Role of fathers in early learning activities still minimal – UNICEF

Role of fathers in early learning activities still minimal - UNICEF
Father holds young crying son. Courtesy Photo.

More than 40 million children aged between 3 and 4 years-old in 74 countries have fathers who do not play or engage in early learning activities with them, according to a new UNICEF analysis.

The analysis, which uses Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) data on parenting behaviors, looked at whether children aged 3 and 4 engaged in any play and early learning activities with their fathers. The activities include having their father read to the children, tell them stories or sing with them; taking them outside, playing with them; and naming, counting or drawing with them.

The Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys is the largest collection of comparable data on parental behaviors in the world.

“What these numbers show us is that fathers are struggling to play an active role in their children’s early years,” UNICEF Director of Data, Research and Policy Laurence Chandy said in a statement issued this morning.

Chandy observes a need to break down the barriers that prevent fathers from providing their babies and young children a conducive environment for them to thrive, and ensure that all parents have the time, resources and knowledge to fully support their children’s early development. She added that children need love, play, protection and nutritious food, among others.

To encourage more fathers to play an active role in their young children’s development and highlight the importance of love, play, protection and good nutrition for the healthy development of young children’s brains, this month UNICEF is inviting families to post photos and videos of what it takes to be ‘super dads,’ using the hashtag #EarlyMomentsMatter on their Instagram and Twitter accounts.

In Uganda, ‘super dads’ were identified in Karamoja, West Nile and the West, all of whom shared how they are fully engaged in their children’s optimal growth and development.

UNICEF urges governments and the private sector to increase spending and influence polices to support Early Childhood Development programmes that focus on providing parents with the resources and information they need to provide nurturing care to their children.

Advances in neurosciences have proven that when children spend their earliest years in a nurturing, stimulating environment, new neural connections can form at a once-in-a-lifetime speed of 1,000 per second. These connections help determine their health, ability to learn and deal with stress, and even influence their earning capacity as adults.

Research also suggests that exposure to violence and a lack of stimulation and care can prevent neural connections from occurring; and when children positively interact with their fathers, they have better psychological health, self-esteem and life-satisfaction in the long-term.