Play helps parents achieve their goals together
Parenting month 2022. stories by parents from Novi Pazar and Kragujevac
Serbia, Novi Pazar/Kragujevac - Baby Rahim smiles and makes his first sounds – “ba-ba”. Dad Muhammad, who is from Egypt, is very proud. He’s convinced that Rahim is saying “dad” in Arabic. Mom Azra is from Novi Pazar, in southwestern Serbia, where the family currently lives. Azra and Muhammad are always talking and singing to their baby, in Serbian, Arabic and English. They’re convinced that their faces are Rahim’s favourite toys.
“We play with him, talk to him while changing him, bathing him. Talking to him brings a smile to his face, his eyes, gets his attention. He’s focused on my lips and he’s reading from our lips and learning to speak and to repeat those sounds,” Rahim’s mom Azra Tutic talks about this young family’s routine.
Dad Muhammad and Rahim have their own rituals. “He likes it when I carry him on my shoulders. He likes playing peekaboo. I always joke with him, and he smiles back at me.”
Rahim is six months old, and he and his parents are now a smooth-running team. But when Azra came home from the maternity ward, they faced their first parenting challenges.
When I left the maternity ward, I had no confidence at all. I was really scared because I didn't know what to do when the baby was crying. I didn't know if he was hungry, uncomfortable, if the nappy needed changing or if he was just bored, Azra recalls.
Those were uncertain moments for Rahim’s dad as well.
He’s our first baby, so it was a bit strange. We didn’t know what to do with that little lizard that wouldn't stop wriggling,” says Muhammad Abdelrahman with a broad smile. “He needed changing, bathing, feeding. When the [nurse] came, she was so helpful.”
Ljiljana Radovanovic, the family’s home visiting nurse, helped them to learn and master the basics - breastfeeding, bathing, and changing the baby. But she also helped them build their confidence as parents.
“The first visits, but also later ones, are very important, because they aren’t just about feeding and hygiene. The greatest benefit of these visits is the emotional support,” believes Ljiljana.
One of the most important pieces of advice that Ljiljana gave Azra and Muhammad is that play is the best way for a child to learn, to get closer to his or her parents, and it’s the best way to stimulate a child’s emotional development.
I advised them to respond to their baby’s smiles, to respond to every sound he makes. That kind of feedback is very important for a child's future development. They approve, they praise, they reward the baby, and he responds the same way, explains Ljiljana
“We’re trying to do everything together,” Muhammad says with confidence.
This was the second most important piece of advice from the home visiting nurse, and the young parents eagerly adopted it.
“Everything we do for the baby, we do it equally and together, whether it's play, bath time or feeding. We complement each other. I was counselled not to neglect myself, to find time for myself,” explains Azra and adds they have an internal agreement in their family. While the dad is cooking, she is taking care of the baby. When she needs to spend time outside the home, Muhammad supports her and enjoys spending time with Rahim. This agreement works both ways.
“It’s better to share, because we’re giving each other space this way,” says Rahim’s dad. “And the baby won’t grow up thinking – mommy is doing everything for me. In fact, daddy is also changing me, bathing me, feeding me, taking me out for walks, joking with me.”
Through UNICEF’s Scaling-up Playful Parenting Programme, being carried out in cooperation with the Government of the Republic of Serbia and partners, and with the support of the LEGO Foundation, practitioners in Serbia empower parents to overcome challenges together. The aim of the Programme is to improve support services for children from birth, including for their parents and guardians. So far 15,000 parents in Serbia have benefitted from the Programme. Its aim is to promote playful parent-child interactions by improving support services for children. Children grow and think through play. Children understand the language of the game the best. In the earliest years of life, children, though play and interaction with their parents, develop all the necessary life skills that will open the door to success for them in the future. Through the game, parents grow as well as their personal experience of happiness and role in the family. The Programme encourages moms and dads to share the care for their children and to support each other. It also empowers practitioners to support parents, to give them advice on how to cope with stress, and to nurture family relationships by relying on their immediate support systems and the community. This is crucial, as only empowered and supported parents are equipped to recognize, understand and respond to their child’s needs, while simultaneously relying on play routines and supportive relationships. Therefore, home visiting nurses, preschool teachers and social workers are also focusing on caring for parents, so they can better care for their children.
The Jeremic family from Kragujevac faced their first challenges immediately after the birth of their daughter Jovana, who is now two years old.
Our struggle for Jovana started the moment we left the hospital, Jovana’s mom Bojana Jeremic recalls, Jovana was diagnosed with a neurological problem.
Bojana was very stressed even at the thought that her daughter could fall, as she is unstable due to her diagnosis.
“It was traumatic for me every time she fell. My husband Marko and I are fully dedicated to her, his and my family as well. That’s how it was until she started preschool.”
Jovana started going to preschool after her first birthday and this is when her parents became additionally stressed and concerned because they couldn’t fully follow her developmental journey. Stress at work was an additional challenge for Bojana.
“I spend a lot of time at work, and I couldn’t notice everything about my child’s [development],” explains Bojana.
Jovana’s preschool nurse, Vesna Rankovic, noticed that. When Bojana came to her with additional questions and dilemmas about raising Jovana, Vesna offered to include Jovana’s family in the Playful Parenting Programme, supported by UNICEF and the LEGO Foundation.
“For a parent to be of use to their child, first they need to be of use to themselves. Dissatisfaction, stress - it all must be channelled somehow,” says Vesna.
The preschool nurse worked with the Jeremic family during home visits, helping them implement stimulating parenting routines.
“What meant a lot to me as a practitioner was seeing how the child behaves in preschool, and how she behaves at home. It helps us practitioners get a picture of the child from two angles. We have better insight into the family and can better understand them,” explains the preschool nurse Vesna.
And results were visible very quickly, says Bojana.
She drew my attention to many things that I hadn’t been noticing. Together, we’ve greatly improved Jovana’s development. I’m much more relaxed, I don't panic anymore when Jovana falls, we teach her to land on her hands. It’s still difficult for me, but I’m adapting.
Jovana’s parents, Marko and Bojana, are a good example of a mom and dad who practice shared parenting.
“We’re trying to make sure both of us have our free time. Marko helps me out a lot. He’s really supportive in all this,” Bojana says smiling.
“You can see … [the change]. The smile says it all. It’s mutual support. It’s visible,” confirms Vesna.