On Father’s Day today I am motivated to ask how many of you actually hold your child close to you when they were born?
I think, rightly or wrongly, the number must be very minuscule. This is probably because a father’s role in a child’s life as a caregiver is normally downplayed and under-utilized.
In fact, men, like women, have a huge impact on the health and development of children. The role of a father is as important as a mother’s for a child’s development, during the early years of life.
I am inclined to submit what actually generated a strong sense of energy in my mind when my daughter was born years ago,and what actually drives me make an effort to spend as much time with her even now.
Everybody knows that spending time with children is very important as it has positive effects on their minds. For instance, if you want your children to score higher in intelligence tests, then you should spend more time with your child.
We need to do much more than just providing them 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 in the personality development of children. Also,it helps determine their ability to succeed in life.
BEING A PARENT ISN’T EASY
A UNICEF study shows that in the 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 caregiving and early learning opportunities.
We, as fathers and parents, need to provide the right environment which can shape their brain development. Usually, the younger the child, the less involved the father is in 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 from father has the ability to benefit his 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 we all 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 any better day can be to change this mindset than on Father’s Day. We can also make it a daily affair.
In fact, Jharkhand recently observed the POSHAN Pakhwada, with technical support of UNICEF, from 8-16 March and focused on the involvement of men, especially fathers and how they 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 anemia. 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 eat a variety of different foods – bring colours to every meal.
Similarly, a responsible father can play with his children. I encourage all parents with babies to talk to their child by quickly acting closely and responding when they cry, smile or coo. This shows your child that as a father, you are there for them.
Also, any psychologist would confirm, this kind of act helps build the brain’s social and communication skills of the child. A responsible father should interact with his 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 out to you a 2018 UNICEF study – Parenting Matters: Examining Parenting Approaches and Practices. It 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 for your child and help them to read and write. It is commonly seen that mothers play with their daughters and fathers with boys aged between 0-3 years. But in my view, a loving father should try and change that and play with both his young daughters and sons.
After all, the father is functioning in an equal society and, as such, this change should start from his own home.
Lastly, as a father, we can simply love our children. When father like me shower love on his baby, he, I think, eliminates 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 all fathers to spend more time with your families and engage in co-parenting for the 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)