One of the craziest things we do is praise children constantly

Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

In Hunt, Gather, Parent, Michaeleen Doucleff explains what ancient cultures can teach us about the lost art of raising happy, helpful little humans:

“Our culture often has things backward when it comes to kids,” she writes.

Doucleff arrives at this conclusion while traveling, with her then-3-year-old daughter, to meet and learn from parents in a Maya village on the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico; in an Inuit town in a northern Canadian territory; and in a community of hunter-gatherers in Tanzania. During her outings, she witnesses well-adjusted, drama-free kids share generously with their siblings and do chores without being asked.

One of the craziest things we do, she notes, is praise children constantly:

When I was first working on the book, I recorded myself to see how frequently I praised my little girl, Rosy, and I noticed that I would exaggeratedly react to even her smallest accomplishments, like drawing a flower or writing a letter, with a comment like “Good job!” or “Wow! What a beautiful flower!”

This is insane if you look around the world and throughout human history. Everywhere I went, I don’t know if I ever heard a parent praise a child. Yet these kids are incredibly self-sufficient, confident, and respectful—everything we want praise to do, these kids already have it, without the praise.

It’s hard to cut back on praise, because it’s so baked in, but later on, I decided to try. It’s not that there’s no feedback, but it’s much gentler feedback—parents will smile or nod if a child is doing something they want. I started doing that, and Rosy’s behavior really improved. A lot of the attention-seeking behavior went away.


  1. Kirk says:

    I was a child of the 1960s mentality, in some regards. I’m also a child of the 1920s mentality, in that much of my “cultural input” came from my maternal grandmother, who was born in 1897. She had my mother late in life, her birth as a single child being just before WWII.

    I was also the experimental test subject for my mother’s college years getting her primary grades teaching certificate, after her divorce from my father. Sooooo… Yeah, I’m a confused individual, with regards to a lot of stuff, and I’ve always been out-of-phase with the society I found myself in.

    The thing I remember most from those early years dealing with the schizoid inputs is the distinct cognitive dissonance all that “sixties crap” produced in me. It was actually the early 1970s, but the ideas were just beginning to penetrate mainstream life. Transactional Analysis-influenced stuff was a big part of the educational scheme where I was, and the teachers were constantly talking about “warm fuzzies”, which I look back on with eyes askance, now wondering how much of that crap was actually childhood sexual grooming by adults.

    At the time all that crap was being pushed on us kids, I thought “Hey, this is… Kinda weird, y’know…? “Give everyone you meet a warm fuzzy…”. WTF is that all about? I don’t trust every random idiot I meet enough to give them even a cold prickly (which was the opposite of the warm fuzzy thing in the scheme we were being taught)…”.

    Go ahead. Read this, and then tell me that it doesn’t read like something you’d start a “child grooming” process with:

    I swear to God, there’s a really weird subtext and “feel” to that whole thing that’s just left me suspicious of the whole friggin’ movement from Dr. Spock onwards. The entire “youth worship” deal, wherein the child is the “innocent creature” and it’s the adults who’re responsible for corrupting their inherent virtue? Bullshit. Children are largely creepy little demons who have to be tamed/domesticated and raised properly to be anything other than self-centered monsters. Trust me on this–I was victimized by all these little self-centered creeps produced by this mentality for most, if not all of, my childhood.

    I much prefer the child-rearing I got from my grandmother, TBH. None of this “Ooh, what a good child you are…”, just the typical Calvinistic “You’re gonna have to do better, and while you’re at it, shut the hell up and quit bothering the adults…”.

  2. Kirk says:

    Serendipity attacks…

    If Isegoria wanted to treat the bits and pieces of the referenced work (Starship Troopers, R.A. Heinlein) that don’t address his hypothetical “future government by veterans” in a manner similar to how he has done Fehrenbach’s seminal work, I think it would be a good idea.

    Starship Troopers has aspects that tend to distract people reading it from the ground truths that were contained therein, some of which the linked article mentions. The overall trend towards “de-civilization” that Heinlein outlines as the backstory/justification for the world he creates in the book is something you can observe going on all around you, in the general insanity prevailing the day.

