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March 13, 2019 9:50 PM   Subscribe

When anthropologist Jean Briggs lived with an Inuit family in 1963, she witnessed a remarkable thing: the adults had an extraordinary ability to control their anger, and they passed this on to their children.

In 1970, Briggs published a landmark book based on her experiences, Never in Anger: Portrait of an Eskimo Family, followed in 1988 by Inuit Morality Play: The Emotional Education of a Three-Year-Old. Her monumental bilingual Utkuhiksalingmiut Inuktitut dictionary was published in 2015. She won the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Psychological Anthropology, as well as an honorary doctorate from the University of Bergen in Norway, and was also a Royal Society of Canada fellow.
posted by Johnny Wallflower (55 comments total) 138 users marked this as a favorite
 
this role playing technique seems brilliant and it feels like I can see exactly why it would work
posted by idiopath at 9:57 PM on March 13 [7 favorites]


Inuit Morality Play had a huge effect on how I understood child-rearing. Beyond that, it was also interesting to see how Inuit women had babies in their teens, so they were mothers dealing with infuriating children at an age when it's very hard to control their own anger.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:05 PM on March 13 [13 favorites]


at an age when it's very hard to control their own anger

Don't want to spoil it, but they have a fix for that.
posted by Meatbomb at 1:42 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]


Fascinating, thank you for sharing!

I'd love to get a copy of Inuit Morality Play to read, but it seems it hasn't been digitized, unfortunately.
posted by lesser weasel at 1:51 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]



I'd love to get a copy of Inuit Morality Play to read, but it seems it hasn't been digitized, unfortunately.


It may be out of print, but there are definitely pdf versions available on the pirate sites, which I won't link to here.
posted by lollusc at 3:02 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


This is so great. Thanks for sharing.

Every good parenting thing I’ve done with my kid is in this mold. Games and stories work so much better. Somehow the involvement of third parties sometimes makes me forget. I’m gonna sit with that a bit.
posted by eirias at 3:21 AM on March 14 [6 favorites]


Every good parenting thing I’ve done with my kid is in this mold. Games and stories work so much better. Somehow the involvement of third parties sometimes makes me forget. I’m gonna sit with that a bit.

Yes, exactly. This is the behavior I strive for, and the one I fall short of nearly every day. On the one hand, I wish I had been raised in this kind of parenting culture, as it would now be easier for me to parent my own child in this way. However, maybe that means that I need to do some of my own role-playing and storytelling. Parent my own self, as it were.
posted by lollymccatburglar at 5:40 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]


I'd love to get a copy of Inuit Morality Play to read, but it seems it hasn't been digitized, unfortunately.

Libraries have it (interlibrary loan), if hard copy works for you.
posted by JanetLand at 6:00 AM on March 14 [4 favorites]


I wonder if I could adopt some of these strategies now even though my son is already 10?
posted by secretseasons at 6:04 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


This strikes me as basically parenting via fully immersive CBT. I hope that doesn't come off as dismissive to either CBT or Inuit tradition, I think it's fantastic and makes a lot of sense.
posted by yeahlikethat at 6:07 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


secretseasons, you can't start any earlier. I am wondering if it would work on a child who is 30! Probably what is described would seem too infantilizing, but are there variations on this theme? I suppose that I need to learn to control my own anger first, and set an example to follow.
posted by elizilla at 6:27 AM on March 14 [2 favorites]


Thanks, I hate it!

I'm not sure I believe that never showing anger is an ideal at all, really. I come from a quick to temper, quick to forgive kind of family and so of course I think the really childish thing is to expect people to be so restrained all the time, like a fluff who can't handle the full gamut of human.

Likewise, I am not a big fan of scary stories, or "lies" to kids. It seems really disrespectful to me.

All of which isn't to say they are doing it wrong!, but to say the tone of the article (aren't the Natives wise!) and the haut blanche anger is always bad approach kinda depress me.
posted by dame at 6:32 AM on March 14 [15 favorites]


Thanks for this post, was really interesting! Hoping I can track down a copy of those books.

I def recognize moments when I do the parenting that will set up bad habits, and explaining things in terms of monsters seems fine as a placeholder until the kiddo can grasp electricity.
posted by jonbro at 6:43 AM on March 14


I'm not sure I believe that never showing anger is an ideal at all, really. I come from a quick to temper, quick to forgive kind of family and so of course I think the really childish thing is to expect people to be so restrained all the time, like a fluff who can't handle the full gamut of human.

