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© UNICEF/Pirozzi
Five-year-old Sofia, Teddy and mother Irina having fun at home

Parenting, or the Way to Build Your Child’s Future Today

by Raluca Zaharia - Education Officer, UNICEF Romania

The future of any society depends on its ability to foster the health and wellbeing of the next generation. Put simply, today’s children will become tomorrow’s citizens, work force and parents. When we invest wisely in children and families, the next generation will pay that back through a lifetime of productivity and responsible citizenship. When we fail to provide children with what they need to build a strong foundation for healthy and productive lives, we put our future prosperity and security at risk.

Recent childcare research has revealed that, in general,  parenting capacities are highly predictive of children’s social, emotional and cognitive development, and they may well be more important than participation in centre-based childcare, especially when the quality is quite low.

Where childcare is of high quality, it is associated, along with good parental care-giving, with children’s normal mental development and acquisition of  positive social skills.

Therefore, it is critically important that strategies for achieving good child development and school readiness include parenting education, quality childcare and basic health, nutrition and sanitation services.

Parenting may be defined as ‘purposive activities aimed at ensuring the survival and development of children. These actions may or may not be performed by the child’s biological parent.’(1) The term ‘parent’ in general denotes the biological relationship of a father or mother to a child, though it may be extended to adults without a biological relationship who are bringing up children.

What happens – or doesn’t happen – to children in the earliest years of their lives is of vital importance, both to their immediate wellbeing and to their future.

If you received the best start in life, you are more likely to have grown healthily, developed language and learning capacities, gone to school and led a productive, rewarding life. Yet millions of children around the world are still being denied the right to reach their full potential.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) states that the family has the key responsibility to ensure the fundamental rights of children, as it is the primary setting within which they are cared for and parented and where first significant relationships develop and the foundations of their development take place.

Every child must be guaranteed the best start in life – their future, and indeed the future of their communities, nations and the whole world depends on it.

All children have the need for and the right to parenting. Parenting means providing the ongoing care and support a child needs to survive and thrive. Such ongoing care and support includes making sure the child has:

  • appropriate early stimulation and education
  • protection from physical danger
  • adequate nutrition and healthcare
  • responsive and loving interaction with significant, consistent people
  • consistent expectations from his or her immediate environment and from adults
  • opportunities to learn cooperation, sharing and helping
  • a chance to develop independence, take responsibility and make choices
  • opportunities to engage in activities that support cognitive development
  • support in the development of self-worth and a positive sense of mastery
  • opportunity for socialisation to gain group membership and a cultural identity, i.e. a sense of belonging
  • positive role models

If children are to develop to their full potential, ongoing parental care and support through parenting are crucial. However, parents worldwide face tremendous obstacles such as the effects of HIV/AIDS, drug use, poverty, work migration and  the effects of armed conflict and so on. Parents often lack the skills, knowledge and resources to raise children to their full potential.

In order to give families the skills and knowledge to provide care, nutrition and protection, UNICEF focuses on parenting programmes tailored to the varying needs of children and their caregivers or parents. For example, programmes can focus on training mothers or caregivers to understand their children’s development and to respond appropriately, or suggest ways for fathers to become more active in their children’s lives. They can also focus on providing parents with skills that, while not directly related to parenting, will enhance their ability to parent. These can include job skills courses to enable parents to earn more money, which would allow them to devote more resources to the health, nutrition and education of their children.

How does UNICEF do it?
UNICEF promotes parenting though many channels. It works with national and local media to get basic but effective messages out. At the same time, it collaborates with trained professionals who provide guidance to parents and caregivers. Volunteers and trainers talk with parents on a one-to-one basis or in groups. Parent groups share their experiences and learn from each other. Including communities in the dialogue allows UNICEF to reach more parents and help more young children get the support they need for their development. When parents have the necessary skills and information, children grow to their full potential – emotionally secure, socially confident, mentally alert and healthy.

Childrearing has its ups and downs, but parenting in the early years is crucial to a child’s – and a society’s – future

UNICEF/ Pirozzi / Social worker Marina leads a counselling session with four-month-old Mariam and her mother

(1) Hoghughi Masud (2004). Parenting – An Introduction. Handbook of Parenting: Theory and research for practice. p.5.






Unite for Children
No 5, 2009

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