being a mother again.
Another theme that was present was separation and loss. Thandi had a son who she only visited occasionally over the holidays. She expressed how she feels like she is a first time mother even though she had given birth before. He was initially raised by her family, and later moved to live with his paternal family. It seemed a good idea at the time not to raise her son. She felt he had everything he needed because they were well off. In the course of the visits, she expressed her regrets and pain of separation from her son. “At the time it was a good idea”, she would say more than once.
This reminded me of many South African children are raised by grandparents and other family members for various reasons. One of the main drivers of this is a need for economic stability. There are many parents in South Africa living in the urban areas without their children. This was an opportunity to engage the other side of separation from the view of the parent and not only of the child. The sacrifices that parents make in order to provide for their children are painful and difficult. The time lost can never be regained in the growing up of the children.
When Thoko was born, she was surprised by how she coped. Things were not the way that she had imagined them to be. The actual delivery was very painful compared to her first one. She did not have any complications.
When we met three months later, the happy woman in front of me pleasantly surprised me. We spoke about her journey and experiences. She was alive and well. Her baby was also doing fine, without any disabilities, as she had feared. We looked back and realised how brave she was. The anxieties are still there, but they are not as crippling as they were before the visits.
The mind is a powerful tool and without proper guidance, nurturing and control it can conjure up monsters. As the saying goes “Monsters grow in the dark”. I believe that through the Home Visiting project, we are able to shine a light on the “monsters”.
I was left feeling in awe at the amount of struggle that Thandi had overcome. I felt that what she needed more than anything that I could offer, was someone to hear and listen to the other side of mothering; that is not all cuddly and fluffy. I was honoured to have been the bridge that carried her over her fears, anxiety, pain and insecurities, to a better connection with Thoko. My task was not to bury the pit, but to facilitate a pathway to the other side. My role was to reassure her and remind her that she had come out of the pit. I was not there to take away her troubles but I was there to think with her about those troubles and support her on her journey. It can be frustrating knowing that there is a pit in your path to happiness, having a bridge does not make the pit disappear but it allows for the crossing over to the other side.

Acknowledging, witnessing, thinking, reflecting, supporting and encountering monsters along the way; it is all in the day’s work of a Home Visitor.


By: Shelley Nortje (Clinical Psychologist)

Ububele has recently begun offering their services at a local hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). The intervention offered involves offering support to mothers whose babies are admitted in this NICU ward. This usually happens if the baby is born preterm, has a very low birthweight or if there are other medical complications. This is a difficult space to be in as an infant mental health professional, for medical staff, for mothers and their families, as well as for these small babies.

The experience of mothers in this situation is one of trauma and uncertainty. These mothers may become depressed and may feel helpless as they rely on medical staff with specialized knowledge, that isn’t always shared or explained, to assist their babies. One mother for example expressed how confusing and scary the different machines attached to her baby, and the sounds they made, were for her. Mothers are also separated from their babies for certain times during the day. The small babies appear quite vulnerable and alone in their incubators. Mothers are encouraged to feed their babies and touch them however, the contact seems limited and hesitant as mothers appear scared to touch their tiny babies in case they should cause them more harm. One mother apologised to her baby when the baby’s leg tremored when mom touched her sensitive skin. These preterm babies are more sensitive and easily dysregulated, and mothers may feel guilty about their ways of interacting with their baby without sufficient knowledge about their babies’ experience. When the baby reaches a certain weight babies are eligible for discharge. Mothers may at this time begin to panic. Their insecurity and lack of confidence in their ability to care for a preterm baby may be evident.

Preterm babies, unlike full term babies, may behave in slightly different ways. On average, preterm babies are less responsive to sight and sound, their communications may be more difficult to read or understand, they have a limited ability to self-regulate, their sensory thresholds are reached more easily (ie: are easily over stimulated) and it usually takes them more effort and energy to respond. These characteristics of the preterm infant can make it harder for a mother to always understand what the baby needs and how to soothe and support their development.

A mental health professional, with a solid understanding of infant development and infant mental health can offer helpful support at this time for babies and their families. They can help parents understand their baby’s behaviours and share their observations about their baby’s bodily communications and capacities. For these babies that have a more difficult start to life, having this extra support and guidance may be valuable.

