Rwanda: Ange Kagame Joins 'Parenting Month' Campaign, Shares Tips On Developing a Child's Brain

The first daughter, Ange Kagame, has joined the ongoing 'Parenting Month' campaign by sharing tips for parents on how to boost their babies' brain development through play.

In a video shared by UNICEF Rwanda earlier Monday, June 21, the mother of one talked about how a baby's brain develops most in the first 1,000 days at a pace never repeated again.

She also highlights the role of both parents, male and female, in the overall development of their baby.

'Parenting month' campaign was launched on June 1, by the Ministry of Gender and Family Promotion (Migeprof), National Child Development Agency, UNICEF and other partners.

The month-long campaign focuses on preventing and eliminating all forms of child malnutrition, while promoting child's growth and development within the households, according to a UNICEF Rwanda statement.

"The early years of a child are important for the child's brain development, because the experiences young children have and the relationships they build with the important people in their life, literally shape the development of their brain," Ange Kagame, who has a 10-month-old daughter, said. "This early foundation affects their behaviour, physical and mental health, and follows through a lifetime."

She explained that the most important thing the parents can do to support the brain development of a child is "to get to know the young child, to understand her or his needs, and be able to engage with a child through what scientists call a serve and return interaction".

According to the Center on the Developing Child, Harvard University, 'serve and return' works like a game of tennis or volleyball between the child and a caregiver. The child "serves" by reaching out for interaction, with eye contact, facial expressions, gestures, babbling, or touch. A responsive caregiver will "return the serve" by speaking back, playing peekaboo, or sharing a toy or a laugh. This back-and-forth process is fundamental to the wiring of the brain, especially in the earliest years.

Ange Kagame advised parents that in order for 'serve and return' to be playful and helpful to the child, it must happen when the parent is feeding his or her child, when changing the child's clothes, or while bathing the child.

"Parents need to understand that when you smile back and just don't stop there, but start playing, you are actually building the baby's brain connections," she added. "It is also very important that both the mother and the father play with their baby, by taking time to create back and forth interactions every day, you are helping to prepare your baby, laying a foundation for a long time of learning and problem solving".

Julianna Lindsey, UNICEF Representative in Rwanda, said in a statement that the campaign is focusing on positive parenting and mental wellness to support and encourage parents with resources on how to cope during the Covid-19 times.

Officials at MIGEPROF have urged parents to care for their children even more during the pandemic.

"Despite the Covid-19 effects on families, especially during the lockdown periods when children were obliged to drop their leisure time and schooling, both parents, mothers and fathers, did a tremendous work in terms of parenting," Jeannette Bayisenge, the Minister for Gender and Family Promotion, said at the launch of the national campaign earlier this month.

She added: "I commend them for their efforts in parenting and educating their children to ensure a brighter future for them, and I also encourage them to keep the momentum throughout the childhood of their children."

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