Yeah, this is how I feel. I think that the anthropology is very interesting here (although I have a lot of thoughts about an outsider determining that they know how people from other cultures feel, instead of how they act.) But I also think that there's a very...for lack of a better term, WASP-centric / American educated UMC attitude towards emotional displays that doesn't necessarily reflect a platonic ideal of parenting/being in the world.

You could also come up with a lot of supposed benefits that would come from showing anger to kids! Scaring them, terrorizing, abusing them---no. But demonstrating unhappiness when you are unhappy, sure. The research on adult couples who fight comes to mind. Some couples fight a lot, but it doesn't bother them---it is a demonstration of care and connectedness; of security; of "getting" each other and wanting to keep "getting" each other even as the other changes over time.

Objectively, I don't think that either way of emoting is better or worse. (Or if one is better or worse, I am not qualified to say). We just all have our own cultural biases that lead us to see one or the other ideal as better.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 6:44 AM on March 14 [15 favorites]


I have never seen expressing anger at a loved one work productively. Feeling anger is fine, but the act of being angry AT someone (raised voice, snappy, losing your temper) has always seemed destructive to me. My husband and I are working on getting to a place where we don't do that, ever. Calm discussion of our feelings makes us both feel heard and acknowledged instead and we both feel better for it and can actually resolve the situation.

I do feel there's a gap here with regard to other emotions though. What about being visibly joyeous and exhuberant? Obviously sad? I have a lot of emotions and would find it stifling to be so controlled in every aspect, and I wouldn't find that healthy. Just anger though? Nah.
posted by stillnocturnal at 6:52 AM on March 14 [16 favorites]


I'm not sure I believe that never showing anger is an ideal at all, really

I've actually read parts of Never In Anger, and the important thing to keep in mind is, we're talking about an extremely small group of people (like fewer than 30 I think) living in a pretty harsh environment who have to spend half the year mostly cooped up in a small room with their whole family. It's a precarious situation in a lot of ways, and a serious fight could destabilize the community to the point where everyone was in danger. The taboo against expressing anger is an adaptation to their environment.
posted by showbiz_liz at 6:58 AM on March 14 [90 favorites]


I come from a quick to temper, quick to forgive kind of family and so of course I think the really childish thing is to expect people to be so restrained all the time, like a fluff who can't handle the full gamut of human.

But doesn't it wear you down, this constant state of conflict and uneasiness with the people closest to you? I does me and is the reason why I can't stand loud voices, being around certain people, etc. It's a type of behavior I would never accept if it came from a stranger or acquaintance, so why really accept it from family?

I'm just now, in my 30s, truly realizing how conflict and aggressiveness is passed down from one generation to another during a kid's very first years and the ripple effect it has on entire society. Parenting is such a controversial topic and mandating a certain parenting style seems almost impossible but I wish that more would-be parents at least worked on understanding themselves and their own psychological makeup before raising kids.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 7:01 AM on March 14 [24 favorites]


But doesn't it wear you down, this constant state of conflict and uneasiness with the people closest to you?

Well, no — because to me it is not conflict and unease. It is love! I love and am loved so much we can be imperfect, passionate, uncontrolled and know it won't be held against us. Especially because sometimes anger or frustration are totally reasonable responses to something and it is love not to police that.

For instance this idea:

Calm discussion of our feelings makes us both feel heard and acknowledged instead and we both feel better for it and can actually resolve the situation.

This would make me feel so stifled and judged. Like I have to be like this at work so I can play along with capitalism or whatever, but I don't want my family to be like that. Then again, one of my grandmother's partners later in life asked why we are arguing and she responded, "We're not arguing! We're having a conversation!" so I guess you just get trained up in it.

I don't think one way is obviously better, but I do notice an edge of morality in the WASP-y description sometimes and that I do not care for.
posted by dame at 7:23 AM on March 14 [13 favorites]


I love and am loved so much we can be imperfect, passionate, uncontrolled and know it won't be held against us. Especially because sometimes anger or frustration are totally reasonable responses to something and it is love not to police that.

