I talked recently with Jan Hunt, Director of the Natural Child
Project, and author of The Natural Child: Parenting From the Heart.
Jan mused aloud about how we've gotten so far away from realizing that
babies have feelings. She once read a book written by a doctor in the
1930s, who wondered if babies could feel pain. "How did we get to
a point where we have to wonder whether babies have feelings?"
she asks. Although we are talking on the phone, I can almost see her
shaking her head in disbelief. Jan believes it is illogical to think
that children are somehow different than adults in their response to
punishment. If it doesn't work for adults, why should it work for
I asked her why it is so difficult to get people to parent in the
respectful way that she advocates. She explained that we learn what
we've been shown, so we may not have other "ways of being"
in our repertoire. Even when we know intellectually that we want to
treat our children according to our best theories of parenting, we can
easily fall back to old habits, especially during stressful moments.
Jan's mission is to help parents find better ways of being with
their children, with full love and trust. She has identified a few
phrases that she thinks can help children understand what their
parents need, without feeling controlled or discounted. Two examples
are: "Let me know when you're ready" and "How can I
Jan urges parents to offer children lots of choices, which shows
them that their needs and feelings are being respected. She believes
this is especially important when children are going through a
situation where they have little control, such as during a move or
divorce, or following the birth of a sibling. Parents who offered many
choices when their child was a toddler (blue cup or red cup, this
jacket or that one) can forget how important autonomy and choices can
still be for older children.
Jan's next book will be on standing up for children in public
places. We talked about how difficult it is to intervene when children
are being mistreated in public. Many people in our society feel that
it's the parent's right to treat their child the way they see fit -
that it's none of our business. I told her how moved I was by the
series of articles on her site called, "Intervening on Behalf of
a Child in a Public Place." It can be so hard to do, yet so
important that children know that someone cares.
Jan is also mounting a letter-writing campaign to NBC, asking them
to cancel the new reality program "The Baby Borrowers". In
the show, babies and young children are given to inexperienced
teenagers to "raise" for three days and nights in an effort
to discourage teen pregnancies. A bold idea, but one that ignores the
pain felt by these babies and children separated from their parents
for such a long period of time. Maybe we still don't understand that
children feel pain!