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The Inuit secret to staying calm when kids act up


TeodorLazarev | Shutterstock

Theresa Civantos Barber - published on 07/02/22

Responding with extraordinary calmness is the secret to the abundant peace in the Inuit homes and families.

I’ve read dozens of parenting books over the years, but few of them have stayed with me like Hunt, Gather, Parent: What Ancient Cultures Can Teach Us About the Lost Art of Raising Happy, Helpful Little Humans by Michaeleen Doucleff. 

Perhaps that’s because it’s so well researched. Doucleff traveled all over the world and lived with many different families from different cultures to observe their parenting firsthand.

Or perhaps it’s because Doucleff is so relatable. When she describes her impatience with her mischievous preschooler and confusion over how to handle her daughter’s outbursts, most parents completely get it.

But most of all, I think it’s because it’s so sensible. Doucleff doesn’t tell parents to add complicated systems or lots of “stuff” to their lives. Quite the opposite. 

Her message is to simplify, slow down, and recover an older way of parenting. The parenting strategies she uncovers are deeply in tune with a child’s essential nature and are oriented toward the whole family’s flourishing.

I first read it over a year ago, and I still think it’s one of the most helpful and practical parenting books around.

There are so many parenting strategies in the book that it’s hard to choose just one to share, but my favorite is also one of the most foundational: Doucleff shares the Inuit secret for staying calm when children misbehave.

She describes an upsetting scene that happened when she and her daughter were guests in the home of Sally, an Inuit grandmother. Her daughter was chasing after the family’s dog and knocked over a mug, splashing hot coffee all over a white rug and antique table.

To Doucleff’s great surprise:

Nobody else is reacting … But most surprising is Sally’s response. She doesn’t yell or reprimand Rosy. Instead, she turns to [another adult] and calmly says, “Your coffee was in the wrong place.”

This skill of responding with extraordinary calmness is the secret to the abundant peace in Sally’s home and family. 

Again and again, Inuit parents tell Doucleff, “When you yell at children, they stop listening.”

Instead, they tell her, don’t be surprised when children misbehave. And don’t take it personally. Children have a lot less ability to control their impulses than most Western parents think. 

As one Inuit mother told Doucleff, “If the child doesn’t listen, it’s because she is too young to understand. She is not ready for the lesson.”

So the first step is responding calmly when children misbehave, understanding that they’re still learning and need our firm but affectionate guidance. They need us to help them regulate their emotions, meeting the fiery flames of their big feelings with a cool wave of peace and calm. 

That’s what Doucleff sees the Inuit parents doing, time and again:

“The higher the energy a child brings to the situation, the lower in energy the parent goes … The parents show the child how to be calm by being calm themselves.”

Responding this way can be counterintuitive! Often our instinct as parents is to rush in and meet the child’s energy with even higher energy, or frantically talk, talk, talk to fix the problem. 

But the Inuit parents have a much more effective way, and Doucleff methodically lays out exactly how they do it. 

There is so much more to learn from Hunt, Gather, Parent. Although it’s hard to find time to read as a busy parent, this book really is worth your time!

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