Parents anchor children’s lives and lay the foundations of relationships, attitudes, and behaviour patterns. How carefully they navigate through the rough waters of childhood determines how smoothly the child will thrive in adulthood. It is no wonder that parenting is considered the most important job in the world! Every year June is celebrated as the “Parenting month” with the goal of raising awareness about the impact that early childhood protection, nutrition, and stimulation have on young children's brains.
UNICEF defines parenting as the interactions, behaviours, emotions, knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and practices associated with the provision of nurturing care. This refers to the process of promoting and supporting the development and socialization of the child. It is the entrusted and abiding task of parents to prepare children, as they develop, for the physical, psychosocial, and economic conditions in which they live, work, play, learn and thrive. Amidst the many influences on child development, parents are critical to children’s development, protection, empowerment, adjustment and lifelong success.
As a lot relies on the shoulders of parents, it is crucial for them to do their job right. But how does one go about it? Well, let’s have a look at an example. What would you do if your child lost their important notebook? Would you scold them for not being careful? Or would you be patient and understanding to help them to find it first and then probably discuss how they may like to take care of their things better in future? If your answer is the latter, then you are on the right path - the path of positive parenting.
The most important thing for a parent is their relationship with their children. It is that pause one takes before reacting, and the thought they put into treating their child with compassion and empathy. Scolding might take the heat off your own head, but the impact it will have on the young impressionable mind is lifelong. Scolding also underlines that parent has limited control over his or her own emotions, and verbal aggression is being used by them to deal with this disrupted emotional state. So, in a way parent is modelling ‘verbal aggression’ as a way of dealing with crises. As a parent you may not like to set up such a model for your child to follow.
Positive parenting can boost a child's self-esteem as they are encouraged to have open conversations about their thoughts, beliefs, and feelings. Special focus should be given to the first few years of a child’s life, as during this time a child’s brain develops at an extraordinary rate. This provides an exceptional opportunity to shape their ability to learn. Storytelling, discussions about day to day activities, reading together or walking through a garden are all learning activities. Part of good parenting is allowing the child to develop their personality through play as well. Playing, along with being a fun activity, improves the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and adolescents.
WHAT CAN YOU DO AS PARENTS?
The way a child is cared for and nurtured has a significant impact on their general well-being. Parents should listen to their children, show them affection but also discipline them constructively. Encourage their talents while also accepting their limitations. Have open conversations around pertinent questions like: What is it that they are most afraid of? Do they feel underconfident? Has anyone troubled them recently? Make them feel appreciated, as though their thoughts and opinions matter, because they do. Children who do not receive adequate care and protection are among the most vulnerable people in the world. As a result of poor care, many people, particularly the very young, experience physical, verbal, and cognitive delays. As adults, they are more at risk of developing behavioural, physical, and mental health issues. The domino effect of insufficient care in one’s childhood is felt for generations to come.
Furthermore, as previously stated, playing is extremely important, and parents should encourage their children to participate in outdoor activities. Individual sports like running, skipping, and cycling help children improve their overall strength, flexibility, stamina, and balance. Playing in a group fosters important life skills such as confidence, resilience, communication, and dealing with adversity. Convincing children to do so is particularly difficult these days. They would rather play video games or use their phones than play "hide and seek." As a result, it becomes even more important for parents to limit their children's screen time, educate them on its negative effects, and encourage them to step outside.
CARING FOR THE CAREGIVERS
They care, but are they cared for? Caregivers, whether parents, grandparents or other adults, are often themselves struggling with their well-being and mental health. Several external factors, together with the responsibility of parenting, often take a toll on the minds of the caregivers. What is worse is that they keep ignoring the warning signs that have an eventual bearing on the mental health and well-being of the child itself. What is needed is that we provide caregivers with the knowledge, skills, and encouragement they require to develop nurturing relationships with their children without ignoring themselves. Every discussion on parenting should involve a strong mental health component that addresses both the child's and the caregiver's mental health and well-being.
THE WAY AHEAD
Family-friendly policies, such as paid parental leave, breastfeeding breaks, childcare, and child grants, are required to provide parents with the time they need to care for their child's needs. To amplify this, UNICEF calls on businesses and governments to invest in family-friendly policies in order to build more prosperous and equitable societies, consistent with Article 18 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. We also need to increase spending on dedicated mental health and psychosocial support programmes for children and caregivers, especially in crisis situations.
Taking care of a child’s needs and providing them with the best possible upbringing is not an easy job. It comes with its trials and tribulations. Does that make it any less rewarding? The answer is a resounding no. Children are the future, and parents help build that future. Nothing comes close to the significance of a parent's job. Considering the vitality and complexity of the role, it is important for us as a society to help parents. It is equally important that the parents are aware of parenting tips and develop required skills as parents and caregivers to be able to contribute in cognitive, physical, emotional, social development of children and give them the best start in life. It also helps in strengthening the bond between child and parents/caregivers which also positively helps children during their adolescence phase. By helping families, we help build a positive outlook, mutual support, and empathy and improved social norms around gender, equity etc. for a better society.
Note: Parul Sharma is the Officer-in-Charge of UNICEF Jharkhand