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
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!