We all want what's best for our children, but being a parent isn't always easy.
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The early years in a child’s life build the foundation for their growth and development. This early brain development determines how your baby thinks, learns and behaves and in the long run, determines their ability to succeed in life.
Did you know that during the first 1,000 days of life, a child’s brain develops at a never-again-repeated speed of more than one million new neural connections every second.
This period offers a once in a lifetime opportunity to shape a child’s ability to learn, grow and contribute fully to society. However, these connections only come together when a child receives proper health, adequate nutrition, protection, responsive care giving and early learning opportunities.
Neuroscience now offers compelling evidence that while genes provide the blueprint for the brain, it is a child’s environment that shapes brain development. Parents have a critical role in shaping the right environment for their children in the first five years of life that establish their capacity to learn, adapt to change and develop psychological resilience.
Key facts on why early moments matter
- The brain develops most rapidly from conception to three years.
- One hundred billion neurons are formed in the human brain by 40 weeks of gestation.
- 1000 neural connections formed every second through stimulation.
- Responsive relationships and healthy, stimulating environments build a sturdy brain.
- Children start understanding gender at age three but begin to experience gender socialization from birth (in India, before birth).
Providing a nurturing environment at home
Parents are the most important people in the life of every child – they provide nutrition, protection, care, and love.
UNICEF underscores that being a parent is the most important job in the world. Parents and other caregivers are the primary providers of the nutrition, stimulation and protection that every baby needs for healthy brain development.
Lack of positive relationships, inadequate supervision and the absence of involvement of parents are strongly associated with a child’s increased risk of behavioural and emotional problems. They also affect brain development, with a long-term impact on children.
It is critical that parents, including fathers, spend quality time with children and give their child the best start in life.
With every hug and every kiss, every meal and every game, you can help your baby develop in so many ways!
Guide for parents with children aged 0-2 years
Give them proper nourishment. Only mother's milk for the first six months.
Know the importance of touch. Cuddle and hug them often.
Monitor their growth. Take them for necessary immunization doses.
Talk to your baby. Make sure you look at them in their eyes and talk to them in their mother tongue.
Show them things around them. Take them outdoors and name the things that you see around.
Guide for parents with children aged 2-4 years
Talk and listen. Talking and sharing helps children open up.
Structure the day. Set a regular schedule for waking up.
Play and have fun. Sing a song, tell a story and dance a little.
Set boundaries. Teach them safe and unsafe touch.
Limit digital media activities. Do not look at digital media when you engage with children.
Train them to use the toilet. Teach them hand washing with soap after using the toilet, before meals and after play.
Guide for parents with children aged 4-6 years
Lay the foundation of learning. Enroll them at the nearest preschool or Anganwadi centre.
Violence begets violence. Explain instead of shouting and solve disputes peacefully, including in front of children.
Play outdoors, whenever possible. Outdoor games are a great way to bond.
Read, talk and tell stories. Let them make up stories - they are fun to listen to.
Involve children in household activities. Let them learn all household chores and divide responsibilities equally among boys and girls.
Parenting during COVID-19
As a parent, you want to do everything you can to protect your child. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has brought with it new challenges for families across the globe. UNICEF is here to be your partner in navigating this pandemic by providing you with accurate, reliable information on the best ways to keep your family safe.
Messages for parents
- It is a stressful time – take care of self and support the children
- Always answer their questions truthfully. Think about how old your child is and how much they can understand.
- COVID-19 has changed the daily schedule of everyone, yours as well as of your child. Make a new schedule.
- Even if your children have not heard about Coronavirus, tell them about it – silence does not help
- Allow your child to talk freely. Ask them open questions and find out how much they already know.
- Your child may be scared or confused. Give them space to share how they are feeling and let them know you are there for them.
- Set aside quality time to spend with your child.
- Model for a child’s behaviour, make hand washing with soap and hygienic practices fun.
- Try and catch bad behaviour early
- Do not show anger – pause and think and then act/respond
- It is fine to say “We don’t know, but we are working on it; or we don’t know, but we think.” Use this as an opportunity to learn something new with your child!
- Explain that COVID-19 has nothing to do with the way someone looks, where they are from, or what language they speak.
- There are a lot of stories going around. Some may not be true. Use trustworthy sites like the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, UNICEF and the World Health Organization to get factual information.
Visit the UNICEF Coronavirus (COVID-19) parenting tips website
Expert tips to help you deal with COVID-19 parenting challenges. You can also get parenting advice from our global UNICEF parenting site.
Meet Vihaan: The Virus Warrior
COVID 19 wanted to conquer the entire planet, so it devised a battle plan and multiplied itself into millions and hid in people’s hands.
Vihaan opened his secret treasure box and pulled out the “Virus Shield” with a small note on how to wear the shield
Parenting Matters: Examining Parenting Approaches and Practices in the Early Childhood Years
UNICEF India commissioned Kantar Public to carry out a formative study on parenting practices to assess existing beliefs, methods, and behaviours of parents, extended family and service providers. This brochure presents the key findings of the formative study along with these five domains.
Key Findings of the Study
1. Mothers were the main caregivers for children while fathers are much less involved.
2. While male caregivers took children outdoors, female caregivers were more engaged in enabling indoor stimulation through storytelling and singing, among others.
3. Traditional wisdom from mothers-in-law was relied upon for childcare practices while front line workers were the source for schemes and services for children.
4. At least 30 different forms of physical and verbal abuse were reported as part of disciplining efforts. The punishment was a widely method accepted to disciple children for both boys and girls.
5. Girls and boys were raised very differently from a very early age – with the burden of household chores, day to day restrictions, being imposed more on girls by fathers.
6. If not prioritized in COVID-19 responses, young children face disproportionate risk and irreparable loss.
7. There is an urgent need for supporting parents and caregivers to enable positive parenting practices.
8. The incidence of violence against children is rising during COVID-19.