This is... kind of judgy. I could say "I love my husband so much that I want to treat him better than a stranger and never make him feel bad or attacked by expressing unneccessary anger at him" but the implication there would be shitty, right? As is the implication that not getting visibly angry= intolerance of imperfection and a lack of passion. We get upset, and angry, and frustrated, it's just important to us that we don't express that in ways that aren't good for our relationship. We're a problem solving team, never adversaries! But if it doesn't feel like conflict to you, then it's fine! I wouldn't tell you you're wrong, happy relationships can come in many stripes.

I also think a certain level of self-control and self-policing is part of the human condition and getting along, but obviously YMMV as to how far that's required.
posted by stillnocturnal at 7:36 AM on March 14 [12 favorites]


being quick to anger can probably work in many cultures IF people actually and genuinely practice the second half of the maxim, quick to forgive. but yeah... and especially for young kids? i've seen it run the risk what's actually happening is emotional displacement towards repression. how to model is definitely important. higher octane emotions i think need a bit more scaffolding to handle safely as a cultural norm.
posted by cendawanita at 7:46 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


Directed anger always leaves a mark even if words of forgiveness are spoken.
posted by kokaku at 7:48 AM on March 14 [25 favorites]


This is all so deeply embedded in cultural context I think we won’t even be able to make a coherent comparison.
posted by argybarg at 7:50 AM on March 14 [20 favorites]


I heard this the other day and it was really interesting; definitely some ideas that fit in well with how I tried to raise my own child. Why is Briggs's work getting renewed attention now?
posted by TedW at 7:52 AM on March 14


It strikes me that although life would be much, much harder for children -- as for everyone -- in a pre-settlement Inuit context, there would be also far fewer stimuli for misbehavior, and therefore for anger.

Today, kids are constantly shuttled from place to place -- school, parents' errands, home -- with endless distractions and demands for attention that their brains aren't equipped to handle. Some of this is media that's literally designed to upset the kid and make them demand something from their parents by upsetting them until they buy the child something that will continue to spike emotion, one way or the other. Some of it is exposure to adult requirements or environments that make no intuitive sense (wait here, be quiet, be nice, behave) and will result in a buildup of frustration and eventual acting out. Kids in modern society don't have a sense of being partners in it, of being part of the daily endeavor of life, whereas in a small band of hunters and foragers, they would.

God knows I don't have a solution for this. I'm no an-prim; my eyes are too bad and I need too many pills. But it's a thought that I had.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:02 AM on March 14 [10 favorites]


This is... kind of judgy.

Describing my own feelings is not judgy. That's why I said "to me," taking you at your word that it made you feel differently. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Honestly to me it is along the ask/guess lines for fundamental differences. I just wanted to stand up for quick to temper / quick to forget because it is cultural and not a deep moral failing.
posted by dame at 8:17 AM on March 14 [8 favorites]


It seems pretty judgy to characterize those you disagree with as "childish" and being "like a fluff who can't handle the full gamut of human."
posted by Lyme Drop at 8:26 AM on March 14 [19 favorites]


I grew up in an emotionally stifled household where anger (among other things) and frustration were ignored, as if you didn't exist unless you were calm. It has taken me a very long time to feel comfortable showing my emotions, and I'm better for it.

One of the reasons my marriage failed, in fact, is that at the time we were very good at peacefully getting along but when one of us was unhappy or angry or anything else negative, we couldn't productively deal with that (talking about it calmly infuriated her, and yelling about it scared me.) Eventually as co-parents we have each found a way to something more balanced, and our children have developed a good understanding of expressing negative feelings in an honest way vs acting out in a reflexive way.
posted by davejay at 8:35 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


I read the book years ago and what stayed with me was the level of emotional control and unquestioning submission to authority Briggs was expected, as an adult, to have mastered. She gave the impression that for the Utku survival depended on suppressing the expression of any negative emotion. When Briggs lost her temper one time her hosts basically wouldn't speak to her for three months - in an igloo, in the dark, in winter, causing her to fall into a deep depression.
posted by jcrcarter at 8:40 AM on March 14 [9 favorites]


The taboo against expressing anger is an adaptation to their environment.

This was my (half-baked) impression when reading the story this morning- that as a close-knit society, their parenting responses helped to model the behavior that was required for survival. And while the idea of not showing anger works for their community, it's a lot easier for kids to learn and pick up when the parents (read: mom) and extended family are around all the time modeling that behavior. And I was wondering, how much emotional energy and labor was exuded by the mothers to impart this knowledge. Inventing stories and creating pantomime lessons is hard work! Little Purr is always inventing new stories and doing role playing, but it is exhausting for me, and I can't imagine redoing "hit me with a rock" lessons until they learned empathy.

