Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

There’s a Better Way to Parent: Less Yelling, Less Praise

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In the Atlantic Joe Pinsker interviews Michaeleen Doucleff, author of a book of how parenting is done in various cultures. The article begins:

At one point in her new book, the NPR journalist Michaeleen Doucleff suggests that parents consider throwing out most of the toys they’ve bought for their kids. It’s an extreme piece of advice, but the way Doucleff frames it, it seems entirely sensible: “Kids spent two hundred thousand years without these items,” she writes.

Her deeply researched book, Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans, contains many moments like this, in which an American child-rearing strategy comes away looking at best bizarre and at worst counterproductive. “Our culture often has things backward when it comes to kids,” she writes.

Doucleff arrives at this conclusion while traveling, with her then-3-year-old daughter, to meet and learn from parents in a Maya village on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico; in an Inuit town in a northern Canadian territory; and in a community of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. During her outings, she witnesses well-adjusted, drama-free kids share generously with their siblings and do chores without being asked.

She takes care to portray her subjects not as curiosities “frozen in time,” but instead as modern-day families who have held on to invaluable child-rearing techniques that likely date back tens of thousands of years. I recently spoke with Doucleff about these techniques, and our conversation, below, has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Joe Pinsker: Many American parenting strategies, you estimate, are only about 100 years old, and some of them arose more recently than that. What about American parenting sticks out to you as distinctive and particularly strange?

Michaeleen Doucleff: One of the craziest things we do is praise children constantly. When I was first working on the book, I recorded myself to see how frequently I praised my little girl, Rosy, and I noticed that I would exaggeratedly react to even her smallest accomplishments, like drawing a flower or writing a letter, with a comment like “Good job!” or “Wow! What a beautiful flower!”

This is insane if you look around the world and throughout human history. Everywhere I went, I don’t know if I ever heard a parent praise a child. Yet these kids are incredibly self-sufficient, confident, and respectful—everything we want praise to do, these kids already have it, without the praise.

It’s hard to cut back on praise, because it’s so baked in, but later on, I decided to try. It’s not that there’s no feedback, but it’s much gentler feedback—parents will smile or nod if a child is doing something they want. I started doing that, and Rosy’s behavior really improved. A lot of the attention-seeking behavior went away.

Pinsker: You visited an Inuit town in the Canadian territory of Nunavut, and spent time in households where children were almost mysteriously immune to tantrums. How did the parents you met respond when kids misbehaved?

Doucleff: One night while I was there, Rosy and I were staying with a woman named Sally who was watching three of her grandchildren—so, four kids under 6 years old in this house. Sally just approached everything they did with the most calmness and composure I have ever seen. At one point, a little toddler, maybe 18 months at the time, I think he was pulling the dog’s tail or something. Sally picked him up and, when she did, he scratched her face so hard that it was bleeding. I would have been irate, but Sally, I saw her kind of clench her teeth, and just say, in the calmest voice, “We don’t do this.” Then she took him and flipped him around with this playful helicopter move, and they both started laughing. Then it was over—there was no conflict around it.

If the child’s energy goes high—if they get very upset—the parent’s energy goes so low. Another time on our trip, in the grocery store, Rosy started having a tantrum, and I was getting ready to yell at her to stop. But Elizabeth, our interpreter, came over to her and addressed her in the calmest voice. Immediately, Rosy just stopped—when she was around that calmness, her whole body relaxed. I was like, Okay, I’m just doing this tantrum thing completely wrong.

Pinsker: You write about how when Sally and Elizabeth see behavior like that, they think about the causes of it differently than many American parents do. What is the narrative they have for why young kids act out? . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by Leisureguy

3 March 2021 at 6:33 pm

One Response

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  1. My biggest peeve is seeing parents screaming at their kids at a store… “Stop Screaming!” Well, hello! You are screaming too! Another one is when you see the kid going “hey, mom” “hey, mom” and the kid is totally ignored! I wasn’t perfect but I walked out when a scene was about to develop and I never made my kids have to beg for acknowledgement!

    Like

    Stine Writing

    3 March 2021 at 6:51 pm


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