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The Psychology of Parenting Effectively: 6 Ancient Child Development Secrets

Lessons from ancient civilizations around the Globe that withstood the test of time

Great wisdom and practical advice to raise successful kids

Create a strong bond with your child that will last a lifetime

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Have you ever wondered whether there is a better way to raise a young child? A way to eliminate the power struggles, temper tantrums and selective hearing issues? A way to raise a respectful, kind and responsible human being?

I am a neuroscientist by training and a mom who has seen it all! Years of brain research training couldn’t have prepared me for being a stay at home mom and raising our 5 year old daughter. I have had my fair share of struggles too, which sent me to read every relevant book and scientific article that I could find and triggering a passion to understand child brain development. Here we bring you powerful ancient child psychology wisdom (supported by the neuroscience literature) that can transform your life!

Ancient cultures including the Mayans, Inuits and the Hadzabe are experts in the art of calm parenting. Their children grow up in culturally rich societies with strong social bonds and emphasis on community activities. These deep-rooted relationships buffer children against mental health illnesses. In harsh environments where a child’s help is critical for the survival of the tribe, parents have mastered the art of getting kids to comply without yelling, bribing and unnecessary drama. These cultures have developed fascinating ways of raising respectful, emotionally intelligent, cooperative children that thrive in their communities. 

So what are Western parents missing? The following article will reveal the ancient pearls of wisdom of how to raise young children successfully. These child psychology based techniques have been passed down over generations and have sustained these civilizations for centuries.

Our hope is to cause a paradigm shift in the way that we raise our young children. To challenge existing practices in the school and the home. To enlighten you so that you stay in tune with your child, helping them and their communities thrive!

Let’s dive in!

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Lesson #1: Children Thrive as a Part of the Tribe

“We are not meant to raise children in isolation,” declared my daughter’s pediatrician when I arrived for her first well checkup appointment. I was exhausted and overwhelmed being the primary care taker of a newborn. “If you ever feel overwhelmed as the mother of a young child, it is because for thousands of years, humans have been raising their young in a community of people, where care is shared among mothers, aunts, grandmothers and other friends and relatives,” the pediatrician continued. Interesting, I thought, but how hard can raising a child be? I have already jumped through so many hoops in my professional life, this will not be any different…

We were living in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the time – a hidden gem! It is a magical state in the U.S. – a place where rainbows stretch out across the open blue sky, mustang horses run wild on the vast Indian reservation lands and the earth is believed to hold special spiritual healing powers. This pediatrician has been living here too long to be discussing native practices with me, I silently reflected.  

I didn’t realize it at the time, but the words of wisdom and practical knowledge offered by the pediatrician would resonate in my mind and play over and over, like a broken record during the early years of my daughter’s development. She knew the secret of ancient civilizations – secrets of the laws of nature and child psychology, which will be discussed in the following article.   

Sharing Childcare Creates Smarter Kids

It takes a village to raise a child. The modern concept of the family unit consisting of mom, dad and 1 to 2 children is unheard of in other parts of the world. Rather than the burden of child rearing falling on mom and dad, the family unit consists of a large extended family of grandparent, aunts, uncles, cousins, relatives, friends and even neighbors! It is a large supportive network of role models living nearby that can interact with the child, ensuring their safety and survival, while teaching and nurturing them throughout daily life.

The benefits to the child are tremendous. Mom and dad can take a break and practice calm parenting. The child is safe and secure – there is always a responsible adult watching and protecting them. The social environment is rich and dynamic, thus allowing important concepts of emotional regulation, sharing and proper behavior to be practiced daily. The child is exposed to many ideas and sets of skills throughout the day, as they spend time with the different teachers, thus creating a smarter and better adapted children. 

The child’s brain learns to thrive and survive during the critical years (ages 0-8). Help them reach their full potential and build an intelligent brain by following this advice:

Raising Children the Way Nature Intended

Let’s examine the Hadza people of Tanzania. One of the oldest civilizations in existence, giving anthropologists insight into how we once lived as humans in nature. The Hadzabe are a self-sufficient civilization that thrives and survives to this day. How do the Hadzabe parent? By forming strong collaborations among tribe members. When mom leaves to forage for food with  the gatherer women group, she often leaves her toddler behind. Other village adults who are left behind to perform the daily chores watch the multiage group of kids at play. The tribe is deeply interconnected and everyone is invested in the success of future generations1.