So while I think there are some valuable techniques presented in the article, I wasn't a huge fan of the "one true trick to stop tantrums!" framing of the article. This works for this community for specific ways, and there are other valid ways of teaching emotional regulation to children. I'm also not a huge fan of the idea that fantasy stories teach good behavior, although I can see how stories with danger are attractive to kids, and hold their attention.

Finally, each child is different. I've really tried to reflect emotions back to Little Purr in a playful way, and have tried the "you're not a baby, you're a big kid, big kids do XX!" statements, but it seems to make them more angry because they think we're making fun of them (we're not, just trying to diffuse the situation).
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 8:50 AM on March 14 [3 favorites]


I am super familiar with the WASP model wherein women and children aren't allowed to get angry or express bad feelings. It's abuse, full stop. "No screaming" and "no hitting" and "no cruelty" are different rules than "you are never, ever allowed to express frustration of any kind with me, but I can do anything I like to you."

When Briggs lost her temper one time her hosts basically wouldn't speak to her for three months - in an igloo, in the dark, in winter, causing her to fall into a deep depression.

That sure as hell doesn't sound like "we all demonstrate respect for each other," it sounds like "comply or be tormented" and I have had quite enough of that already, thanks. (And I am gonna keep picking the third option, which is fleeing.)
posted by bagel at 8:50 AM on March 14 [13 favorites]


...but reading the responses here, I'm realizing that I might need to modulate how we parent the tantrums- lately we've had some mild stress in the house (travel, computers breaking, etc), and my temper has shortened. Little Purr has now erupted into purple screaming tantrums when things don't go their way (turning off tv for dinner, not being able to do a privilege because we ate late, etc), and I've usually let them run their course, since while they are super upset, they don't seem to want comforting from me. But I probably need to check in a little more frequently so they know that I'm not ignoring them when they show negative emotions. I'm one who prefers to express my frustration in private, so I don't want my presence to rile them up more. I also get (maybe unreasonably?) nervous & upset when other adults are angry about unrelated stuff, so that is probably something I should work on.

I also always make an attempt to apologize after losing my tempter and cooling down. I'd much rather model that behavior than make them feel resentful because they have to tamp down all negative emotions.
posted by Hermeowne Grangepurr at 9:00 AM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Hmm. Interesting. I grew up in an abusive household where only one family member was allowed to express feelings, often with a heavy dose of gaslighting thrown in. So you'd get stomping around and screaming but if you were ever like, "You seem angry, is everything okay?" you'd get screamed at more. This manifested in a fearfulness in me, massive anxiety, and especially anxiety about expressing my own feelings. I would feel these terrifying floods of emotion and not know how to deal with them, so I'd stomp around and sulk until someone comforted me, but I realized when I had a kid that I was in danger of perpetuating patterns of abuse. I had to become comfortable with unpleasant emotions and learn to harness them.

What worked for me was therapy and a lot of reading on the subject and a lot of Daniel Tiger. I totally will say, "I'm getting really frustrated" or "I feel angry right now." There's no shame in feeling anger. The shame is in venting your anger at someone. We model taking breaks, calm down skills, and leaving the room when things get too heated in my family--then we return fairly quickly to talk it out. I don't know. I do think that relentlessly pushing through anger in a yelly way is unproductive. When people are too flooded with negative emotions--anger, fear--it can be difficult to hear and discuss anything fairly or calmly. But denying those emotions exist doesn't do it for me, either. Even Mom Tiger can say, "I am angry that you put sand all over my rug," and then sing herself a calm down song. If it is good enough for Mom Tiger, it's good enough for me.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 9:11 AM on March 14 [22 favorites]


It seems pretty judgy to characterize those you disagree with as "childish" and being "like a fluff who can't handle the full gamut of human."

I can't speak for dame, but I will say, for my part, that I hold similar beliefs, while, at the same time, realizing that they are not rational beliefs, but instead a product of how I was raised and the cultures that I'm immersed in.

I think we all have these kinds of intuitive beliefs about certain cultural practices that are different from ours. We're all raised to think that certain things are "normal," "natural," "right," or "ideal." Deviations from those ideals bother us, and they seem less good than what we were raised to do. Those beliefs don't reflect an objective truth --- they're biases --- but having those biases is human nature.