Should you or someone you know be struggling to understand babies’ communications please contact Ububele for assistance in strengthening and building these important relationships.

Good enough parenting

By Hayley Haynes-Rolando (Educational Psychologist)


Somehow it feels impossible to write a blog on parenting. The fantasy that one could apply a step by step programme or a set of guiding principles for all parents to follow – is just that – a FANTASY. Whilst parenting comes with little to no training, it is one of the toughest and most important tasks, often wrought with little support. Parents are often left feeling overwhelmed, inadequate and at times facing the scrutiny and judgements from other parents, family, teachers and other professionals working with children.


Well, I am here to offer some good news! There are no one size fits all models for parenting and there is certainly no perfect style – the only thing that we can offer our children is our attention, time and an ability to keep on trying despite the failures and pitfalls that coming with having a family. In my opinion, a parent that tries their best, doesn’t stop trying and is passionate about building a healthy, connected relationship with their child is a good enough parent. Whilst these ideas are not exhaustive, I will attempt to offer some thoughts on what I understand to be good enough parenting, from courses like the Incredible Years and Circle of security parenting[1].


A healthy relationship

I was once told that children spell love, T-I-M-E. This very simple thought suggests that children thrive and appreciate it when their caregivers are able to spend time with them. Building a healthy relationship with your child involves a conscious effort to spend quality time with them. This does not mean planning elaborate play dates with fancy activities, it does however suggest, being present and available to your child. I think what you choose to do with your child during this special time is far less important than you being available and interested in their thoughts, ideas and experiences.

Developing a healthy relationship with a child, builds self-esteem, self-confidence and allows parents to understand and intervene when their children are having difficulties. Being present and available to your children allows you to observe their behaviour and listen to them. This encourages them to express their emotions and in a sense helps to develop their emotional intelligence.

Being aware of your shortcomings

Developing a healthy relationship with your child is not as easy as it sounds. Often our own experiences of being parented, past hurts and current circumstances can make it difficult to spend time with our children. Whilst these experiences often can’t be avoided, realising that our past experiences can impact on our relationships and affect the way in which we respond to them is a good start.

Being able to admit our mistakes, and making efforts to repair the ruptures in our relationships with children, not only helps to repair our relationships but also helps them to understand that mistakes do happen, and they can be repaired.


Dealing with children’s challenging behaviour

Oftentimes when children act out, caregivers struggle to separate the child from the behaviour. Circle of security parenting suggests that good children do bad things and that often cries for attentions are their attempts at making a connection with their caregiver. Whilst this is not always easy to realise or hold onto in the moment, understanding that all behaviour is a communication could help caregivers to deal with the challenging behaviour with more understanding. Continuously working on the relationship and being intentional about spending special time could also help to reduce the acting out.

Consistency and clarity in limit setting also help to make children feel safe and secure. When deciding on consequences for undesirable behaviour, involving the child and talking through it together helps to get their buy-in. It may also help them to understand why the behaviour should not be repeated. The consequences should be natural and logical, so that they are able to apply this learning to other areas of their life. Praising and rewarding good behaviour is another strategy that reinforces positive rather than negative reactions from children.


Whilst this list of tools and ideas about how to deal with children’s different or challenging behaviour is not exhaustive, what must be reiterated is this idea that what matters most is the relationship that is developed, and that it is never too late to build a connection with your child.


For further information on parenting support please contact Ububele. We run parenting groups for children between 0 and 7 years old and 8 – 14 years old.


[1] Webster-Stratton, C. (2015). THE INCREDIBLE YEARS® SERIES. Family-Based Prevention Programs for Children and Adolescents and Powell, B., Cooper, G., Hoffman, K., & Marvin, R. S. (2009). The circle of security.

How do baby’s show their distress?

By: Shelley Nortje (Clinical Psychologist)

For many years it was believed that babies did not have complex feelings or abilities to communicate until they were much older. However, over recent years of research it has been established that babies do in fact experience and express their feeling states and communicate these to their caregivers in quite specific ways.

A more obvious way that babies communicate is through their cries, however there are also more subtle ways that they are able to let us know what they need and how they are feeling. Babies do not have verbal abilities yet though and so they rely more on their bodies to express themselves.