Application in Everyday Life

In instances where extended families live far away, we can still take advantage of this concept by opening our home to friends, neighbors and visitors to enrich the child’s environment. Think of it as an investment in your child’s future, setting them up for success. Immerse the child in activities, including volunteer work in their local community, where they will benefit from rich experiences and special relationships with adults. Expose the child to the rich and colorful world of adults: involve the child in your housework and daily activities, bring them along with you to work if possible. Give them responsibilities and watch them thrive. Realize that they learn by watching you perform the “daily grind.” 

Psychological Principle Implemented

Children need to form a strong connection with an adult in their life. A stable and loving relationship of “serve and return” interactions, where children receive feedback and feel that they are taken care of will ensure proper brain development.

Lesson #2: Parent a Misbehaving Child Calmly

A fun truth of life is that animals respond to our energies. I became fascinated with this concept when training my puppy and watching the dog trainer work with the other dogs in obedience class. Here is how it works: When we feel excited, our tone of voice changes to a higher pitch, our breathing pattern accelerates and our body language reveals our aroused state of mind, producing an overall high energy state. My dog would quickly respond by running, jumping and barking. 

When we are calm, we speak slowly, we breath deeply, we move with ease, like a skater gliding across the floor, in a serene and peaceful state of mind. My dog settles down immediately, laying at my feet, closing his eyes and resting.

If the animal kingdom responds to this pattern of behavior, then why should kids be any different? Well, they are not!

Low Energy Parent Produces a Serene Child

The next time your young child has a temper tantrtum or is whining, help them regulate their emotions and practice the correct response. Go over to them slowly, speak calmly using a few words, touch their shoulder or simply give them a hug. They might need some space or to be near you – it is situation dependent. Eventually they will settle down.

Studies show that the parts of the child’s brain responsible for emotional control, mainly the prefrontal cortex, amygdala, hippocampus, are not fully developed. These complex neurobiological pathways are not fully formed until a much later age2.

If a child is angry or frustrated, they may hit, bite, scratch and become aggressive. In that case, ignore a child for unwanted behavior by once again, practicing calmness. You can stare above their head, walk away but whatever you do – never get angry! If you become emotionally charged (i.e. talkative, screaming) you will escalate the situation by increasing the energy level.

A child seemingly “misbehaving” is not to spite you but for another logical reason – 1) they have an unmet need (hungry, tired, in need of physical touch), 2) they are frustrated by a situation and need your help. Getting angry at a child accomplishes nothing but the inverse. It escalates the situation. When you respond with calm energy and soft speech (of few words), you can resolve the issue and have a teachable moment

Parent Like a True Mayan

In Mayan villages, fluid collaboration between parent and child occurs in the home. Rather than giving instructions (and seeking control), Mayan parents allow children freedom to practice and explore. The remarkable result is that children then become more autonomous and less resistant, while the channels of love and communication remain open, as strong parent-child bonds are established.

Application in Daily Life

Apply the principle of energies and marvel at the astonishing results. It really comes down to mastering our own feelings and emotions. Master your own reactions to everyday situations. The children will be waiting and watching, so transmit values of self regulation to the next generation. Controlling ourselves and relaxing into a situation rather than trying to take control it is the key! 

Teaching by example is a powerful tool. The Inuits believe that when a child misbehaves, they need more calmness and touch.” Here are some tips and tricks to get you started: 1) No talking, 2) Walk away, 3) Gently touch a child, 4) Low calm energy and tone of voice, 5) Use the affirmative – tell them what they can do, 6) Change the state of mind by changing the environment – place a misbehaving child outside to run and play to reset their energy level.

Psychological Principle Implemented

Mirror neurons in the child’s brain are activated in response to movement, allowing children to learn a behavior and empathy from another’s perspective3. If a child sees self mastery and emotional regulation by an adult, they will initiate a similar response. Remember that young children are irrational beings that need practice in mastering daily skills. It is our duty to teach them.

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Lesson #3: Emotional Intelligence is the Secret to Life Success

Emotional intelligence has been named by CEOs as the number one most desirable quality in hiring a new employee. Groundbreaking research confirms that the key to success and happiness lies in self-awareness, self-discipline and empathy, the foundations to strong interpersonal relationships4. In today’s multicultural world of teamwork and collaboration, there is no better quality to instill in your kids than that of emotional intelligence. 