If someone were to avoid making eye contact with me, for example, I might get frustrated and ascribe negative characteristics to them. That is not fair, of course. The best way to counter that unfair assumption is to understand it, name it, and be willing to acknowledge that it affects my behavior and thinking.

I get that hearing someone express that they hold a biased view of behavior that you value can feel insulting, but it is also, I think, the only honest way to participate in a conversation about different cultures. Everyone has biases, no one is objective. This article and the conversation here involves a lot of people coming from a biased perspective (again, totally normal and human). I think that it is okay --- admirable, even --- for dame to point that out and, by so doing, open up space for a broader conversation about the biases and assumptions that we all bring into things like childrearing and romantic partnerships.
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:22 AM on March 14 [11 favorites]


These are very culturally specific practices - and I can understand why they are needed in that community. This would include the shunning of the researcher: she violated a pretty serious community norm, one that could destabilize everyone.

Thing is: when looking at the practices of other cultures (now or in the past), I like to think of learning lessons, but not whole-sale adopting practices that may not be appropriate for my environment. Or maybe I would adapt practices to better suit me.

Also, there's just simple cultural preferences: even within a modern western society, I've moved from one sub-culture with a certain expectation of emotional control to another sub-culture with less expectation. Neither is better or worse, but as I was raised in the "quieter-emotion" culture, I find the "louder-emotion" culture a little stressful and I have to remember that when people sound very upset, they aren't actually that upset.
posted by jb at 9:52 AM on March 14 [8 favorites]


Not to derail the serious discussion here, but can I just stop for a moment and mention how seriously adorable the toddler pictures are in this article? Like I just want to boop their adorable little noses.
posted by jacquilynne at 10:34 AM on March 14 [7 favorites]


the tone of the article (aren't the Natives wise!)

Yeah, I found this kind of discomfiting about the article too, as with other books about how the French or the Germans or whoever definitely have a 100% universal societal norm about childrearing and there's something inherent about the [x group] disposition that makes them a source of wisdom. It's definitely worse when it sits alongside "noble savage" tropes. I'm guessing Briggs' work is a lot more nuanced than the article.

It did, though, remind me of something about my own childhood. My mom generally did yell and raise her voice at me and my siblings a lot, but I have this one specific memory during the blizzard of '96 when she was trying to stop me from climbing snowdrifts by myself while she went to the house. She told me this increasingly escalating, absurd set of scenarios of how things could go wrong if I started climbing snowdrifts alone. And this wasn't actually a scary thing--we were collapsing into giggles. But I didn't climb the snowdrift! And like, I don't remember 99% of what she yelled at me about all the time but I remember this.
posted by capricorn at 10:53 AM on March 14 [11 favorites]


I think part of the "aren't natives wise" thing comes from it being the settler retelling of a white anthropologist's writing on a cultural practice, but overall the article kind of reflects the child rearing approach detailed in some of the autobiographical works of Inuit (like Life Among the Qallunaat [Qallunaat is the Inuktitut word for white people] by Mini Aodla Freeman or The Right to be Cold by Sheila Watt-Cloutier) that speak about it in very similar ways and gives some of the cultural reasons why this approach tends to be used. This is also seen in the Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada-produced The Inuit way: A Guide to Inuit Culture. See particularly p 10 "Methods of Social Control" and p 16 on on Childrearing for an Inuit-produced description of their approach.

Freeman's work in particular is interesting, which largely deals with her move to Ottawa to work for Indian and Northern Affairs, and was subject to censorship by the government at the time and half the copies apparently hidden in a basement in the INAC building, is particularly interesting, especially some of her (kind of hilariously apt) thoughts about white people in Ottawa (where I currently live) that still ring true today. And humour is a very important Inuit trait as well. Even the word for white people in Inuktitut has kind of funny origins - and is described by Freeman as follows:

