|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 others."
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 past."
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 pattern?
Lahrson listed the following set of beliefs as a starting point for transforming our consciousness about
- 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 view.
- 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 to fairly.
- 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."