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Book Review:
The Natural Child: Parenting From The Heart by Jan Hunt
192 pages, New Society Publishers, $14.95

The NNNetworker
A Semiannual Publication of the Nurture by Nature Network
Winter 2002-2003 Volume I, Issue I

Review by Andrea Sutton

No one would expect an adult who is patronized, bullied, ignored, threatened, humiliated or harassed to be a happy, cooperative, good-natured and productive individual. Why, then, do so many people expect threats, punishment, and false praise to bring about good behavior in children? And furthermore, why are so many parents so focused on "good behavior" in the short term rather than on raising happy, confident, well-adjusted children into adulthood?

In her passionate and poignant book, The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart, Jan Hunt repeats this simple dictum often enough for it to become something of a mantra: "All children behave as well as they are treated". As mantras go, it's a pretty good one. It serves as an excellent reminder for the harried, outnumbered mother when a meltdown (hers or her child's) is imminent. It's also a bracing dose of truth for parents who have never questioned the conventional wisdom in which child rearing in our culture is mired.

Hunt is the director of the Natural Child Project and a member of the boards of directors of the Canadian Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and The Alliance for Transforming the Lives of Children, and has a 20-year-old son, Jason. This collection of essays, many of which previously appeared in the Canadian publication Natural Life or the Natural Child Project website, is a marvelously validating read for anyone who has been accused of "spoiling" his or her children by responding to their cries too quickly or too frequently, eschewing punishments in favor of creative conflict resolution, or simply allowing their children to be heard as well as seen.

Despite her own distinguished credentials, Hunt doesn't just give her opinions on parenting, she presents a grounded, well-researched case for a return to the age-old methods of parenting now called "empathic" or "attachment" style. Citing sources that range from anthropologist Jean Liedloff and pediatrician Dr. William Sears to the Book of Corinthians and the European Charter of Children's Rights, Hunt addresses the challenges of raising children with respect and compassion in a society where childhood is often viewed as a noisome aberration that must be quelled at all costs.

The book contains several of Hunt's more well-known essays, including "A Baby Cries: How Should Parents Respond?"; "Ten Reasons to Respond to a Crying Child"; and a personal favorite of mine, "Ten Ways We Misunderstand Children". Hunt is at her best in the latter, writing simply and eloquently of parents' unrealistic expectations and demands and of the hurtful result of criticism and mistrust. "We forget what it was like to be a child and expect our children to act like adults instead of acting their age, "she writes. "A healthy child will have a short attention span, and be rambunctious, noisy, and emotionally expressive. All of these so-called problems… are in fact normal attributes of a normal child." It's the kind of essay that you want to post in every pediatrician's office, portrait studio, toy store, mommy-and-me classroom and anywhere else young children are fidgeting.

Hunt tries, in essays such as "Ten Tips for Shopping With Children", "Ten Alternatives to Punishment", and "Intervening on Behalf of a Child in a Public Place" to give some concrete advice for meeting the daily challenges of supermarkets, playgrounds, and sibling rivalries. There are some helpful alternatives to the ideas found in mainstream parenting magazines, but Hunt is more likely to win converts to her way of thinking and acting through her "Confessions of a Proud Mom". "My son is 15," she writes, "and has brought me nothing but joy." She then admits that she "did everything we were told by society not to do. He slept next to us, breast-fed for several years, was never punished, threatened, bullied, or teased, and was allowed to express anger as well as happiness". Hunt packs one compact paragraph with outstanding, off-the-beaten-path sources for parenting information and this excellent advice: "Listen to what your heart tells you. Truly believe that your baby will let you know what is right… and what is wrong." The Natural Child is refreshing, well written and full of important insight about parenthood and childhood. It's the kind of book that makes you think how different the world would be if everyone read it.
 

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