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Children are Born Innocent

What do you see when you look into the eyes of a newborn?

When I first looked into the eyes of my son, I saw trustfulness, curiosity and joyfulness. I saw no deviousness, meanness or selfishness. In that instant it became clear to me that if he ever acted in a devious, mean, or selfish way, his behavior would have been created by circumstances, not by him. In that instant, I knew what a great responsibility I had to honor and protect his innocence and joy in life.

Children are born innocent. They want only to be loved, to learn, and to contribute. Those parents who are not able to appreciate this truth miss what should be the most precious moment of their life. They cannot trust their child - they instead suspect him of being somehow flawed and requiring constant correction. The emphasis is on fixing something, not on enjoying and learning about this new person. The focus, from that point on, is on the child's behavior, not on the parent-child connection.

A parent's attitude is absolutely critical in determining the kind of relationship they will have with their child. I find nothing sadder than seeing a parent who has somehow missed seeing their child's basic sweetness and good intentions, and thus believes that punishment is necessary to set him on the right path. This parent is always watchful, looking for ways to correct the child, which stifles his natural exuberance. This kind of suspiciousness is self-fulfilling - the child who is punished responds emotionally - as does any other person - with anger and fantasies of revenge, and physiologically with a burst of the stress hormone cortisol. The parent then feels justified in continuing and even escalating the punishments. The child is from then on seen as potential trouble - as the enemy.

The parent who is fortunate enough to see in his newborn's eyes only love, curiosity, and joy, will continue to trust and enjoy their child. Instead of looking for "misbehavior", this parent looks for ways to connect and to bring joy into their child's life. This attitude is also self-fulfilling, because love begets love. The child responds to being loved and trusted as we all do - by loving and trusting in return.

What takes place at the moment a parent first looks into their child's eyes sets the stage for a lifetime of joyful connection, or a lifetime of struggle. It sets the stage for a rewarding relationship of trust and connection, or a battle between adversaries. This first meeting carries the seeds of years of happiness or misery. For those who can see their newborn's innocence and pure intentions, parenting may be challenging at times, but it is never a burden.

Look closely at this new being. Learn from him how delightful and simple life is meant to be. It's just an instant of time, but once this truth is fully grasped, it lasts forever.

Jan Hunt, M.Sc. is a parenting counselor, director of The Natural Child Project and author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart and A Gift for Baby.

This article originally appeared in The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby's First Year. Copyright 2012. Republished with permission from Megan Massaro and Miriam Katz.