It would be a difficult challenge for a kid, if asked to choose between their mother and father. Both parents share a unique bond with their child. And while the role of a mother is often discussed, fathers are seldom given the spotlight. However, in early childhood, fathers play an important role in the emotional, mental and physical growth of their child.
According to Dr Subodh S Gupta, professor and head of Department of Community Medicine, MGIMS, Sewagram, Maharashtra, in early years of life — from pregnancy to three years of age — the baby’s brain develops at the fastest rate. In fact, good nutrition, adequate heath, stimulation from talk and play, protection and responsive caregiving affect the neural connections of the brain. “Early child development (ECD) encompasses physical, socio-emotional, cognitive and motor development between 0-8 years of age. Early childhood experiences have a profound impact on brain development, affecting learning, health, behaviour and ultimately, income,” he explains.
The role of fathers in early child development
Dr Gupta tells Express Parenting that the father-child relationship is “one of the most precious and significant relationships in an individual’s life. Active engagement by the father helps the child learn life skills and lessons in their early years, which can have a long-term impact on school and adult success. For babies born in underprivileged families, intervening early can help children reach their maximum potential.”
Sachin Kailash Mohurle, a 31-year-old construction worker from Maharashtra’s Yavatmal district understands this. The father of a two-year-old girl says he has been spending a lot of time with her right now in the pandemic, since he is not required to go out for work as much. “I help her study, and also play with her. I wake her up and help her brush her teeth; we have breakfast together. Before the pandemic, I was not able to spend as much time with her. My daughter is at a stage in life wherein she has started to recognise all of us, her parents, her grandparents. It makes me happy that I am present in her life, witnessing it all,” he shares.
It is somewhat similar in 31-year-old Prashant Devidas Chavre’s house. Chavre, who also hails from Yavatmal, has an 18-month-old daughter. The proud father, who works at a tyre shop, tells this outlet that in the lockdowns, he was able to spend more at home with his family, especially his kid. “We would eat together; I would feed her. Then, she would play with me, take a stroll with me. Before the pandemic, I was not able to do any of it. Now when she sees me, she recognises me and gets excited. Kids learn everything from their parents. So, I urge all fathers to spend as much time with them as possible. It helps in their overall development. My daughter, for instance, has begun to talk,” he says.
Dr Gupta says there is research done to show when fathers bond with their babies from the very beginning of life, they are more likely to play an active role in their development, “which shapes how happy, healthy, smart and confident the baby will grow. In the first 1,000 days of their life, babies’ brains develop faster than at any other time; just 15 minutes of ‘we time’ can spark millions of brain connections.”
This is what has pushed Kunal Suri, 37, a Delhi-based manufacturer of bespoke interiors and accessories, into being a more present dad. “Before the pandemic, I used to be extremely busy with work. In fact, I barely used to get time to be around the kids and there was no concept of family time, even during meals. I even missed out on several milestones of our kids. Our only real family time was on Sundays, when we would eat and play together,” he shares.
Suri has two kids — a daughter who is five, and a son who is 11. Ever since he started to work-from-home in the pandemic, he has been able to spend more time with them. “My son Arhann and I used to sit together in the same room every morning at 9 am, where he’d be attending his online classes and I would be doing my work. Since I have a flair for mathematics, I started making him do his homework; and as a result, his math got stronger. I definitely feel closer to my children than before, on a mental and emotional level.”
He adds that he wants to build on this relationship further. “My kids and I have become best friends in the last year-and-a-half. Getting back to the office has been a huge transition for me, and my kids now have a bit of separation anxiety. So, we have made it a rule to have lunch together twice a week and to continue our father-son/father-daughter bonding sessions as per usual.”
Dr Gupta suggests that fathers can help with their child’s development by “giving [them] a hug, kiss, playing simple games, singing songs, or telling stories”. Those who have younger kids, can “feed them”, “help in burping, bath, and changing diapers”. “The father can take the child to the neighbourhood park or market to help explore the surroundings. He can provide a feeling of physical and emotional safety to the baby.”
He suggests the following simple activities:
* Develop a ritual, something that can be done every day. Play with your child and talk to them during bath time, meal time. Don’t be afraid to be silly.
* Engage your child when you are doing a household chore and make these routines playful. If you have to prepare a meal, take your child to the kitchen. Let them explore different items. Take your child with you when you go to the market. Keep talking to them, explaining to them whatever you come across.
* Have a family meal time. If you have a limited time, grab a fruit or a simple healthy snack, sit with your child and chat.
* Let the child lead the interaction. Do a play activity that your child chooses.
* Tell your child you love them every day.
“Remember, with every hug and kiss, with every nutritious meal and game, you’re helping to build your child’s brain,” he concludes.
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