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Popular Web Site Urges Attachment Parenting

The success of a Salt Spring-based parenting web site has surprised even its founders. HTML page accesses on the site, called "The Natural Child Project", have been growing steadily since it first went online in December 1996.

Jan Hunt, a psychologist, writer, and proponent of attachment parenting, created the web site with her son Jason, who handles its artistic components. They established the site with a few of Jan's articles when they lived in the Comox Valley.

Since then it has grown to eight megs of text and graphics, which includes articles by Swiss author Alice Miller, attachment parenting family counselor Naomi Aldort and other authors, the Global Children's Art Gallery, letters from readers, Jan's answers to parenting questions, classified ads and links to selected "sites of the month." It's all easy to navigate with a search engine provided by Island Net.

The art gallery has also exceeded expectations. It includes well-presented art pieces from children aged 1 through 12 world-wide.

The Hunts' site has received numerous official accolades, from the Exploratorium's 10 Cool Sites list and USA Today's Hot Site to the latest one: the April '98 Childfun Award. It was also featured on CNN Headline News and Canada AM TV programs.

Jan says the hit numbers and amount of supportive mail she receives are not only encouraging but surprising, since the views and information on the site are "even beyond cutting edge." The Natural Child Project isn't just opposed to spanking children, it is opposed to the use of all punishment in child-rearing. Attachment parenting, which fosters strong connections between children and parents through practices such as long-term breast­feeding and the family bed are promoted.

"Our vision is a world in which all children are treated with dignity, respect, understanding and compassion," states the web site. "In such a world, every child can grow into adulthood with a generous capacity for love and trust."

Jan elaborates on some of the ideas. "Perfect" behavior should not be expected from children at all times - it is not demanded of adults - and parents should trust that children will develop as they should, without being pushed by externally-defined expectations. Jan cites toilet training as a classic area where children are unnecessarily pushed.

"Every child has a built-in clock and timetable, and we need to respect that," Jan says. She quotes home-schooling proponent John Holt's explanation of this theory: "Children are not trains." If a train is late at its first five stops, it will likely be late arriving at its final destination. "But a child can be late at all the stops and then suddenly be ahead of everyone else," she says.

Trusting children in another way is also important. If parents can look for the underlying intentions behind a child's behavior, they will discover that he or she intends to be helpful and to contribute to the world, even if a lack of experience prevents the child from doing so in the most ideal way.

Ironically, she observes, some people view attachment parenting ideas as "new age," when in fact they are "age-old". The crib, for example, is only about 120 years old, and has proven itself a "bad experiment."

"We went off the track and I'm trying to get people back on track," she says. If people living in natural societies "saw the way we live and watched a baby being left to 'cry it out,' they would think we are insane ... which we are." But Jan feels the web site popularity indicates "our society is more ready than we realized" to change child-rearing practices of the past century.

She became "sold" through her experience as a mother, involvement with the La Leche League and home-schooling groups, and from books and individuals she encountered along the way. She wants to give back what she has learned, so new parents can avoid "learning the hard way".

Jan is a family counselor specializing in attachment parenting (even at the prenatal stage). She has published site reviews in Mothering magazine and articles in Natural Life, the Times-Colonist, the Sunriver Sun, and other periodicals.

© Gulf Islands Driftwood. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission of the author.