So Simple a Cave[woman] Can Do It? Parenting Like Cavemen

Did Fred & Wilma Flintstone and Barney & Betty Rubble know something about parenting that we don’t?  According to University of Notre Dame psychology professor, Darcia Narvaez, our ancestors knew a thing or two about raising happy, healthy kids.

Narvaez, who focuses her research on the importance of a child’s first three years as foundational to their overall personality and character development, recently released several new studies. Her research shows that there are certain parenting characteristics that foster mentally healthy, smart kids who show empathy, compassion, and morality.

“The way we raise our children today in this country is increasingly depriving them of the practices that lead to well-being and a moral sense,” says Narvaez.  She provides parents with six childrearing practices in the child’s first 0 to 6 years that lead to healthy attachment:

·Lots of continuous responsive, caring touch—carrying, cuddling, holding, patting. This includes keeping Baby with Mom and Dad, not isolating the baby in her own room.

·Prompt, patient responses to a baby’s cries—it’s impossible to spoil a baby the first several months of life, because babies aren’t biologically or cognitively capable of manipulating people or things in their environments.  It’s best to respond to a baby’s fusses, before they become fully upset. This prevents the release of toxic stress chemicals in the baby. As Narvaez says, “Warm, responsive caregiving keeps the infant’s brain clam in the years it’s forming its personality and responses to the world.”

·Breastfeeding—ideally to the age of two (Narvaez suggests even longer). A child’s immune system isn’t fully developed until about age 6, and needs the healthy building blocks provided in breastmilk.

·Other adult caregivers—grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends…babies enjoy novelty!

·Playmates—of all ages!  Freeplay (not organized play) is the best. Narvaez’s research suggests that children who don’t play enough are more likely to develop ADHD.

·Natural childbirth—Narvaez maintains that unmedicated childbirth provides mothers with hormone boosts, giving Mom extra energy to care for her baby.

Whether a parent adheres to all of these suggestions is purely an individual choice, and clearly, many of them aren’t conducive for the majority of moms who must work outside of the home.

But I think the heart of her message is what matters most:  “Kids who don’t get the emotional nurturing they need in early life tend to be more self-centered. They don’t have the available compassion-related emotions to the same degree as kids who were raised by warm, responsive families.”

Do you believe that children today have lower levels of compassion and morality?

Photo Credit: Dave Nimitz (flickr.com)


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