    I have my doubts about the prescription he came up with, but the bastard damn sure got the diagnosis right…

  3. Gavin Longmuir says:

    It is a few years since I read (and enjoyed) “Starship Troopers”. At the time, I took Heinlein’s point to be that for a democracy to work, the voters had to have skin in the game. They had to have made a demonstrable commitment to the polity in which they sought a voice.

    Anything which is given away for nothing is not valued. Arguably, Western democracy hit the slippery downwards slope when our forefathers moved towards universal suffrage. Inevitably, we have ended in a situation where a voter (in the right precinct) does not have to be a citizen, does not have to be alive, does not have to exist.

    The original voting criterion of having to be a male property owner of a certain age was overly restrictive. But we have gone too far when it is harder to get a driving license than to get a vote.

  4. Kirk says:

    I’ve always found the term “franchise”, when used to describe “the right to vote” as being a very interesting and freighted usage of the term. There’s an important concept lurking back there, and it’s one we have definitely lost track of.

    Rights imply obligations and responsibilities, or at least, they should. There’s currently no real limit or obligation implied by the vote in our republic, or across most of what is laughingly called “Western Civilization”. You can vote for whatever you damn well please, and so long as you carry the majority, then your (and, that majority’s…) will be done.

    Does this strike anyone as even remotely sane? Is it a moral thing, that women who bear not one iota of risk, who will never be drafted to go and fight in one of this nation’s wars, have the same “right to vote” as the men do? How does that make sense, pray tell? One group decides what another will do, even though it may kill them? What if I, as a male, decide “No… I will not go and die for your whim…”. Should a woman who will never, ever be required to go in harm’s way then be given the power to coerce me, via her vote?

    Likewise, if you’re living in a small town, where the electorate decides they’d like a municipal swimming pool, and decide to get that pool paid for via a levy on the businesses in town, who will have to pass on those costs? What happens when those same self-centered assholes decide they don’t want to pay the higher prices those businesses have to charge in order to meet those levies, and decide to shop a town or two over…? Driving the local businesses out of business, all the while whining about how much more expensive it is to shop locally?

    I’m afraid that the franchise should not come without obligations or responsibilities. If you’re not going to be paying the price, then you shouldn’t be able to vote on what that price is going to be, for anyone else. Period.

    This is why the old-timers had it right–You didn’t get the right to vote without owning property, because those properties were taxed, and that was how revenue was raised for the government. No tax? No vote. That was the deal, and that was why we didn’t have the spectacle of people voting themselves bread and circuses as we do today.

    My take on the franchise is that you shouldn’t get the right to vote unless you’re a productive citizen, or have a history of productively contributing to society. No net positive contribution to society? No vote. Period. Welfare and charity recipients, as well as government employees, should not have the right to vote on anything even remotely relating to taxation or spending, or for the people who make those decisions. Likewise, if you make a living at administering the law? LOL… Forget about politics or the right to vote–You wanna be a lawyer? All you get is the right to advise on making law, not actually making it, in any way, shape, or form.

    The problem we have is that we’ve extended the franchise to people with no skin in the game whatsoever. You don’t pay taxes? No wonder you vote for extended benefits, or for the people who promise them to you.

    Call me an asshole, but I think that if you’re not paying the piper, then you shouldn’t be calling the tune. You’re not liable for the draft? Screw that; you should never, ever, not in a million ‘effing years, be voting on whether or not to send someone off to war in order to kill and be killed on your behalf.

    I don’t mind if you were missed by the draft, or somehow evaded it. What pisses me off is that people who’ve got zero probability of being dragged off to war have a say in who will be, and for what cause. Your hide’s too pretty to risk? Fine; you don’t get to make a decision about anyone else’s. Ever.

  5. longarch says:

    The origin of “franchise” was in post-Roman cultures that were acquainted with various forms of slavery and serform. “To make free” was not an empty formality.

    From late 14c. as “freedom; not being in servitude; social status of a freeman;” early 15c. as “citizenship, membership in a community or town; membership in a craft or guild.” The “special right” sense narrowed 18c. to “particular legal privilege,” then “right to vote” (1790)

    Regarding children — they are frequently ignoble savages, but they are sometimes noble savages. They can be taught not to defecate in culturally inappropriate locations; this might be all the civilization that many of them ever learn. But if fortune smiles, some children may become worthy of the epithet “civilized.”

