looking for a good parenting book?
Parenting has been around since the beginning of humankind. Yet it is still a popular topic for authors. Parenting books are best sellers. Can there really be anything new to write about with parenting? Perhaps there is wisdom to be found in history. In her book Hunt, Gather, Parent, Michaeleen Doucleff sets out to find out what ancient cultures can teach about parenting. She is struggling with her active 3-year-old and believes there has to be a better way.
I enjoyed this parenting book because it takes a cultural look at parenting from a unique perspective. The author visits three different villages. She lives among them to discover their techniques for raising healthy, confident kids. As I was reading the book, marking the pages and writing down ideas, I kept thinking, “I wish I knew this years ago!” Let me share with you some of the highlights.
Praise Your Child
Most parents assume that you need to praise your child often. We believe praise builds up their self-esteem and helps them become confident. It seems logical that positive affirmations, like praise, will benefit your child. The author found this to be false.
In the villages she visited, parents used praise very minimally. Instead, the author found that the parents acknowledged their children and their contribution to the family. This acknowledgment made the child feel competent and kept them motivated to continue to learn. They were on a path to adulthood. When their parents acknowledged their progress, they felt their confidence grow. Acknowledgment is valuing the child’s ideas and actions regardless of their immaturity.
Less verbal praise also involves using more body language. Acknowledgment in the villages comes through gestures, facial expressions and physical touch. We all do this naturally. We nod our head, raise our eyebrows and give a pat on the back. These non-verbal acknowledgments are more powerful if they stand alone, but we often add things like “good job” or “nice” as emphasis.
The results of moving away from praise and toward acknowledgment are children who feel more connected, competent and autonomous.
Western parents often feel as if their kids are manipulating them into doing the child’s will. A temper tantrum looks like manipulation. To that end, parents resist being manipulated and often respond with high emotions. They accuse their child of trying to push their buttons. The parents in the villages disagree with us.
Doucleff addresses this issue in the chapter entitled, How To Stop Being Angry At Your Child. Her three-step approach, learned from the native families, is to 1) change how you view children’s behavior, 2) never argue or negotiate with a child, and 3) stop forcing children to do things. She explains that children learn by watching their parents and by experience. As parents, we teach our values by practicing them, modeling them and acknowledging them. We can use these steps to alter our own behavior which will, in turn, change our child’s behavior.
Child Centered Activities
This section was very interesting to me. Our western society is full of opportunities for family fun activities. Check any local newspaper or community website and you are sure to find something you can do to entertain the kids. In this parenting book the author learns a new perspective.
She found that parents didn’t entertain their children in the three villages she visited. Instead, they brought the children into their worlds. They included them alongside their daily tasks. The adults did things that they wanted to do and made a way to include their children. This results in the children learning how to behave in an adult world, instead of being entertained in an unrealistic child-centered world.
This is an area where I feel I do have some experience. Community parenting, as the author describes, is when everyone in the village has relationships with the children. The other adults and older children teach and care for all the kids. This happens naturally in these villages because it is a cultural norm.
In our culture parents are often on their own. Even if they do have extended family around, their influence isn’t as impactful. In the villages Doucleff visited, these extended relationships were highly valued. Children respected the entire adult community.
The author suggests that we could encourage this dynamic in our culture as well by placing a higher value on our children’s other relationships. Our kids have day care providers, teachers, nannies, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and older siblings who can create a community of parenting role models.
When my children were young, we had a large group of friends of many ages and stages in life. They were an extended family to our children. Their impact on our children’s lives continues to this day.
TEAM Parenting Method
The overall takeaway from this parenting book is the TEAM approach to parenting. Doucleff uses the acronym TEAM to describe the major changes she recommends in order to raise a healthy, confident child.
T stands for Togetherness. She learned from the Mayans the importance of including every member of the family as if they were teammates. Each person has a purpose in the family. Each family member is important to the success of family life. Contributions matter and supporting each other every day is a way of life. Being on a team fosters a sense of belonging.
E stands for Encourage-never force. From the Inuits, Doucleff discovered the parents rarely punish or scold their children. “They believe that trying to control a child prevents their development and simply stresses the parent-child relationship.”(p. 159) Encouraging instead of forcing requires adults to control their own emotions. Parents need to “be the adult” in the relationship and consider the child’s level of emotional intelligence. Sometimes we expect too much from our children, especially from their emotional development.
A stands for Autonomy. One way the author describes autonomy is to minimize bossiness. How many times a day do you tell your child what to do? The author discovered it was way too many times. The Hadzabe culture taught her how to allow her daughter autonomy and to reap the benefits of the lesson. Autonomy is different than independence. An autonomous child is still part of the whole. They have accountability to the family. A child who lives with autonomy learns to be self-sufficient and confident.
M stands for Minimal Interference. Our western culture seems to value providing endless activities and entertainment to give our children a full life. The result is that children have very little down time. Using the TEAM approach advocated in this parenting book, families have fewer structured activities. Parents set the schedule and tone and children have autonomy to choose their behavior. Parents interfere only when safety is an issue, or to teach a cultural value.
Hunt, Gather, Parent by Michaeleen Doucleef is an excellent parenting book that challenges the reader to reflect on their current practices. She offers insight and examples of parenting issues from the unique perspective of ancient cultures. The advice given is easy to implement and will surely enhance your family dynamics.