The Old Ways

Every new generation faces the job of raising children. Though we may live in a time very different from our grandparents, we have the same responsibilities as parents as they did. We must nurture and protect our children, help them learn society’s beliefs and values, and the skills they will need to survive as adults.

For hundreds of years, Indian parents were guided by traditions that never left parenting to chance. These traditions were passed from one generation to the next. The traditions may have varied from one tribe to the next, but they all have the same purpose – to ensure the tribe’s future through its children. Unfortunately, many of these traditions have declined in our families because of the influence of the dominant society. While we cannot go back to the world as it once was, we can still find great value in the child-rearing traditions. They can make our job as modern parents a richer experience. Here are some of the child-rearing practices from our heritage.

Many tribes believed that children were special gifts from the Creator. The tribal elders used praise and reassurance to encourage positive and loving relationships between parents and their children. Prophecies were often made about the worth of a child and his or her future. The whole community recognized a child’s growth and development through rites of passage ceremonies. These ceremonies were important for the child, too. The naming ceremony, for example, helped a child establish his or her identity in the tribe.

Nurturing was an important part of traditional child rearing. The use of cradle-boards, for example meant that infants were rarely separated from their mothers. However, no one person carried the whole burden of raising a child. Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and cousins were always nearby to help when parents had other responsibilities. Sometimes extended family members had specific roles to play (i.e. grandfather, the storyteller, uncle, the disciplinarian).

Through the telling of stories and legends, children learned about proper relationships with other people and the environment. They were taught to be good listeners and to regard words as sacred. Children were also taught to be good observers and to understand the meaning of non-verbal communication.

We can see the important elements of positive parenting in our old ways. Children were respected and understood. Parent and child relationships were important, and communication was well developed. Moral development received constant and careful attention.

Now we live in a world much different from our elders. It is very complex, with many outside influences. Yet our child-rearing practices from the past provide strong models for parenting today. (Reprinted from Northwest Indian Child Welfare Institute, Positive Indian Parenting, 1988)


A Note from Cheryl: I believe that children must be shown respect in order for them to know how to give respect. Teaching them values, respect for others and helping them acquire a strong sense of who they are and who they come from helps give them a strong foundation to build on.

Share with your children the old ways. Teach them to value their elders and their teachings. Instill a solid sense of identity in your children to assure that they have a solid core. Be aware that it is natural for a child to constantly seek love, security and affirmation. It is vital that this comes from their family. If they don’t find it at home, they will always seek it elsewhere. When strong, loving relationships between parents (or, in the event there are no parents, family) and children are created, children naturally desire to please their parents and do not want to disappoint them. The bond that is formed and the love that is established will transcend most external obstacles.

Simply speaking, children who are loved, valued, respected and gently guided along the red road will grow up feeling loved, valued, respected and will most likely continue their journey on the red road. Children exactly mirror their parents. In raising up your children, see that you carefully reflect the type of person you desire your children to be.

“Strength in Tradition”

We have a wider, clearer vision. . .

and a surer step.

Each of us must reach inside, and

in our children. . . invest.

Give of ourselves, guide their steps and

lay a solid foundation.

By connection. . . they will choose their path,

May it be richly blessed in… inner strength & tradition.

By Cheryl Davis © 1998

Published in: on March 18, 2008 at 6:11 pm  Leave a Comment