Babies may become stressed when they are moving from one state to another (for example from sleep to wake), if they are tired, hungry, too hot or too cold, if they have been stimulated or played with too much, or if they experience something painful such as their immunization injections.

Here are a few signs that newborn babies give when they are stressed:

  • Constantly fussing and crying
  • Irregular breathing
  • Mottled skin or changes in skin colour
  • Frequent sneezing, hiccoughing, yawning, sighing
  • Spitting up or gagging
  • Frequent tremors and startles
  • Avoiding making eye-contact
  • Pushing their tongue out their mouth

Now that we know a bit more about how to read baby’s signals, it is also important to think about ways to help babies soothe and bring themselves back to a regulated state. Here are a few ways that babies can be soothed. Remember each baby is unique and may prefer different ways of being held or handled.

  • Take a ‘time out’ if the baby is overstimulated to give him or her time to recover
  • Change the way you are interacting with your baby (e.g.: lower your voice if the baby seems more sensitive to loud sounds)
  • Speak to a baby
  • Offer support to the baby in the form of swaddling, holding or sucking
  • Babies are also sometimes able to soothe themselves, and may even use their own body to soothe, for example in sucking their own hand

This brief outline emphasises that babies are capable and unique little people. With time and careful observations, caregivers can attend to these subtle signs and communications to learn to know their child better and to develop a more meaningful and responsive relationship with them.


By: Shelley Nortje (Clinical Psychologist)


What is weaning?

Weaning is the process of introducing a baby to solid food or formula and gradually withdrawing the mother’s milk or breastfeeding. The weaning process begins the first time a baby takes food from a source other than its mother’s breast – whether formula from a bottle or mashed vegetables from a spoon. Weaning is the gradual replacement of breastfeeding with other ways of taking in food and being soothed. Weaning can take place in a natural way where the baby gradually stops breastfeeding by itself, called Infant-led weaning. Alternatively, weaning is initiated by the mother, for example on return to work in what is termed Mother-led weaning.

There is much diversity in weaning across countries and cultures. The average age of weaning in the U.S. for example is three months old, while the average age for weaning worldwide is 4.2 years old. Mothers in Zulu societies may breastfeed until about 18 months, while in more western societies babies are weaned at much earlier ages. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life in both developing and developed countries.

Factors that impact on the weaning experience:

The age of the baby when weaning begins also seems to depend on several other factors that might characterise these different countries and communities. Some of the factors affecting weaning might include:

  • Working mothers:

Different countries have quite varying policies on maternity and paternity leave. For example, in Canada mothers are allowed up to 12 months maternity leave, while in most other countries maternity leave is an average of 12 to 14 weeks. Often mothers who have to return to work earlier, begin to wean their babies earlier than mothers who are able to stay at home.

  • Poverty:

Formula can be quite expensive, and especially in poverty-stricken areas and developing countries, mothers may prefer to try to breastfeed for longer instead of having to rely on more expensive formula feeds. In line with this is a mother’s access to clean water and cleaning facilities for sterilizing bottles. Bacteria and other diseases may affect baby’s health if caregivers are not able to properly clean formula bottles.

  • Maternal illness:

Some mothers who are on medication or suffer from medical difficulties may not be able to breastfeed without it negatively impacting on their own or their baby’s health. In these instances, medical professionals are needed to explain the pros and cons of breastfeeding and medications to ensure the continued health of both mom and baby.

  • Teen pregnancy:

Young girls who fall pregnant, may not be able to continue breastfeeding for as long as either they or their babies would like, as a result of having to return to school to complete their education. This can often be a difficult time for these young moms, in managing the stressors of writing exams and caring for their newborns.

  • Judgement by others:

It is becoming increasingly difficult for new moms to trust their own mothering instincts or their baby’s communications of their needs. Mobile Apps and the advice (although well-intentioned) of friends and relatives leaves mothers confused about how best to go about the weaning process.

  • Post-natal depression (PND):

Post-natal depression and the baby blues are emotional difficulties that a mother may experience after the birth of her baby. At this time, mothers may be more tearful, feeling low and fatigued, and helpless about their new role as mother. In these instances, mothers may struggle to enjoy or focus on breastfeeding. Mothers are encouraged to access support in these early weeks and months if they notice that their low mood is affecting their ability to nurture and soothe their baby.

