What Apes and Human Ancestors Can Tell Us About Child-Rearing

What Apes and Human Ancestors Can Tell Us About Child-Rearing

Source - http://popular-archaeology.com/issue/march-2012/article/what-apes-and-human-ancestors-can-tell-us-about-child-rearing

Primate studies give clues that may teach us a thing or two about our own child-rearing and possibly that of our ancient human ancestors.


Mother with baby chimp. Steve, Wikimedia Commons

Beyond the efforts of archaeologists, paleontologists and geneticists, behavioral scientists have helped to open windows on understanding our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, the apes --and by extension perhaps even early human ancestors. Scientists have spent countless hours carefully observing the social structure and lives of primates, more particularly that of chimpanzees and gorillas. In the process, they have discovered some characteristics about these ape cousins that may teach us something about child-rearing, or, at a minimum, why we raise children the way we do.

A recent posting at NannyNet, a blog about parenting and child care service, summarized what we know about ape parenting and what it may say about ourselves: 

Attachment Parenting – Like many modern human mothers, apes practice what is essentially attachment parenting in the first few years of a baby’s life. These little ones are constantly in the company of their mothers, learning the complex social structure of their community.

Follow Your Instincts – Unlike human parents who struggle with feelings of inadequacy and terror in the face of new parenthood, apes seem to trust their parenting instincts. While educating yourself about parenting is always a good idea, try not to be consumed with following every parenting book to the letter. Let your instincts as a parent take the lead, especially if you feel that a method you’ve read about isn’t right for your family.

Leading By Example – Young apes learn valuable life skills by observing their parents. Similarly, human youngsters begin to emulate their parents and other adults around them quite early; teaching by showing and providing a strong example is the best way to ensure good habits and building essential skills.

Ape Adolescents Are Cut-Ups, Too – As any parent of a teenager knows, it’s certainly not uncommon to witness sometimes hilarious antics from the adolescents in a family. Adolescent apes, especially males, can be extremely playful. Mother apes tend to disregard most of these displays, unless the safety of dependent young is threatened; adopting a similar policy might be best for your own sanity.

Parents Kick Capable Young Out of the Nest – The modern phenomenon of returning to a parental household after college or remaining in the home long after reaching adulthood is one that many experts claim to be the result of over-indulgent parenting. When apes become self-sufficient, they’re expected to fend for themselves; this separation, while probably painful, is natural and necessary for the good of the group and the individual apes.

Infants Can’t Be Spoiled – The generations-old debate about spoiling an infant by responding to their cries too soon could be considered laid to rest by observing mother apes; they fulfill a baby ape’s needs immediately, with no concern about “spoiling” them.

It Takes a Village – Many ape moms are single parents, but the other females in a group typically offer assistance along the way. Overwhelmed single mothers who are hesitant to seek help out of a sense of pride can take a page from the ape book; it’s okay to need help.

Being Distrustful of Daycare is Okay – While apes have the luxury of being able to care for their young themselves without concerns about returning to the office, they do still have a construct similar to babysitting. However, they’re very picky about choosing a sitter and will take over immediately if they sense that their little one is in distress. For moms who feel bad about being uncomfortable with daycare, this can serve as a lesson that this hesitance is natural.

Non-Verbal Cues are Important – Though apes do have a method of audible communication, most of their interaction is the result of non-verbal cues. Learning to parent by paying attention to what your child doesn’t say is a great skill we can adapt from the apes.

Siblings Play an Active Role – Older ape siblings help mothers to protect and care for their younger, dependent brothers and sisters. Fostering a sense of familial responsibility in older children not only affords human moms a bit of assistance, but can also make for stronger sibling bonds later in life. [1]

 [1] http://www.nanny.net/blog/10-lessons-parents-could-learn-from-apes/