My 2-year-old daughter is a fireball of emotions. One minute she is happy and the very next minute she will get upset over something and have a meltdown and I will be absolutely clueless about what just happened. Though I love her deeply but in all honesty I have no idea how to handle her anger — the tantrums, the screaming and, most of all, the hitting.
To help myself handle my daughters tantrums better, I started reading up on the internet which told me that to be calm but stern was the best way to handle such a behaviour but this approach did not have much success because even though outwardly I would appear calm I would still be angry at her behaviour.
I realized perhaps to deal with her anger I had to first deal with my own.
In search for answers late one night I came across a very interesting article about the Inuits and how even while living in the harshest of climate had the very remarkable ability to regulate their anger. What intrigued me most was how Inuit parents instill these abilities in their children? How Inuit parents take tantrum prone toddlers and turn them into cool headed adults?
For the uninitiated, the Inuits are members of an indeginious people of Northern Canada and parts of Greenland and Alaska. A layman would refer to them as Eskimos however, they prefer to be called Inuit and this term now has official status in Canada.
Traditional Inuit parenting is incredibly nurturing and tender. If you took all the parenting styles around the world and ranked them by their gentleness, the Inuit approach would likely rank near the top. And they follow one simple golden rule- there is absolutely no shouting at children.
This seems like a contradiction of sorts for the Indian society where we belong where the words discipline and good behaviour are used in the same sentence. Whereas in the inuit culture disciplining a child, even scolding them and sending them on a time out is looked down upon.
In the Inuit culture, when an adult loses his/her temper over a child throwing a tantrum. It is the adult who is seen as throwing the tantrum and not the other way round.
Traditional Inuit believe that at first it may seem that the child is pushing your buttons, but in reality they are upset about something and the real parenting is figuring out what it is. But when we yell at a child, we are training the child to yell when they get upset and teaching them that yelling is the solution to their problems. Sending them to their room will only teach them to run away from their problems.
In contrast, parents who control their own anger are helping their children learn to do the same. The Inuit belive that kids learn emotional regulation from the parents.
Now at some level all parents know that they shouldn’t yell at kids. But then if you don’t scold or talk in an angry tone, how do you discipline? How to keep your child running into the middle of the road with moving cars or How do you stop them from hitting others?
For thousands of years the Inuit have followed what may be termed as the story based approach. Not the fairy tale kind where the child needs to decipher the moral of the story at the end. These are oral stories passed down from generation to generation designed to sculpt kids’ behaviour in the moment.
For example to stop children from going into the water, which could prove to be dangerous and even fatal in case of the Inuit, instead of yelling “Don’t go into the water” these parents take a premptive approach and weave a story about a sea monster with a giant pouch on its back who will kidnap the child and drag them to the ocean if they get too close to the water.
Just like the one above the Inuit parents have an array of stories to help their children learn respectful behaviour. For example if the children are not listening to their parents, the parents would check their ears to see if there was too much ear wax in them. Or of they took food without asking then there is a story about how long fingers would reach out and grab them. There is even a story about Northern Lights encouraging the kids to keep their hats on in winters.
At first, these stories seemed to me a bit too scary for little children. And my knee-jerk reaction was to dismiss them. But my opinion flipped 180 degrees after I watched my own daughter’s response to similar tales.
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.
When an Inuit child acts out in anger hits someone or has a tantrum, there is no punishment. Once the child has calmed down the parent or the caretaker will indulge the child in another powerful tool of storytelling- Drama. By putting up a renactment of the situation when the child misbehaved and then asking the child what is the best way to react in the situation. The idea being to give the child experiences that will lead the child to develop rational thinking.
The parent always maintains 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 about her next reaction. 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. But, again, all questions are asked with a hint of playfulness.
This kind of drama encourages the child to practice controlling their anger. The Inuit believe that it is very difficult to control your anger when you are in the heat of the moment. It is difficult for an adult and nearly impossible for a child. But if you practice having a different response or reaction in a calmer situation you will definitely have a better chance at controlling your anger when put in a hot moment.
Inuits are firm believers that kids learn well through narrative and explanations and stories can have lots of things in them that are much more interesting in a way that bare statements don’t. As long as you make sure to keep it fun because
Play is their work. That’s how they learn about the world and about their experiences.
Today many parents outsource their oral storytelling to screens. And in doing so, I wonder if we’re missing out on an easy — and effective — way of disciplining and changing behavior.
Which seems to be something the Inuit have known for hundreds, perhaps even, thousands of years.
How do you get your kids to do things without yelling or shouting?
I wish to thank Revati Khutwad for introducing me. You can read her blog on raising a well behaved child here
I would also like to introduce Sneha Jubin. You can read her blog about being a mom here