Defined as having the ability to regulate and express one’s own emotions, while acting with empathy and fairness toward others, emotional intelligence sets a child up for future success in life. Children raised by emotionally aware parents acquire these essential life-long skills easily. These are the parents who encourage the expression of a full range of feelings and help children cope with the big emotions as they occur.  

Brain studies in young children reveal the immaturity of higher order emotional control centers. Greater self-control is only achieved around 5-6 years of age5. It is at a later age that a child is able to regulate their own emotions. 

How to Parent an Emotionally Intelligent Child?

The Inuits have been doing it for centuries. They use a unique parenting style that relies on the following: 

1) Adult modeling of proper behavior – demonstrating the desired behavior in a calm way. The parent is attuned to the child’s needs and is responsive.

2) Emotional regulation by the group – through play with other kids, the child learns what is culturally accepted. Children look up to the older kids and want to be just like them, mimicking their behaviors.

3) Rhetorical questioning promotes learning – engage the prefrontal cortex by asking the child situation-specific questions that make them think and problem solve. Example: “Is that how a big girl behaves?” or “Who is being mean to the dog?”

Application in Daily Life

Always work through emotions during a teachable moment when both you and the child are in a calm state of mind. Ask guiding questions that encourage the child to brainstorm solutions to the situation. The trick is to wait patiently until the child is no longer in an emotional state so they are primed for learning. Then, ask guiding questions about the situation and address any unwanted behaviors. Was it right for you to hit grandma? Do big girls hit? Always end with a question and have them come up with a solution to the present conflict by asking: “What would you do differently next time?”

Psychological Principle Implemented

Remember, a young, developing brain is still immature and has not yet achieved competency of higher order (executive) functions such as working memory, mental flexibility, and self-control. Therefore, respond to situations accordingly by giving children lots of practice and time to process events – until they get it right! There is no place for anger and harsh punishments given these scientific facts about the growing brain.

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Lesson #4: Daily Contributions to the Tribe 

Small children have an innate desire to help and be a part of the community6. It is an altruistic drive to contribute to the whole and to feel a sense of belonging. Psychologically, it is important to nurture this deep biological tendency, thus allowing the child to develop self-esteem, acquire responsibilities and thrive emotionally from a rich environment of interactions among community members.

Even infants and young toddlers show a strong desire to be independent and helpful. The Hadza people of Africa clearly demonstrate this natural tendency we have as humans to cooperate with one another. By sharing survival responsibilities such as feeding the village pets, watching younger kids and siblings and helping with food preparations, the tribe flourishes7.

Application in Daily Life

We can capitalize on children’s innate desire to be helpful. Teach the child simple household tasks that are age-appropriate, such as folding the laundry, setting the dinner table or preparing meals. Invite a child to shadow you around the house because children learn by being master observers. Encourage their help and express sincere gratitude. Sometimes when children misbehave, we tend to push them away and issue a time out, but what they really crave is greater responsibility in their home/community and to be closer to us8.

Psychological Principle Implemented

Children are born with a natural tendency towards kindness, collaboration and independence. They love to feel as a part of the team, so try to integrate them into your daily tasks that you can accomplish together. 

Through personal observations, I have noticed tremendous intellectual, social and emotional benefits to my daughter’s brain development. Being able to stay home with her as a baby and well into the toddler years, I have observed, first hand, the powerful daily influence an adult can have on a child. Just my mere presence: answering questions of an inquisitive child, explaining the world around her and fostering an environment rich in language, has made a huge impact on her development. No fancy lesson plans needed!

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Lesson #5: Using Play to Teach Life’s Lessons

Play is a powerful dramatic reenactment tool. If practice makes perfect and if children learn best through play, then why not integrate the two to teach important life skills? A child can build a strong character by practicing emotional regulation, creativity and imagination, re-living a life experience. By setting up a play scenario with dolls, plush or puppet toys, powerful visualization and dramatization of an experience occurs, while the child can practice making the correct choice, safely.

