A CAMPIAGN to encourage ‘playful parenting’ was launched in Zambia on Father’s Day by Government with support from UNICEF and an organisation called LEGO Foundation.
I would like to believe that the campaign was launched on Father’s Day to elicit the participation of fathers, who mostly play the breadwinning role in families, as mothers take care of the children.
What is this playful parenting campaign all about? You may be wondering.
Well, parenting as we know it is about providing consistent care and guidance to a child by a parent or guardian so that they could learn our ways of life. Based on the life we model to them, children learn important lessons and become responsible citizens in future.
Parenting is also about nurturing children, providing them with all the love and nutrition they need; protecting them from all forms of harm; nursing them when they are sick; providing counsel and role-modelling in general.
Borrowing from the biblical concept, I would say parenting is about training a child in the way that they should go so that when they grow up, they do not depart from the foundation we have laid for them.
Parenting is important because as children grow up, they learn from the experiences of parents, guardians and other caregivers, including our actions, habits, attitudes, behaviours, beliefs, norms and values, among others.
Medical experts tell us that healthy interactions between parents/caregivers with children have a bearing on the young ones’ brain development and intellectual abilities.
Playful parenting has similar effects on cognitive abilities and brain development in children. However, the playful parenting campaign takes a further step from parenting as we know it, to encompass the important role of play in a child’s life. By the way, this is by no means ordinary play of children with fellow children.
But rather playful parenting involves social interaction of children with their parents – mothers and fathers – or any person providing consistent care to them.
UNICEF Zambia, a key partner in this campaign, says children learn through play. They are saying a child’s “work” from birth to five years is play.
“Play is central to child development. From birth on, children learn best through playful interactions with parents or caregivers,” it states.
UNICEF further explains that playing with young children involves actively observing, listening to, supporting, talking with, and understanding what they are doing and capable of doing next.
They have found that through play, children can develop core skills such as planning, negotiation, collaboration, communication, teamwork, critical thinking, and creativity.
So playful parenting could simply be done by playing with your children – playing games with them, sharing a story with them or singing a lullaby to a child at bedtime.
In other words, playful parenting entails coming down to your children’s level and doing together the things they love doing like making music, reading books, playing the hide-and-seek game, watching television and laughing together.
During the time some of us were growing up, playing with parents and guardians was unheard of because the former were supposed to be feared by their children, instead of being respected. And in some homes, when parents returned home from work, the children scampered to their rooms.
Some fathers could not even hug their daughters or dine with them because, from a young age, girl children were told they needed to keep a distance from their dads for reasons best known to the elders.
So dads ate nshima with the boys on the table while girls dined with their mums in the kitchen or on a reed mat under a tree because children were told not to get very familiar with parents of the opposite sex.
So talking of playful parenting, which the ministries of General Education and Community Development and Social Services are championing in partnership with UNICEF and LEGO Foundation, was unheard of those days.
Apparently, things are now changing as we see a lot of millennials playing with their mothers and fathers. We also see parents socialising more with their sons and daughters, both at home and outdoors because of the apparent shift to modernity in this era. However, there are still some parents who do not believe in the idea of playing with their children due to misconceptions that it is a waste of time.
So why is this playful parenting so important that the Zambian government has launched a national campaign titled ‘I play, I learn, I thrive’?
Health experts say play for a child is not a waste of time because it is crucial for brain development.
According to Ministry of Health spokesperson Abel Kabalo, children who receive nurturing care and stimulation of play, including interactions with parents and caregivers, develop quicker and grow healthier, in addition to thriving better in school and later in life.
“During the first few years of life, a child’s brain develops at a rate of more than one million new neural connections every second. This is a once in a lifetime occurrence,” Dr Kabalo said to stress the significance of brain stimulation through play.
Speaking at the launch of the playful parenting campaign on June 21, Dr Kabalo said for children to feel secure, they must be shown love and affection.
This campaign is encouraging parents and caregivers to show love and affection to little children in different ways such as hugging, cuddling, smiling, laughing together, tickling, massaging, gestures and verbally.
So the playful parenting that the ‘I play, I learn, I thrive’ campaign is advocating does not just involve children that can speak, but younger ones, too, including babies.
Parents and caregivers are expected to create an environment for play, but more so make time for it and participate in children’s activities.
Children need more of that social interaction with parents and guardians, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic when most of them are locked up indoors.
Obviously, the kids are bored at home because they cannot go to school (except those in examination classes) nor interact with friends the way they did before the advent of the coronavirus.
Much as the parents are busy making money for their families, they also need to find time to play with the children because the prolonged confinement to their homes is not an easy thing to handle.
As a matter of fact, most of the children are missing school because there are no activities to keep them busy.
Therefore, parents need to support activities that could stimulate children’s minds within the home set-up.
From what we are told, playful parenting is not just about playing games with children, but fostering care to the children too.
It also involves providing nutrition, stimulation and protection that the children need for sound brain development.
The playful parenting campaign is a big national programme that will see billboards, some of them in local languages, mounted in 20 towns in Zambia.
I hope that parents and caregivers will heed the campaign message and interact more with their children. A passionate appeal is being made to them to support children’s development through play by physically bringing themselves to the level of the little ones.
And this does not mean buying fancy toys for one’s children or going out to expensive places, but rather using whatever items one may have at their disposal.
For example, even a home-made skipping rope or ball (ichimpombwa in Bemba) could do, including any interactive activity like story-telling and playing the cheerleader when children are playing games.
Obviously, the participation of fathers in this campaign is critical because it was launched on Father’s Day.
Like I mentioned earlier, in many homes parenting is seen as a primary responsibility of women as fathers are mainly breadwinners. Some fathers actually delegate the parenting responsibility to their wives, and when children become delinquent, it is the mothers that bear the brunt of blame.
This is why we are hoping that fathers will embrace the playful parenting campaign and lead by example in aiding child development through play.