“No wonder Inuit call them qallunaat. I said at the beginning that qallunaat means “people who pamper their eyebrows.” But I am not sure anymore if that’s what it means. It was never explained to me by any of my ancestors why the qallunaat were named that. [...] To come back to the word qallunaat: I have turned the word inside out to try and find the meaning. First of all, the word qallu can mean eyebrow; by adding an ending one has qallu-naaq, meaning one qallunaaq; qallu-naak — two qallunaaq; qallu-naat — many qallunaaq. The word implies humans who pamper or fuss with nature, of materialistic habit. Avaricious people. Qallu is also the beginning of the word qallunartak, material or fabric or anything that is manufactured or store-bought. It can also mean a rag made of material or fabric, or any material other than a material from nature. Somehow, I cannot see how the Inuit would have been impressed if the qallunaat pampered their eyebrows. I cannot imagine the qallunaat pampering their eyebrows when they did not care how they looked in the middle of the Arctic; even today, they do not seem to care how they look.” (Freeman 2015: 86)

(I have also read that it refers to the fact that white people have pronounced eyebrow ridges so Inuit are basically calling white people big foreheads but can't remember where I read that)

I find thinking about this kind of culture of child rearing in the context of residential schools even more upsetting. I think part of what makes a lot of white people kind of dismissive of the experiences of Indigenous peoples in residential schools is that it doesn't sound that different from the general abuse-permissive approach to schooling of that era, which was something that white children also experienced (though generally not in a residential school setting, though there was certainly some of that for orphaned children, for example - and certainly not with the amount of death and abuse that residential schools were responsible for) but to Indigenous peoples with very very different ways of raising children, usually similar to the Inuit approach and which generally didn't include corporal punishment at all, these schools would have been vastly, vastly different than what they were used to at home (most retellings of this make this point as well) .
posted by urbanlenny at 12:14 PM on March 14 [14 favorites]


I loved the idea that kids (people in general, really) learn best through stories, and that stories should be a little thrilling and playful and dangerous so that they really capture the imagination. And that outsourcing them entirely is maybe a bad idea. Especially if the kids/people that you care about and the ideals and behavior that you want to honor aren't going to be well represented in the outsourced stories for the most part anyway, I would think.

I also love the article's point that gentleness is good for kids (for people in general, really). That gentleness is valuable, and learning to be gentle is difficult but worth it. Here in mainstream US culture, it seems to me that there's all this worry that if you're "too" gentle and tolerant of children, that you'll wind up spoiling them. As though being spoiled is the worst case scenario. So I thought the Inuit take on child rearing (as per the article, anyway) was pretty refreshing.

only one family member was allowed to express feelings, often with a heavy dose of gaslighting thrown in. So you'd get stomping around and screaming but if you were ever like, "You seem angry, is everything okay?" you'd get screamed at more. This manifested in a fearfulness in me, massive anxiety, and especially anxiety about expressing my own feelings.

Yes, I can relate. I think it's very common for families to have one or two members who are "allowed" to get wild with their negative emotions and to lash out every which way and otherwise express themselves with virtually no limits, while everyone else is expected to repress repress repress. I think there are few families in which literally all members are expected to have similar (high) emotional control...instead there's often a little intra-family hierarchy over who's allowed (or even pressured) to express which emotions and with whom.

I find thinking about this kind of culture of child rearing in the context of residential schools even more upsetting.

That's a very interesting point.
posted by rue72 at 12:28 PM on March 14 [7 favorites]


I think there are few families in which literally all members are expected to have similar (high) emotional control...instead there's often a little intra-family hierarchy over who's allowed (or even pressured) to express which emotions and with whom.

Ugh, this was my dysfunctional upbringing. I never heard it put this way but it’s true. I can’t quite figure who was on top of this hierarchy though. I mean, I know who had the explosive temper, who never had to apologize, and I know whose apparent emotionlessness was so stark as to provoke comment from others. But I am not really sure which one of them got power from the arrangement.
posted by eirias at 1:17 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Briggs was a delight to read in my undergraduate years especially after struggling through the "classics" by old white men. I found her books very readable and are worth searching out. However, it is best not to approach them as parenting manuals for white colonisers. I will re-iterate what showbiz_liz (and jb) said above "[t]he taboo against expressing anger is an adaptation to their environment" and I'd add that the work is a specific window into a time, place and the practices of a specific people. A lot has changed in the far north and among the Inuit.

