Super Dads across Europe and Central Asia

Active, loving fathers are one of the best resources for developing a child’s brain.

By Emily Subden
A father in Montenegro spends some time on the beach with his little one.
UNICEF Montenegro/Dusko Miljanic
14 June 2018

Recent studies have shown fathers who are actively involved in the upbringing of their children have a positive impact on their child’s brain development. By simply spending time nurturing and playing with their child, fathers can give their children the best start in life. Below is a selection of photos from across Europe and Central Asia of fathers doing just that – and showing us the joys of being a Super Dad.

A father cradles his three-day-old baby in a hospital in Serbia.

Just by holding a new baby close to them, fathers, like this new dad in Serbia, are already helping their child’s brain to develop as well as making sure the baby feels comforted and calm. Evidence suggests that when fathers bond with their babies from the beginning of life, they are more likely to play a more active role in their child’s development.

A father plays with his young daughter at their home in Kyrgyzstan.
UNICEF Kyrgyzstan

When children spend their first 1,000 days of life in a nurturing, stimulating environment, new neural connections form at a speed never to be paralleled in later life. By playing and talking with his daughter, this father in Kyrgyzstan is helping his baby’s young brain to grow. This early growth will impact her development throughout her life strengthening her cognitive abilities, how she learns and thinks, her ability to deal with stress, and even how much she will potentially earn as an adult. 

A father reads with his first-born child at a centre of maternal and child health in Sliven, Bulgaria.
UNICEF Bulgaria/2016/Popov

Reading stories to little ones, like what this father in Bulgaria is doing, as well as singing and playing games, strengthens parent-child bonding, prepares children to read and enriches their language skills. Communication and responsive care are the best ways for parents to boost their baby’s brain development and fathers can play just as vital a role in this as mothers. 

A refugee father and his daughter share a cuddle at a UNICEF-supported refugee centre in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
UNICEF Bosnia and Herzegovina/Djemidzic

When children are in crisis situations, such as being uprooted from their homes due to conflict or poverty, they are especially vulnerable to experiencing psychosocial distress. Children feel the impact of the stress and depression their parents may be facing which can lead to neglect, abuse, violence or just indifference to caregiving responsibilities. UNICEF works to provide mental health support to caregivers and children, as well as safe spaces for them to rest and play together. UNICEF also advocates for uprooted families to be kept together, like this father and daughter at a refugee centre in Bosnia and Herzegovina, as well family reunification for those who have already become separated. 

A father from vulnerable community plays a video game with his young son.
UNICEF Bulgaria/2016/Popov

Bonding over a shared love of football, a father and his son who live in a vulnerable community in Bulgaria spend some quality time together. The boy’s mother is resting from a night shift and is also taking care of his baby sister. UNICEF works to support vulnerable families who may be struggling to cope with child care in order to help them stay together as a family unit. Visiting nurses provide counselling, practical advice, including on health and nutrition, and emotional support to parents to ensure children get the best possible start in life.

A father plays with his daughter Iris at their home in Serbia.
UNICEF Serbia/2017/Imre Szabo

Children love to play and imitate their parents and simple games, like this little one is playing with her father in Serbia, can help strengthen the bond between a father and his child. To increase infants’ self-esteem and confidence, parents are encouraged to provide positive reinforcement using words such as “yes”, “good” and “well done” rather than “no”, “bad”, “not good”. Harsh discipline, psychological or physical, should be avoided at all costs as it can be particularly detrimental to the health and development of young children.

Kisses and cuddles between a father and his daughter at a beach in Montenegro.
UNICEF Montenegro/ Miljanic

Positive interactions between fathers and their children, such as this little girl cuddling with her dad in Montenegro, can lead to long term benefits such as better psychological health, self-esteem and life-satisfaction. Toddlers are especially happy when they see that they are making the adults around them happy too.

As Father’s Day is celebrated across nearly 90 countries this month, UNICEF has launched a new parenting site as part of its Early Moments Matter campaign recognizing fathers’ role in their children’s early development. UNICEF is calling for more support for fathers globally, including for policies that give parents the time and resources they need to spend quality time with their children. The online site brings together fathers from across the world to share their parenting tips, their struggles, their needs, and their successes. It also features ‘mini parenting master classes’.