Dr. Nikhil Chaudhary, evolutionary anthropologist, has carefully studied the BaYaka, an extant hunter-gatherer people in the Congo. Together with child psychologist Dr. Annie Swanepoel, he compared the parenting methods in hunter-gatherer society with those in Western, industrialized and highly educated societies. And interesting observations have emerged that are thought-provoking.
First, children in hunter-gatherer societies receive a relatively large amount of physical contact from adults. They are held or carried in a sling for much of the day, they are breastfed until they are four years old, and they sleep with their parents throughout childhood. In addition, they respond quickly when they cry and are very rarely scolded.
Everyone helps with education
Admittedly, about 40% of children in hunter-gatherer societies die before the age of 15, so children in developed societies have a clear advantage here. But hunter-gatherer children are much closer to others, not just their own parents, but also other adults who act as a kind of help parent. The whole village is, as it were, one big parental unit, in which everyone helps each other.
‘Modern parents receive much less help from their relatives or acquaintances in parenting than earlier in evolution. If parents were more helped by other caregivers, there could be less negative effects of parental stress on the nuclear family. It also reduces the risk of postpartum depression, which can be detrimental to the child’s well-being and cognitive development,” explains Dr. Chaudhary out.
Older siblings help
Another trait of hunter-gatherers is that older siblings also care for their younger siblings. There are even examples of four-year-olds babysitting younger children. Of course, in modern society this is not feasible because the older siblings have to go to school, so a babysitter or au pair is usually brought in.
“Perhaps we should explore the possibility that older siblings take on a greater role in taking the burden off their parents by caring for their younger siblings. This could also stimulate their own social development,’ Dr. Nikhil Chaudary.
Learning through play and exploration
Another important difference between hunter-gatherer societies and more modern societies is the learning process. Hunter-gatherer children learn from each other through play and exploration. In fact, playing and learning are the same there.
According to the study by Nikhil Chaudhary and Annie Swanepoel, this way of learning makes children more resilient and self-confident, which can lead to less stress, more motivation and better performance. However, the two researchers acknowledge that the method is not one-to-one applicable to modern society.
Further research is important
More research is needed to reveal differences in mental health and child development between hunter-gatherer societies and modern societies, such as Western ones.
The two researchers hope experts in psychiatry and evolutionary anthropology will work together to learn more about the methods we’ve forgotten about, but which actually appear to be beneficial for children.