Ask Your Father

Photos Of 'Super Dads' Around The World Celebrate Paternal Influence At The Earliest Stages

Honor Father's Day with UNICEF's #EarlyMomentsMatter campaign.

As Father's Day approaches, children both young and old, are clamoring to find the perfect greeting card that captures the parent-child dynamic. UNICEF's latest campaign, however, bypasses the motions of the traditional Hallmark holiday to focus on the core of these important relationships. With more than 80 countries preparing to honor Father's Day this month, UNICEF is celebrating fatherhood and urging governments, employers and members of society to break down the barriers that deprive fathers of precious time with their young children, by investing in quality parenting programs and paid paternity leave.

"Advances in neuroscience have proven that when children spend their earliest years of life – particularly their first 1,000 days – in a nurturing and stimulating environment, their brains can form at optimal speed," Georgina Thompson, media consultant for UNICEF told A Plus. "These neural connections determine a child's cognitive ability, their health and happiness, how they learn and think, their ability to deal with stress, and their ability to form relationships." 

UNICEF launched a new parenting site as part of its Super Dads campaign recognizing fathers' role in their children's early development, as the organization calls 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. According to UNICEF's official statement, the online site will bring together fathers from around the world to share their parenting tips, their struggles, their needs, and their successes. 

To showcase some of these fathers, UNICEF teamed with world-renowned photographer Adriana Zehbrauskas to capture fathers' earliest moments with their newborns in delivery rooms across five diverse countries – Guinea Bissau, Mexico, Thailand, Turkmenistan, and the United Kingdom – to help encourage fathers play a more active role in their children's early years. Zehbrauskas' series is part of UNICEF's #EarlyMomentsMatter campaign, which portrays the lifelong effects of early childhood experiences and environments on children's brain development.

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Gerardo Brito Rodriguez holds his 13-day-old premature baby girl Diana Brito Muñoz, at the Instituto Nacional de Perinatología (INPER) hospital, in Mexico City, Mexico, Wednesday 21 February 2018. ©UNICEF/Zehbrauskas

"More than just a second parent or an extra set of hands, fathers are one of the best child development resources we have, and if we are going to give children the best start in life, we all need to fully recognize and utilize this role," UNICEF Global Chief of Early Childhood Development Dr. Pia Britto said in a statement.

As part of UNICEF's #EarlyMomentsMatter campaign, the Super Dads campaign is intended to remind parents everywhere that when fathers nurture their young ones in their earliest years of life – by providing love and protection, playing with them, and supporting their nutrition – their children will learn better, have less behavioral issues, and become healthier, happier human beings. The campaign will also feature 'mini parenting master classes,' the first of which features Britto explaining to Sesame Street's Grover the importance of protection, stimulation and good nutrition for healthy brain development.

"Good nutrition, protection, play and love in early childhood spark these neural connections in children's brains, and it's often parents who hold the biggest stake in this process," Thompson explained. "In many families, the mother is often the one who takes on a greater share of parenting. However, research suggests that when fathers are able to bond with their babies from the very beginning of life, they are more likely to play a more active role in their children's development, and thus support their children's present and future brain growth, their health, their learning, and their happiness and well being."

Juelmo Tchana Ncus smiles as a family member gives him his newborn baby to hold in Mother Teresa of Calcutta Maternity Hospital in the town of Bula, in the northern Cacheu Region. Mr. Tchana Ncus and his wife (Cadi Mbana), who are from Binar (located about seven kilometres from Bula), arrived at the hospital at about 10 p.m. the night before. Mr. Tchana Ncus, who left at midnight and came back at 5 a.m. the next morning, was at the hospital when she gave birth that evening, at about 6 p.m. ©UNICEF/Zehbrauskas
Jim Cherrett does skin-to-skin contact with his 6-week-old baby daughter Piper, who was born prematurely, in order to help bonding and keep her warm, in the neonatal unit of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospital, in Exeter, Devon, England, Wednesday February 28 2018. ©UNICEF/Zehbrauskas

"During the earliest years of life, in a nurturing, protective, stimulating and loving environment a child's brain can form up to one million neural connections every second," Thompson added. "Neural connections shape the architecture of children's brains, defining their cognitive, social, emotional, motor and linguistic development and helping to determine their health, happiness, ability to learn, feel empathy and deal with stress. Brain connections can become inhibited if children are poorly nourished and nurtured; if they are not protected from violence, conflict, disaster and environmental dangers; and if they do not receive responsive stimulation from caring adults."

Somsak Hameyai, 50, bathes his 2-day-old son Sailom (which means wind), his first child, during a bathing class for parents at the Regional Health Promotion Centre (Health Promoting Hospital) in Chiang Mai, Thailand, Wednesday 7 March 2018. ©UNICEF/Zehbrauskas

Ultimately, UNICEF hopes to break down cultural and financial barriers preventing fathers from spending quality time with their young children. UNICEF is calling on governments and the private sector to support basic national policies that support early childhood development which include initiatives that:

• Invest in and expand early childhood development services in homes, schools, communities and health clinics – prioritizing the most vulnerable children;
• Create family-friendly policies, including two years of free pre-primary education, paid parental leave, and paid breastfeeding breaks, a national priority;
• Give working parents the time and resources needed to support their young children's brain development;
• Collect and disaggregate data on early childhood development and tracking progress in reaching the most vulnerable children and families.

Thompson notes that early childhood development interventions, such as the Care for Child Development package, which includes training community health workers to teach families about the importance of playing with their children in a way that stimulates healthy development, can cost as little as 50 cents (USD) per capita per year, when combined with existing health services.

"Investment in early childhood is one of the most cost effective ways of increasing the ability of all children to reach their full potential – increasing their ability to learn in school and, later, their earning capacity as adults," Thompson emphasized. "This is especially significant for children growing up in poverty. One 20-year study showed that disadvantaged children who participated in quality early childhood development programmes as toddlers went on to earn up to 25 percent more as adults than their peers who did not receive the same support."

Cover image via ©UNICEF/Zehbrauskas

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