To further develop methods for researching parent-child relationships, a small exploratory study was conducted over six weeks in a fishing village in northern Tanzania. The aims were to: a) assess the feasibility of different forms of participant observation, observation and informal interviews; b) assess the amount and kind of data collected by each method; and c) inform the development of questionnaire items. The study showed that it is feasible to collect rich data on household activities and parent-child relationships through informal interviews and observations in households by a professional researcher. Starting observations with focused informal interviews was probably unhelpful in establishing rapport. The data collected by the graduate researcher proved far more useful than that collected by local field assistants. The disadvantages of working with locally recruited field assistants (distorting sampling; overlooking important interactions; inhibited from acting as researchers) outweighed the benefits (familiarity with the local community, working outwith conventional hours, cheap to employ). Observations generally yielded more information than informal conversations, but their value depended on time of day and presence of children. Spending at least 24 consecutive hours in a household yielded a large amount of data of high validity. Even after three days living in a household, the graduate researcher was still unclear as to how much her presence influenced the host’s behaviour. The findings suggest there will be strong social desirability biases in questionnaires with parents about their relationships with their children. The relative validity of parent and child reports needs to be verified through observation. The five dimensions of positive parenting identified in the WHO review (WHO, 2007) can be observed in rural Mwanza. However, the dimensions are probably most usefully understood as each representing a continuum running from positive to negative interactions.
Developing methods to study parent-child relationships in rural sub-Saharan Africa: an exploratory project in Mwanza, northern Tanzania. MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Research Unit Occasional Paper no. 20. MRC Social and Public Health Sciences Research Unit, Glasgow, UK, 2009. ii + 46 pp.