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INTRODUCTION: Evidence suggests that responsive caregiving and early learning activities positively impact developmental outcomes, with positive effects throughout the life course. Early childhood development interventions should align with local values, beliefs and resources but there has been little research of caregiver beliefs and perspectives on development and learning, especially in sub-Saharan Africa. This qualitative study explored norms, beliefs, practices and aspirations around child development of caregivers of young children in rural Burkina Faso. METHODS: We conducted 32 in-depth interviews with mothers and fathers of young children and 24 focus group discussions with mothers, fathers and grandmothers, which included trying behaviours and reporting on experiences. The research informed the development of Scaling Up Nurturing Care, a Radio Intervention to Stimulate Early Childhood Development (SUNRISE), an early child development radio intervention. RESULTS: Caregivers described a process of 'awakening', through which children become aware of themselves and the world around them.Perceptions of the timing of awakening varied, but the ability to learn was thought to increase as children became older and more awake. Consequently, talking and playing with babies and younger children were perceived to have little developmental impact. Caregivers said children's interactions with them, alongside God-given intelligence, was believed to impact later behaviour and development. Caregivers felt their role in helping their children achieve later in life was to pay for education, save money, provide advice and be good role models. Interaction and learning activities were not specifically mentioned. Caregivers who trialled interaction and learning activities reported positive experiences for themselves and their child, but interactions were often caregiver led and directive and play was often physical. Key barriers to carrying out the behaviours were poverty and a lack of time. CONCLUSIONS: Exploring early childhood beliefs and practices can reveal important sociocultural beliefs which, if incorporated into programme planning and implementation, could help achieve more impactful, acceptable and equitable programmes. TRIAL REGISTRATION NUMBER: NCT05335395.

Original publication




Journal article


BMJ Open

Publication Date





community child health, health education, health equity, qualitative research, Infant, Female, Child, Child, Preschool, Humans, Child Development, Caregivers, Burkina Faso, Qualitative Research, Mothers