Ranchi, Jharkhand | June | 21, 2020 ::
How many of you actually held your child close to you when they were born? I think the number must be very miniscule. This is because a father’s role in a child’s life as a care giver is very downplayed and underutilized.
Men, like women, have a huge impact on the health and development of children. The role of a father is as important as a mothers’ for a child’s development, from the early years of life. I, in fact, made a promise to myself when my daughter was born years ago, and I make an effort to spend as much time with her till now to keep up to that promise.
Spending time with children is very important as it has its positive effects on their mind – for instance, if you want your children to score higher on intelligence tests, then you should spend more time with your child. We need to do more than just providing for their food, clothes and books. In fact, research shows that this helps in lowering the risk of depression, fear and self-doubt. All of these are linked to improved outcomes for children which determines their ability to succeed in life.
BEING A PARENT ISN’T EASY
A UNICEF study shows that in first 1,000 days of life, a child’s brain develops at a never-again-repeated speed of more than one million new neural connections every second. This means that the early years in a child’s life builds the foundation for their growth and development. This early brain development determines how your baby thinks, learns and behaves.
This period offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to shape a child’s ability to learn, grow and contribute to our society. But this will only happen when a child receives proper health, adequate nutrition, protection, responsive care giving and early learning opportunities.
We as fathers and parents, need to provide the right environment which will shape their brain development. Usually, the younger the child, the less involved the father is in the their care. And only when the child gets older, does the father’s role increase. But the kind of care that a child receives during 0-3 years has the ability to benefit your baby.
I know it is easier for men to take on a bigger role when your child is older, but involved parenting should start from the very beginning.
SHARE THE WORK
This brings me to the recent times of COVID-19 which we are facing. We had a lockdown and all of us were confined indoors. This is the time when you can help your wife take care of your baby. You can also help in household chores so that she has more time for the baby. This also reduces the disproportionate care burden we place on women.
You can divide the work and feed your child, help them learn, teach them or even just pat their back after meals so that they burp. After all, men have great chests for that. Feeding a child is traditionally always considered as a mother’s duty. What better day to change this mindset than Father’s Day.
In fact, Jharkhand recently observed the POSHAN Pakhwada, with technical support of UNICEF, from 8-16 March and focused on involvement of men, especially fathers and how you can become responsible and share the load. During this Poshan Pakhwada, a total of 55,37,946 men participated in different nutrition activities like Poshan Rally, Prabhat Pheri, Poshan Jan Andolan, Annaprashan, and Nutrition Counselling at Anganwadi Centres. It was great to see that so many men caregivers participated in this initiative. As a father you can do three simple things: Eat, Play, Love.
WHAT IS EAT, PLAY, LOVE?
It means that you can provide proper nutrition to your children. For example, you can ensure that your sons and daughters take one iron folic acid tablet every week to prevent anaemia. You can take responsibility of your children’s vaccinations and take them to Anganwadi Centers to get their weight and height measured. Ensure that your child and family eats a variety of different foods – bring colours to every meal.
Similarly, you can play with your children. I encourage all parents with babies to talk to their child by responding when they cry, smile or coo. This shows your child that as parents, you are there for them. It helps build the brain’s social and communication skills. You should interact with your kids by asking questions when they are older, which is usually more effective than telling him or her what to do.
I also want to point you towards a 2018 UNICEF study – Parenting Matters: Examining Parenting Approaches and Practices which says that mostly fathers and grandfathers played with their children outside while mothers narrated stories and sang for their children. However, you can also read stories to your child and help them to read and write. It is commonly seen that mothers play with their daughters and fathers with boys in young children aged between 0-3 years. But you should try and change that and play with both your daughters and sons. After all, we are an equal society and this change should start from our own homes.
Lastly, as a father and a parent, you can simply love your children. When you shower your baby with love, you eliminate their exposure to the kinds of stress that can become toxic; this includes physical and emotional abuse, and neglect. This will mean that a loved child will deal with stress much better in the future such as on their first day in school.
So, this Father’s Day and parenting month, I urge you all to spend more time with your families and engage in co-parenting for development of your child. I hope you will do so not only during this pandemic when many of you are working from home, but also after this time has passed.
The author is the Chief of UNICEF Office in Jharkhand