    If civilized children fail in the duties of civilization, this cannot be excused as reversion to noble savagery; it must be diagnosed as degeneracy. A mangy dog in the streets has not reverted to the noble savagery of the wolf; the mangy dog has merely degenerated and is no longer a tame dog.

  6. Grasspunk says:

    One of the benefits of having multiple children is that as you get more you have less time to spend with each of them and you end up in the position of just ignoring them most of the time, which turns out to be a reasonable method of parenting.

    We became fans of the Idle Parent way of doing things, which envisioned the ideal gathering as having a large field with all the kids at one end yahooing amongst themselves while the parents were at the other end drinking and smoking.

    Coincidentally, where we live — SW France — village gatherings run like that. The adults are drinking and smoking at the tables or bar while the kids get up to mischief as a group elsewhere in the village, the older ones looking after the younger ones.

    The weirdest thing is when we get American city children visiting. I won’t go into detail because I am not anonymous but so many kids/teens are dependent on parental intervention and approval. It’s a shock to see. I’ve been wondering if the cause is modern parenting, modern city life or maybe this is just how most kids are.

  7. Mike in Boston says:

    “The original voting criterion of having to be a male property owner of a certain age was overly restrictive.”

    In hindsight, it sure doesn’t look that way to me.

  8. Kirk says:


    Are you familiar with the bit of “hacker jargon” that the phrase “scratch monkey” is part of?

    Scratch monkey is a term used in hacker jargon, as in “Before testing or reconfiguring, always mount a scratch monkey”, a proverb used to advise caution when dealing with irreplaceable data or devices.

    Lore has it that this refers back to an infamous incident in 1979 or 1980, where five monkeys at the University of Toronto in the medicine department were hooked up to brainwave sensors using custom hardware. Part of the interface was a diskdrive located in a different part of the building whose read-only button was activated and taped down with a warning not to remove the adhesive tape. Drive read operations operate at a much lower current than write operations. A maintenance technician from outside the university servicing a fault removed the tape, enabled write mode and performed a drive diagnostic test. The resulting electrical current sent through the sensors stunned two monkeys and killed the other three.(Source: Wikipedia)

    This is a useful concept in childrearing, because the firstborn and other older children in a family often become what amount to “scratch monkeys” for child-rearing practices by the responsible parental figures.

    Unfortunately, the problem is that you only ever get one circuit of the track, and once you figure out what you did wrong raising your kids, the opportunity is over and you’re on to screwing up the grandkids…

  9. Grasspunk says:

    Kirk, that is a fine reason to have multiple children. It provides fault tolerance.

  10. Buckethead says:

    Grasspunk says: “One of the benefits of having multiple children is that as you get more you have less time to spend with each of them and you end up in the position of just ignoring them most of the time, which turns out to be a reasonable method of parenting.”

    This is very true but the flip side is that when you do spend time with one of them, it’s for something you are both interested in, and feels significant. Especially for the little ones.

  11. Kirk says:

    One of the distinct pleasures of being an old cynic is the ability to observe others going through the process of losing their idealistic illusions, and becoming equally cynical. You get such a confirmatory frisson from seeing that happen in real time, and it actually makes you want to hang around the aggravating idealistic assholes as they go through life, and are buffeted by the winds of reality.

    My favorite was a woman who’d spent much of her time as a single woman telling me how she’d raise her kids so much better than her own mother and father did. And, to tell the truth, I don’t think it could have been possible to have done a worse job of it than they did, all things considered. Once my idealistic acquaintance was actually married, having kids, and being “mom”, wellllllll…

    I just remember the day when the three of her kids were running rampant in the back yard, and one of them did something to one of the others, and the one that was “done unto” came into the house screaming bloody murder, whereupon “mom” told her that it was bloody well her own fault, and she should go right back out and bite her brother…

    This was followed by silence, a determined look on the little girl’s face, and departure. Shortly after, male screams emanated from the back yard.

    I got this heavy sigh from my friend, and she looked over at me and said something to the effect of “Y’know… I now understand why gerbils eat their young…”.

  12. Paul from Canada says:

    As I am not a parent, I can’t really comment on the relevance and accuracy of the observations that the author makes.

