Oral storytelling is what’s known as a human universal. For tens of thousands of years, it has been a key way that parents teach children about values and how to behave.
Modern hunter-gatherer groups use stories to teach sharing, respect for both genders and conflict avoidance, a recent study reported, after analyzing 89 different tribes.
Briggs quickly realized something remarkable was going on in these families: The adults had an extraordinary ability to control their anger.
“They never acted in anger toward me, although they were angry with me an awful lot,” Briggs told the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. in an interview.
Even just showing a smidgen of frustration or irritation was considered weak and childlike, Briggs observed.
…She was left with a lingering question: How do Inuit parents instill this ability in their children? How do Inuit take tantrum-prone toddlers and turn them into cool-headed adults?
…Turns out, the mom was executing a powerful parenting tool to teach her child how to control his anger.
…Across the board, all the moms mention one golden rule: Don’t shout or yell at small children.
…”With little kids, you often think they’re pushing your buttons, but that’s not what’s going on. They’re upset about something, and you have to figure out what it is.”
…Traditionally, the Inuit saw yelling at a small child as demeaning. It’s as if the adult is having a tantrum; it’s basically stooping to the level of the child, Briggs documented.
…For thousands of years, the Inuit have relied on an ancient tool with an ingenious twist*: “We use storytelling to discipline,” Jaw says.
…Oral stories passed down from one generation of Inuit to the next, designed to sculpt kids’ behaviors in the moment.
…Inuit parents have an array of stories to help children learn respectful behavior, too. For example, to get kids to listen to their parents, there is a story about ear wax, says film producer Myna Ishulutak.
“My parents would check inside our ears, and if there was too much wax in there, it meant we were not listening,” she says.
And parents tell their kids: If you don’t ask before taking food, long fingers could reach out and grab you, Ishulutak says.
…When a[n Inuit] child in the camp acted in anger — hit someone or had a tantrum — there was no punishment. Instead, the parents waited for the child to calm down and then, in a peaceful moment, did something that Shakespeare would understand all too well: They put on a drama.
…In a nutshell, the parent would act out what happened when the child misbehaved, including the real-life consequences of that behavior.
The parent always had a playful, fun tone. And typically the performance starts with a question, tempting the child to misbehave.
For example, if the child is hitting others, the mom may start a drama by asking: “Why don’t you hit me?”
Then the child has to think: “What should I do?” If the child takes the bait and hits the mom, she doesn’t scold or yell but instead acts out the consequences. “Ow, that hurts!” she might exclaim.
The mom continues to emphasize the consequences by asking a follow-up question. For example: “Don’t you like me?” or “Are you a baby?” She is getting across the idea that hitting hurts people’s feelings, and “big girls” wouldn’t hit.
…In other words, the dramas offer kids a chance to practice controlling their anger, Miller says, during times when they’re not actually angry.
This practice is likely critical for children learning to control their anger.
*Are we so sure this approach or at least variations to it weren’t more widespread if not universal before written communications, etc.? Twist? Really?