CBC radio aired this series from 2011 (I recall hearing it when she died in 2016) where they interviewed Briggs at length - Part 1 & Part 2. I suspect the CBC interview they quote from in the NPR article is the one I linked to.
posted by Ashwagandha at 1:47 PM on March 14 [4 favorites]


One of my MeFi lurking friends and I were talking about this, and he suggested that there is a difference between emotional control, or regulation, and suppressing emotion. I'm not sure what I think about this but perhaps that is partly what we are arguing about upthread.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 2:22 PM on March 14 [8 favorites]


She told me this increasingly escalating, absurd set of scenarios of how things could go wrong if I started climbing snowdrifts alone. And this wasn't actually a scary thing--we were collapsing into giggles. But I didn't climb the snowdrift! And like, I don't remember 99% of what she yelled at me about all the time but I remember this.

Not a parent, but I take this approach with myself a lot. I come from a "quick-to-anger" background, and since, I've been working to "not anger quickly". I've mostly succeeded, but that's not a healthy relationship to it either. I generally don't get angry at unreasonable things, but what I fail to do is predict where that anger might take me. The world is full of stupid, infuriating stuff, yelling at it is the least productive way to deal with it, but ignoring it or trying to pretend there's something wrong with me for being angry at it doesn't help much either. Acknowledging my own anger and controlling it and using the signal it's giving me to come up with a smarter solution is something this "taking it to the absurd" exercise, both in my head and in dealing with other people, is very helpful for.

I usually don't remember what I'm mad about 10 minutes later. I do remember the times I come up with a solution to something that seems frustrating and intractable.
posted by saysthis at 2:54 PM on March 14 [5 favorites]


I could probably count the number of times I've raised my voice in true anger as an adult on one hand. I'm just not wired to react to things that way, but a couple of summers ago I was at a campground, biking around with my niece and nephew, and my niece (who was 8, an experienced bike rider, not a thrill seeker and should have known better) was ahead of me pedaling down a fairly steep hill towards a t-junction. She didn't show any signs of slowing down, so I yelled at her to stop at the intersection, mildly at first and then when it looked like she was going to blow through the stop sign and into the middle of the (as busy as roads in that park got) road I really let loose and yelled "[NIECE], STOP!!!!" in my angriest (it was fear, really, but it sounded like anger) voice...and she just *bailed* off the bike like it was on fire. When I caught up to her and explained that I'd only yelled because what she was doing wasn't safe it was clear that she hadn't expected to hear that tone of voice from me, and I suspect that's why she reacted so dramatically (postscript; no car went by after she hopped off the bike so she wouldn't have been hurt, but damn).
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:01 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


Ctrl-F poop
posted by bendy at 6:09 PM on March 14 [1 favorite]


Just a note with the absurdist scary story telling as I'm getting school emails for my youngest about her reading too violent stories (Medusa and Russian fairy tales in original format) and my older kids coming from highly traumatic backgrounds. The Inuit dealt with a physically very risky environment where children really did have to be warned about possible dangers. My kids had seen and know people first hand who experienced horrific trauma regularly. I couldn't make the usual silly off-the-cuff parental threats that I would call the police or sell them etc because those were real viable threats.

Ridiculous threats with fantasy elements are what I ended up using. The sausage factory where naughty children go! I'll give them chicken legs so none of their shoes fit over their claws, I'll build a hot air balloon and send them to the moon where there's no tv and they will die of boredom, I'll turn into a tiger and eat all their teachers and tell their school that they are the tiger etc.

Grown up, my older kids still talk about those stories and they sometimes use them on their baby sister now.

I sent this link to a friend I'm having a polite argument with over whether children are deliberately willful. She sees me as a soft parent, and I'm determined to get her to bend my way - kids need less discipline, more nurture and stories. Adding this book to my to read pile!
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 6:29 PM on March 14 [11 favorites]


In a nutshell, the parent would act out what happened when the child misbehaved, including the real-life consequences of that behavior.

That sounds a lot like one of the few therapy scenarios that has been shown to help in cases of Borderline Personality Disorder, which typically has an abusive rage component.
posted by StickyCarpet at 9:17 PM on March 14


I tried this tonight when my son threw his cup on the floor and I told him it would attract lions. Wife was not a fan.
posted by iamck at 9:54 PM on March 14 [3 favorites]


I tried this yesterday. I told my daughter not to put her head out the car window because then a snake might nibble on it. She spent the rest of the car ride sarcastically going, "Really, mom, really?" and then asking me about the snakes that live near our house. Then I tried telling her not to walk in the parking lot at the park because it was full of alligators and to stick to the grass instead. "I know you're joking, mom," my five year old said, while the other parents looked at me like my head had just fallen off.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:47 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


I was raised with those stories growing up because scaring kids to keep them in line is a cultural thing but noticeably the stories my mum told me were updated compared to what my gran told her. Modern times have modern monsters. Have fun accidentally seeding your kids' imagination though.
posted by cendawanita at 5:53 AM on March 15


I told my daughter not to put her head out the car window because then a snake might nibble on it.