    On the other hand, I do know that up here in Canada, aboriginal communities (which include the Inuit), have an extremely high rate of suicide, violence, sexual violence, and sexual violence towards children. How much of this is as a result of past racism like the residential schools program etc. I can’t say, but food for thought when evaluating the “superiority” of how these communities raise their children….

  13. Kirk says:


    Thing you have to consider is that there were actual reasons why the old-timers thought they were doing right by destroying the “ancient cultures” with all that residential schooling.

    The syndromes you mention were things that existed back in the day, as well–It was never the “happy hunting ground” that the idiotarian activists postulate.

    I knew a woman who was originally from one of the border tribes, and spent time in both the US and Canada as a “genuine Indian/First Nation’s” member. Her take on “traditional culture” was essentially unprintable, and she said the smartest thing anyone from those cultures could do would be to get the hell away from them as far and as fast as they could.

    I can’t remember which tribe she was from, but it was one of the smaller off-shoots from one of the Ojibwe-speaking groups. Her father had been some kind of activist/revolutionary with the American Indian Movement in the 1960s, and had dragged her and the rest of the family into Canada as a draft-dodging refugee. Her take on the whole experience left her with a deep and lasting repugnance for the entire culture on both sides of the border. She was pretty up front about the fact that her dad had apparently traded her and her sisters off for drugs and sex, while her mom was so far gone into alcoholism that she wasn’t even aware that she’d been passed off to some band leader as a passport into the band.

    In retrospect, she might not have been the most unbiased informant.

    Regardless, that is a data point–Some of those “cultures” were never that good to begin with, and it might be a mercy to slip the grace knife in. Especially for the women and kids involved…

    Of course, the residential schools weren’t exactly hotbeds of enlightenment, either–And, there are equally horrid tales of sexual exploitation from those, as well.

  14. Paul from Canada says:

    One of the things I find interesting about aboriginal issues and dysfunctions in modern society is that they are pretty much universal.

    An aboriginal reserve in Canada and one in Australia are virtually identical. Equal amounts of misery, alcohol and substance abuse, sexual abuse of children, domestic violence, and suicide. Interestingly, even the substances abused are the same (gasoline sniffing).

  15. Kirk says:


    I would guess that if you went and looked at the aftereffects from the Enclosures and the Clearances in Scotland and Ireland, it’d look about the same, absent the gasoline.

    Same-same with the Gauls, after Caeser. Pretty much anywhere that there was an interface between a simpler, less-sophisticated civilization and anything superior to it…

    About the only people that really managed to avoid this syndrome were the Japanese, and the Thais. And, a few others… Cherokee, until they ran up against Andrew Jackson, the First Democrat Thief-in-Chief.

  16. VXXC says:

    “On the other hand, I do know that up here in Canada, aboriginal communities (which include the Inuit), have an extremely high rate of suicide, violence, sexual violence, and sexual violence towards children.”

    But this lines up with the Arabs perfectly, and I mean the utterly untamed ones that were never really conquered at the village and clan level, not by Saddam, not by the Brits, not by the Turks. This isn’t a post-colonial thing, with the exception of the welfare and substance abuse. Yes, destroying the chiefs’ rule and real power caused more dysfunction, but the sexual behavior was always there.

    It also lines up with the data and experience we get here on Meso America to the south. The truth is, until Christianity took Rome, women, children, boys were usually taken at will and always meat, yes, even in Rome. One of the reasons they killed Paul was his bizarre idea that all people had intrinsic value and dignity, instead of the strong having their way with the weak. In truth Islam taught the same message.

    Rampant sexual abuse is also common in Asia to this day, and that’s not post-colonial.

    I’m saying it’s always been that way. It’s only “sexual abuse{ in our eyes, because we chose to say it’s abuse. It is, and it’s evil, but they never saw it that way until we began to insist — there’s a real colonial legacy — on what we now call Human Rights. It once was called Christianity.

    Now the breakdown of Fatherhood is another common theme in dysfunctions such as above, including the old Irish, and including the slums now. The modern destruction of the family by destroying the father legally and economically is core to the modern state, especially America. The ultimate privilege is having a “normal” family and growing up with one father.

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