Application in Daily Life

Inuit parents will often let a bad behavior, such as hitting the dog, slide in the moment, when the child’s emotions of anger and frustration are at an ultimate high. Later that same evening, an Inuit parent will role play the same scenario with the child using available toys to teach a valuable lesson and question the child about the proper response. This establishes a safe and calm environment where the child can practice the correct behavior of self-regulation (i.e. addressing the dog by verbal commands rather than hitting). As a result, the child’s mind is primed for learning from mistakes, in a calm and non-judgemental atmosphere9.

Psychological Principle Implemented

The objective here is to prompt a child to think for themselves by activating their brain. This can be done by several methods: 

  1. The look – Channel your inner feelings and words about the given situation into a facial expression that says it all 
  2. Natural consequences – Calmly state a natural consequence and walk away. For example: “You are going to fall and hurt yourself!”
  3. Questioning strategy – “Who is being mean to the dog” or “Are you a baby?” 

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Lesson #6: The Golden Rules: Respect and Reciprocity 

Coexistence on the African Savannah in hunter-gatherer tribes is essential for survival. Communities of parents and children live in harmony with each other and with nature. This symbiotic relationship is one based on mutual kindness and respect. Children, therefore, are an important part of the tribe’s success. They receive food, shelter and care from adults so in return, it is expected that they fulfill daily obligations to their tribe. Even the youngest kids are treated with kindness and respect in the Mayan culture. Thus, a beautiful collaboration forms from early childhood, which lasts through the adult years, making parenting a much easier and enjoyable task.9

Application in Daily Life

Hunter-gatherer tribe mothers follow their instincts and are always emotionally available and responsive to the younger members of society. You will not find these children crying themselves to sleep or being left behind. Interestingly, Hadza mothers often carry their baby on their back when foraging for food, a trip outside of the village that may culminate in walking over 12 miles!

The innovative concept of alloparenting was thus formed, where mothers share the care of neighboring children within the tribe, from feeding a new born baby to providing care and guidance to an older child. Sacrificing oneself for the benefit of the group is a valuable lesson to remember in our Westernized culture. Are we not all responsible for the success of the next generation?

Psychological Principle Implemented

Listen to your child. Respect their individualism and unique personality. Your job as a parent is to guide the child and mentor them throughout life. Let go of the need to control them and offer loving kindness instead.  


Our Western civilization focuses on accomplishing goals and tasks. We lead busy lives filled with activities and responsibilities that we oftentimes misunderstand our children and are at a loss when it comes to dealing with them. Our default mode is to explode in anger and lecture to them, which results an endless cycle of frustration. 

If we embrace the wisdom of ancient cultures, we can gain tremendous insights into the child’s mind and bring about peace, love and wonderment into our homes. By implementing ancient advice gathered from established parenting systems around the world, we can begin to revise some of our old parenting ways and create adaptable, kind and respectful kids. 

Indigenous cultures immerse children in the adult world early on with daily chores, rich experiences and social interactions, leading to strong child-parent bonds and relationships based on trust and mutual respect

So go ahead and give these pearls of wisdom a try today!

Please subscribe and share with us how these tips and tricks worked for you and your family.

We wish you the best of luck on your parenthood journey! 

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  1. Marlowe F. The Hadza Hunter-Gatherers of Tanzania. Berkley, CA: University of California Press, 2010. 
  2. Nim Tottenham. The Brain’s Emotional Development. Cerebrum, 2017.
  3. Hyeonjin Jeon and Seung-Hwan Lee. From Neurons to Social Beings: Short Review of the Mirror Neuron System Research and Its Socio-Psychologial and Psychiatric Implications. Clin Psychopharmacol Neurosci, 16(1): 18-31, 2018.
  4. Daniel Goldman. Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. Bantam Books, New York, 1995.
  5. Tao et al. Development of Self-Control in Children Aged 3-9 Years: Perspective from a Dual Systems Model. Sci Rep, 4: 7272, 2014.
  6. David Lancy. Anthropological Perspectives on Children as Helpers, Workers, Artisans, and Laborers. Palgrave, 2018.
  7. Apicella et al. Social Networks and Cooperation in Hunter-Gatherers. Nature, 481: 497-502, 2012. 
  8. Lucia Alcala and Barbara Rogoff. Cultural Differences in Children’s Collaborative Processes. University of California, Santa Cruz, 2014.
  9. Michaeleen Doucleff, PhD. Hunt, Gather, Parent – What Ancient Cultures Can Teach us about the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans. Avid Reader Press, New York, 2021. 

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