The story that we were told when I was a kid (this was in school, so we wouldn't put our heads out of the bus windows) was that one day we'd drive by a telephone pole and get decapitated. Same thing for putting arms out of the window. Of course, this was the US in the 90s, so it had be framed as an urban legend. "My mom used to know a kid who put her head out of the bus window -- even though everybody told her not to -- and one day..." Very gross and scary, but it worked.

There were a lot of these kinds of stories in the "lies my parents told me" thread a while back.
posted by rue72 at 7:17 AM on March 15 [2 favorites]


For example, how do you teach kids to stay away from the ocean, where they could easily drown? Instead of yelling, "Don't go near the water!" Jaw says Inuit parents take a pre-emptive approach and tell kids a special story about what's inside the water. "It's the sea monster," Jaw says, with a giant pouch on its back just for little kids.

"If a child walks too close to the water, the monster will put you in his pouch, drag you down to the ocean and adopt you out to another family," Jaw says.


Storytelling is one thing, scaring the crap out of kids is another...
posted by valeries at 8:18 AM on March 15


Storytelling is one thing, scaring the crap out of kids is another...

I mean, yes, but the Inuit live(d) on the Arctic ice. Going near the water doesn't mean 'oh, you might get hit by a wave and get wet'. It means 'you might fall between chunks of shifting sea ice, fall into the very deep, very cold ocean and die'. So 'adopted out to another family' is like telling your kids you 'sent the dog to live on a farm in the country'.

It's kinder and gentler than the truth.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:58 AM on March 15 [8 favorites]


Tanya Tagaq's Split Tooth deals with at least one of the common Inuit didactic stories (I'm not familiar enough with them to know all of what she is referring to, but there is one that is more obvious in there). It's definitely a non-linear narrative but is interesting.
posted by urbanlenny at 10:32 AM on March 15 [1 favorite]


Wife and I tried the "storytelling" approach with our daughter last night and this morning, sometimes with real consequences made more dramatic (germs will eat your teeth if you don't brush them!) and sometimes more absurd (if you walk through that incredibly deep and muddy puddle, a monster will pull you down and eat you up!).

To my surprise, the obviously fantastical stories worked better. "OK," she said, "Tomorrow, when we get to that puddle, we'll walk around it, and we'll walk sideways so the monster doesn't see us!" I guess we'll see if she remembers that this evening, but I think the fact that it is playful (and that she knows there isn't really a monster at the bottom of the puddle) allows her to engage her imagination in finding a solution to the problem.

The toothbrushing one...not so much; she still refused to brush her teeth.
posted by asnider at 11:20 AM on March 15 [4 favorites]


I think there are few families in which literally all members are expected to have similar (high) emotional control...instead there's often a little intra-family hierarchy over who's allowed (or even pressured) to express which emotions and with whom.

That definitely does sound like abuse.

I think appropriate ways of expressing emotion is such an interesting topic because of the immediate reaction it provokes from people when they read about, let alone experience the other approaches. I come from a culture and sub-culture where you absolutely do not publicly express negative emotions and my instinctive reaction to people raising their voices even a little is a sort of contempt, like there's a part of me that instantly decides this person is like a child and not worth taking seriously. It's taken me a lot to supress that reaction and to be honest, deep down I still feel it. It's interesting to see that other people have the same reaction in literally the opposite direction.

I've read before (don't know if this is still current thinking in anthropology because it sounds too clear cut) that approaches to corporal punishments in different cultures often align to how much damage individuals are able to do to the group through carelessness. Pastoral cultures often entrust management of herds (their only real wealth) to quite young children and tend to use a lot of physical punishment of children, farming cultures have less opportunity for a child to economically ruin the family unit and are less violent, hunter gathering cultures rarely use corporal punishment at all and their kids are rarely in a position to accidentally kill anyone other than themselves.
posted by atrazine at 4:42 AM on March 20 [5 favorites]


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