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How Did We Get Here? A Conversation with Jan Hunt

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 kids?

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 help?"

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!

Debra Kattler provides parenting workshops and coaching on conflict resolution within families. Her focus is on helping parents to listen with compassion and be creative in the search for solutions. Reprinted with permission of the author.

Jan Hunt, M.Sc., offers counseling worldwide, with a focus on parenting and unschooling. She is the Director of The Natural Child Project and author of The Natural Child: Parenting from the Heart and A Gift for Baby.