Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Moms Around The World Teach Their Kids A Lot Of Cool Rules

In Nigeria, moms teach their children to address older women as "Ma" or "Auntie" as a sign of respect.
Joern Pollex
FIFA via Getty Images
In Nigeria, moms teach their children to address older women as "Ma" or "Auntie" as a sign of respect.

Don't hit your sister!

Veggies are good for you.

No, we can't watch Frozen every night.

No matter where you live around the globe, moms pretty much teach their children the same lessons. But in honor of Mother's Day, we wanted to track down a few of the world's more distinctive rules and customs. We asked four — who are experts from the developing world — to share the special wisdom that moms impart in their countries.

Nigeria: Properly address your elders

Vivian Maduekeh's 15-month-old son is beginning to speak. But she proudly notes, "He cannot tell you, 'Hi.' I don't teach him that." Instead, the food safety advocate is working on getting him to say "good morning" and "good evening." That's how a child shows respect, which is essential in Nigerian culture. And it's beneficial for young people, Maduekeh says, because when elders feel honored, they are more likely to offer help and counsel. She explains: "You get a lot of things when you show respect."

In addition to proper greetings, Maduekeh wants her son to learn another rule: "You can't call anyone by just their first name." She leads her child by example, calling her siblings "Sister Vivian" and "Brother Andrew." Kids also need to remember that adult women are all "Auntie," regardless of whether they're related. (Maduekeh was taught that women who are 50 and over are supposed to be called "Ma" but she says that most today prefer "Auntie.") For men, the acceptable terms are "Uncle" or "Sir."

What would happen to a child who decided not to follow these conventions? "You'll be everyone's enemy," Maduekeh says. And they'll know, she adds, "Your mother didn't bring you up well."

India: Know the family password

When Indian kids head off to school, many moms make sure they have something besides their homework: the family password, says ElsaMarie D'Silva, who's the managing director of a foundation that tracks incidents of sexual violence and abuse. Passwords are a clever way for parents to protect their children from strangers. For middle class families, it's common to have someone outside of the clan pick kids up from school, explains D'Silva. In some cases, it's the maid. Another popular option is for a few families to hire a single driver to ferry around the kids — kind of like a private school bus. In either case, if the appointed person can't make it, and someone else comes, the new driver better know the password. Otherwise, kids will refuse to get into the vehicle, D'Silva says.

"In the last few years, we've had some horrific rapes. A lot of stories coming to light are forcing parents to have these conversations," says D'Silva, who notes that despite Indian culture's reluctance to discuss sex, parents are clarifying the difference between "good touch" and "bad touch" with kids as young as two. The effect is that kids are safer, D'Silva says. And the fact that they know a way to protect themselves gives them more confidence.

Kenya: Start cooking early

Esther Ngumbi, a scientist with plans to revolutionize Kenyan agriculture, remembers spending time in the kitchen at an early age — a very early age. By the time she was five years old, she says, "I would cook for the family." That means exactly what it sounds like: She was responsible for getting breakfast and lunch on the table. Because there was no electricity, she'd gather firewood — and deal with stressful situations. "Sometimes you wake up at 4 or 5 [in the morning] and the firewood is wet and it's starting to get light and you know people expect breakfast," she says.

But her mom always reminded Ngumbi and her siblings that hard work was expected because "nothing would ever come free in life," she says. If they didn't do their chores, they didn't get fed. So Ngumbi always did what she was told. "That's been the best foundation," she says. "Nothing moves me because I've been through harder situations." And she loves cooking today in her modern kitchen, where she still relies on some of the "old ways," although she skips the firewood.

Paraguay: Speak a 'very sweet' language

The country has two official languages, explains Julia Corvalan. One is Spanish, and the other is Guarani, which is the "mother tongue" of most of its people. Corvalan, whose work involves distributing microloans to low-income women, describes Guarani as "very nasal," "very rich" and "very sweet." And she credits it with helping kids understand what it means to be Paraguayan. "Still today, a lot of popular stories are passed down in Guarani," Corvalan says.

Her favorite legend from childhood is about Jasy Jatere, a creature who lurks during the afternoon siesta in search of kids who aren't napping. The language also helps strengthen bonds in families and communities. "A phrase we often use is 'ikatu' or 'yes, we can' in English," Corvalan says. The best time to speak in Guarani? When enjoying terere, Paraguay's favorite beverage. It's yerba mate tea prepared with ice water, and it's served in a communal cup passed from person to person. Of course, kids want in on this tradition as soon as possible, which is why Corvalan's toddler nieces are already terere connoisseurs.

Share Your Story

Are there any traditions special to your country that your mother taught you? Share in a comment below or tweet to @NPRGoatsandSoda with the hashtag #NPRWorldMoms.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit

Vicky Hallett
KUER is listener-supported public radio. Support this work by making a donation today.