The August edition of “The Sun” magazine has a long and extremely stimulating interview with Gabor Maté. The whole interview is available in the print edition of “The Sun”. Selections can be viewed at

I found Gabor Maté’s reflections on parenting particularly thoughtful and interesting. Some selections follow.

(nb: I am on holiday. So this is not a post. These are merely a few quotes I wanted to share with a number of people and this is a handy way to make these thoughts available.)


Frisch: How does the way that hunter-gatherers take care of their babies differ from the way that parents in North America take care of theirs?

Maté: You don’t see ADD in hunter-gatherer societies because of three qualities they provide in child rearing. Number one: Small children are always in close, nurturing phyiscal contact with adults. They’re carried everywhere. They’re rarely put down, and they’re certainly not left without nurturing adults even for a moments.

Number two: The child is cared for by a whole set of nurturing adults, not just one or two. There’s a tremendous sense of safety and security in that. As the saying goes, it takes a village to raise a child.

Number three: Hunter-gatherers don’t believe that a five-month-old should be independent enough to “cry it out” and put himself to sleep. That kind of practice is encouraged only in so-called civilized societies. When children in a tribal society are distressed, they are immediately picked up and soothed, before their brain is overwhelmed by stress hormones during a crucial period of its development. Stress releases cortisol, which interferes with the hippocampus, the memory center. And stress overwhelms the emotional centers of the brain. When children don’t learn how to regulate their stress internally, they’re prone to do it later through drugs or addictive behavi0rs, such as overeating. When do people eat too much? When they’re stressed. Going home and stuffing yourself with a bag of cookies is an attempt to temporarily soothe the emotions and the stressed brain.

Frisch: How could North American society do a better job of supporting families?

Maté: First of all by recognizing the importance of the family – not just giving it lip service, the way conservative political-action groups do, but really looking at what families need. Frequently the family-first groups want to cut social programs that actually support families. When women on welfare have to go back to work after a year or two, their kids go to inadequately staffed day cares – and those kids are going to have trouble later.

You want to support families? All you have to do is ask: What do children need? What do families need? In Canada maternity leave is six months to a year. In the U.S. the average leave is six weeks. Even a baby rat needs its mother for four weeks.

Families also need communities in which people gather and talk instead of being suspicious of each other. They need a healthy culture, not the sexualized and horrifically violent culture that’s beamed into our homes through the television. They need to see people show respect and love for each other, not contempt, and cooperation and connection instead of relentless competition.