The child rearing practices in hunter-gatherer societies result in children with better mental health, greater empathy and conscience development, and higher intelligence in children, says psychology professor Darcia Narvaez, who specializes in the moral and character development of children.
It would make sense that the way humans grew up for 99% of our history might have an impact on human development.
The researchers did three studies of children including the practices of parents of three-year-olds, a longitudinal study of how certain child rearing practices relate to child outcomes in a national child abuse prevention project, and a comparison study of parenting practices between mothers in the U.S. and China.
The results will be presented at a conference at Notre Dame in October titled "Human Nature and Early Experience: Addressing the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness."
The six characteristics that were common to our distant ancestors are:
- Lots of positive touch – as in no spanking – but nearly constant carrying, cuddling and holding;
- Prompt response to baby's fusses and cries. You can't "spoil" a baby. This means meeting a child's needs before they get upset and the brain is flooded with toxic chemicals. "Warm, responsive caregiving like this keeps the infant's brain calm in the years it is forming its personality and response to the world," Narvaez says.
- Breastfeeding, ideally 2 to 5 years. A child's immune system isn't fully formed until age 6 and breast milk provides its building blocks.
- Multiple adult caregivers – people beyond mom and dad who also love the child.
- Free play with multi-age playmates. Studies show that kids who don't play enough are more likely to have ADHD and other mental health issues.
- Natural childbirth, which provides mothers with the hormone boosts that give the energy to care for a newborn.
Americans don't raise their kids that way so much any more, Narvaez says in a release from Notre Dame.
Instead of being held, infants spend much more time in carriers, car seats and strollers than they did in the past. Only about 15 percent of mothers are breastfeeding at all by 12 months, extended families are broken up, and free play allowed by parents has decreased dramatically since 1970. Ill advised practices and beliefs have become commonplace, such as the use of infant formula, the isolation of infants in their own rooms, or the belief that responding too quickly to a fussing baby will 'spoil' it.
By Elizabeth Weise