ExpertSpeak: Fathers Play A Critical Role In Children's Overall Growth
It is universally understood that the mother is closest to the new-born. So vital is she that her touch can speed up an infant’s development and recognition of self. What’s not acknowledged as much is that the father’s touch is equally important. Unfortunately, notions in most societies are skewed towards mothers being primary caregivers and accountable for nurturing, play, schooling, etc. Fathers, who should equally share the responsibility, are instead thought of as silent givers. This needs to change. There must be greater awareness about the importance of the father in early childhood development.
Rushda Majeed, India Representative, Bernard van Leer Foundation, takes us through, in her words, how it’s not just the mother who has the onus of being influential in a child’s growth stage but also the father.
When a child is born, men, too, change is many ways — emotionally and psychologically — as they take up caregiving duties. Their presence in the early years impacts their child’s life trajectory in terms of how they are conditioned to grow and thrive in the outside world.
In research conducted by the Journal of the American Academy of Paediatrics in 2016, it came to light that fathers have similar psychological experiences to mothers and are capable of similar successful interactions with infants. Men become play partners for children, as these physical activities tend to be more stimulating and vigorous. Fathers participating in such high-intensity interactions lead their children towards exploration and independence.
Although societal norms push fathers to be more interested in play than caregiving on average, they play a key role in nurturing social-emotional, cognitive, language and motor development. They also serve as role models and mentors for their children. A competent, caring father can nurture and guide a child effectively and contribute to all areas of development.
The Pandemic Shift
The pandemic and subsequent lockdown have changed parenting patterns and have undoubtedly created a significant opportunity for both parents, especially fathers, to spend more time with their children and to be more involved in their development and growth. Working from home has helped fathers utilise their time to play, interact and strengthen the bond with their children and family, and to create a work-life balance. The introduction of paternity leave is a laudable move, enabling fathers to spend quality time and bond with their new-borns. Organisations and employers should upgrade their policies to include such benefits. Parenting programmes and other initiatives need to involve and support fathers so that they can develop their capacities to provide childcare. This will also help reduce the strain on mothers, and promote equality.
There is research that supports men’s involvement in positive ways, benefits that are transmitted from one generation to the next. Young boys watching their fathers and other male members performing domestic chores at home and showcasing respectable interactions with female family members are likely to grow up as mature adults who support gender equality. Fathers are invaluable when it comes to child rearing – it’s time to recognise their value in this key responsibility.
Also Read: Expert Speak: The Role Of Parents In Early Childhood Learning