What are the possible impacts of weaning for mothers and babies?

There are mixed feelings involved in the weaning process, making it both an exciting and difficult time for mothers and babies.

  • Weaning as a loss:

Weaning can be experienced as a loss for both mothers and their babies. Breastfeeding for some mother-baby dyads is a special and intimate experience. When this ends, with the normal developmental process of weaning, both moms and babies might feel saddened and unsure about the loss of intimacy and the changes that will need to be made in their relationship. Weaning also becomes one of the first ways that mothers can help their babies learn about how to deal with separations or loss.

  • Weaning as independence:

On the other hand however, weaning also offers a positive experience for mom and baby of becoming more independent. Mothers may feel relief at having their bodies to themselves again. This sense of freedom and individuality is important for babies to learn more about their mothers as separate and unique individuals. Mothers may also feel excited and hopeful to watch their babies develop and grow. Babies are also able to become more independent. They have the exciting new journey of tasting new foods and different textures.

How to managing the weaning process?

Weaning is an important developmental milestone. It is imperative for mothers to gather information about weaning and breastfeeding from multiple sources and to reflect on their own reasons for weaning so that she can make an informed decision about the process and timing of weaning. Weaning is also the second separation for a baby from its mother after birth, and therefore needs to be handled thoughtfully. Mothers may feel confused by how others respond to their process of weaning –she may feel pressurised to breastfeed for longer than she feels is comfortable, or she may be criticized for continuing to breastfeed for longer than is the norm in her community. It is therefore valuable for mothers and those around her providing support – professionals, friends and family members – to remain flexible, sensitive and in tune with the baby’s experience.

Weaning and nurturing:

The benefits of breastfeeding for bonding are often promoted by professionals. However, weaning and the ending of breastfeeding does not necessarily mean that the intimate bond between mother and child needs to end. Feeding and loving may now be done in different ways! For example, a mommy who has used breastfeeding as a way to soothe her baby will now need to find a new way to help her baby manage feelings of distress. This might include rocking or being held, playing or singing to the baby.



Bad behaviour is communication too!

By: Carla Richards (Intern Educational Psychologist)


Being a parent can be a time of intensely confusing feelings- love, frustration, anger and joy. These are just some of the feelings that can run through your mind in just one day as a parent. But we sometimes forget that children also have an emotional world just like adults: equally complex and unique. The difficulty comes in when the emotional worlds of the parent and child meet and there is not always a match between the two. Children very often show us their thoughts and feelings through behaviour. While talking is one of the clearest ways to get your feelings across, for children this can be much more difficult for many different reasons:

  1. Children don’t always know what it is that they feel. If we ask them what is wrong or what they are feeling, they may not be able to answer us accurately.
  2. Children don’t always have the language to capture exactly what they feel. Smaller children especially do not yet have the complex language to explain how they are feeling and what they need to make them feel safe and secure again.
  3. The type of family that children grow up in also impacts on how able they are to speak about their emotional experiences. It may not be seen as acceptable or allowed to express what they feel in their particular family.

When one or more of these factors is at play, the only way left for the child to express themselves is to show it through their behaviour. To an adult this ‘bad behaviour’ can look like tantrums, clinginess, acting out, aggression, tearfulness or a lack of concentration. Many of these behaviours can be confusing for the parent to make sense of, and can often result in frustration and tension in the home.

However, it is important to remember that your child is not his behaviour, but rather he may be trying to give you a clue about what is happening in his or her emotional world.

Here are some helpful ways for parents to respond to a difficult behaviour so that they can help them to make sense of what is going on inside of them:

  • Spend time connecting with your child and try to imagine what their behaviours might be telling you about what they are feeling.
  • Help your child identify what they may be feeling and giving it a name (“I wonder if you are feeling worried about that test tomorrow and that’s why you’ve got a tummy ache?”). Emotion ‘face charts’ can be a fun way to help children give their feelings a name.
  • It is also helpful to show acceptance for a child’s communications, and not push them away for what they are trying to show us. This will encourage them to come to you when they have a ‘big’ confusing feelings first instead of acting out.

Ububele is an organisation that promotes healthy relationships and communication between children and their parents. If you have any queries please let us know and contact us on 011 786 5085.