|One Sunday evening in August of 1986, Rick Lahrson
of Portland, Oregon, was seated at a restaurant. He was enjoying
some coffee and looking over the menu, when he overheard parents
berating their children. With a heavy heart, he listened to the
steady stream of hurtful messages and threats, the tension
mounting with every word they spoke. It was clear to Lahrson that
this was not the momentary lapse of patience that all parents
experience. Rather, it seemed to reflect the parents' usual way of
relating to their children. The three children, about ages three
to six, appeared to have already lost some of their spark.
Lahrson found this experience so painful that he could not
bring himself to order a meal, and felt that he had to leave the
restaurant. As he later described it, "These kids were
absolutely delightful, but the parents just couldn't see it. They
were suffocating the life out of these children and it was just so
wrong. I'd witnessed the same thing so often, that I just couldn't
take it any longer."
As he started to leave the restaurant, he could see that the
hostess was watching the scene with a frown. Lahrson commented to
her, "Somebody has to break that cycle." Within a few
steps, he realized what he had just said and knew that he had made
a personal commitment. By the fall of that year, The Kids' Project
was underway. It became a non-profit organization, dedicated to
creating a world in which children are treated with dignity and
respect. Lahrson's goal was to break the cycle of child abuse by
changing adults' perceptions of children. As he explained at the
time, "Human beings are not born questioning their own worth.
Infants have an abundance of what we call self-esteem. They are
uninhibited, avid learners with no hidden agendas and no need to
compensate for lost self-esteem or to covertly manipulate
It was Lahrson's hope to bring about a transformation in our
thinking and in our interactions with children so that "every
man, woman and child will be recognized as a complete, loving
human being with the ability and desire to be a contribution to
others. Crime, war, poverty and fear will be things of the
These may sound like lofty goals, but many psychologists
believe that such difficulties as drug, alcohol and nicotine
dependence as well as personality disorders and sociopathic
behaviors stem from the unmet needs of our earliest years. Loving
and respectful treatment of children is absolutely critical to
their future happiness and to the welfare of society as a whole.
Yet parents who were not given love and respect in their own
childhood have not learned how to do this. Are we then locked into
inadequate or abusive parenting, generation after generation? What
can we as a society do to break free from this heartbreaking
Lahrson listed the following set of beliefs as a starting point
for transforming our consciousness about children:
- Children, from before birth, have the same ability to think
and to feel that adults have, minus the experience, and
allowing for stages of development.
- Children have a voracious appetite for learning, and they
learn best the things they learn first. Children, like adults,
learn mostly by example and experience.
- Children have a drive to love other people and to be a
contribution to the people around them.
- Children offer a joyful zest for life and a fresh point of
- Children are empirical scientists of the first order. A
child's logic is flawless, based on his or her experience and
stage of development.
- Children are frequently misunderstood in their early
communications, and are often squelched, rather than listened
- Misbehavior in children is an attempt to communicate when
all else has failed.
Clearly, our interpretation of a child's intentions will have a
significant effect on our relationship with them and on their own
view of themselves. This belief in our child's intentions can lead
to an upward spiral of good will: the more we trust the child, the
more loving and cooperative he becomes, and the easier it becomes
for us to trust him in the future.
As the educator John Holt stated, "All I am saying can be
summed up in two words: trust children. Nothing could be more
simple – or more difficult. Difficult, because to trust children
we must trust ourselves – and most of us were taught as children
that we could not be trusted."