Paleo parenting


Image adapted from Notra Dame Symposium poster.

Are you a Paleo parent? Do you frequently carry your infant, provide hours of unstructured play, positive touch, and spread child rearing among caregivers in your family group?  Does this type of child rearing develop better-adjusted and more empathetic children? Darcia F. Narvaez, Associate Professor of Psychology at University of Notra Dame and specialist on the moral development of children, thinks so. At a recent symposium, Human Nature and Early Experience: Addressing the “Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness,” Dr. Narvaez presented her and co-author Tracy Gleason’s views in the presentation Early Experience, Moral Development and Human Nature

As Joan Raymond writes for MSNBC

While our hunter-gatherer ancestors may not have been big on dental hygiene, they did get it right when it came to raising well-adjusted, empathetic children, says lead researcher Darcia Narvaez.

(Actually, dental health was markedly better during the Paleolithic than the Neolithic, the era when agriculture and animal husbandry developed. As Loren Cordain writes, “Nearly all archeological studies of Paleolithic people’s teeth show them to be almost completely free of cavities… Historically speaking, cavities and tooth decay didn’t start until the coming of agriculture and its starchy, sugary foods.”)

J. Raymond continues:

Hunter-gatherers, the human way of life until the agricultural revolution about 8,000 years ago, were responsive caregivers, who didn’t let a baby cry it out. Moms breast-fed, probably for about five or six years. Cave kids had hours of unstructured free play, with children of all ages. And the little Pebbles and Bamm-Bamms of that Paleolithic period probably had multiple caregivers who provided nurturing and love. Cavemoms and dads didn’t spank their kids. Rather, they were the first adopters of positive touch, constantly carrying, cuddling and holding their children.

While 5-6 years of may be much for our industrial age, breastfeeding is the best source of early nutrition. However, Paleo parenting was about much more than nutrition. It was about social interactions, multiple family group caregivers, and unstructured play. The parents, extended family members, or other members of the close group were present, carrying the infants and watching the toddlers scurrying nearby. Support, guidance, and cautions were likely given frequently. There were hours of unstructured play. J. Raymond observes: 

Non-structured free play improves mental health and enhances intelligence … And with all that affection they received, they grew into happy, well-adjusted adults, because cuddling and holding infants helps boost neurologic development.

The approach to parenting developed in the late Paleolithic with the origin of humankind 100-200 thousand years ago still serves as the foundation of parenting today. Certainly, the risks during the Paleolithic were real and infant mortality was high. The drop in infant mortality in the modern world has been dramatic. Now, we just need to fine-tune our parenting by recalling the factors that promote the development of moral and compassionate children.