Skip to main content

30% Off New Releases: Explore the List

Harvard University Press - home
Parenting for Primates

Parenting for Primates

Harriet J. Smith

ISBN 9780674019386

Publication date: 02/01/2006

What parent hasn’t wondered “What do I do now?” as a baby cries or a teenager glares? Making babies may come naturally, but knowing how to raise them doesn’t. As primatologist-turned-psychologist Harriet J. Smith shows in this lively safari through the world of primates, parenting by primates isn’t instinctive, and that’s just as true for monkeys and apes as it is for humans.

In this natural history of primate parenting, Smith compares parenting by nonhuman and human primates. In a narrative rich with vivid anecdotes derived from interviews with primatologists, from her own experience breeding cotton-top tamarin monkeys for over thirty years, and from her clinical psychology practice, Smith describes the thousand and one ways that primate mothers, fathers, grandparents, siblings, and even babysitters care for their offspring, from infancy through young adulthood.

Smith learned the hard way that hand-raised cotton-top tamarins often mature into incompetent parents. Her observation of inadequate parenting by cotton-tops plus her clinical work with troubled human families sparked her interest in the process of how primates become “good-enough” parents. The story of how she trained her tamarins to become adequate parents lays the foundation for discussions about the crucial role of early experience on parenting in primates, and how certain types of experiences, such as anxiety and social isolation, can trigger neglectful or abusive parenting.

Smith reveals diverse strategies for parenting by primates, but she also identifies parenting behaviors crucial to the survival and development of primate youngsters that have stood the test of time.


  • Harriet Smith is both an expert in primate social development and an experienced clinical psychologist working with family problems. The science of primate development is excellent and lucidly presented, as might be expected given her background, and she has covered almost every topic… All these topics are handled with skill and knowledge, well supported with references to the recent major primate literature… Smith makes an interesting and useful case for using primate parenting to understand some of what goes wrong in families, and she is generally cautious in her interpretations. But the value of the book is less in its primatology, excellent as that is, and more in getting humans, including other clinicians, to appreciate the varied array of parenting styles available to primates as a group.

    —Phyllis C. Lee, Primate Eye


  • Harriet J. Smith, now a clinical psychologist, was formerly a research primatologist. For thirty years she bred and raised a colony of cottontop tamarin monkeys in her home.

Book Details

  • 5-1/2 x 8-1/4 inches
  • Harvard University Press