April 21, 1997 12:00 PM

>Rob Reiner

HIS NATURE: TO NURTURE

MOST PEOPLE WRESTLE DEMONS WHEN they visit their shrink. Director Rob Reiner (A Few Good Men) used his sessions to hatch the idea for a prime-time special. “It became very clear [in analysis] that what happened to me in my first two or three years determined how I functioned later on as an adult,” he says. That discovery inspired the filmmaker to cowrite and direct ABC’s April 28 hour-long special I Am Your Child. Hosted by Tom Hanks and starring celebs such as Robin Williams (in a comedy sketch) and Colin Powell (reading the children’s classic Goodnight Moon), the program aims to educate viewers about the role a nurturing environment—one that includes plenty of reading, singing and hugging—plays in developing happy, healthy kids.

“Studies show that children who are products of extreme neglect have brains that only grow to one-half to two-thirds their normal size. It’s a window of opportunity that sadly closes,” says Reiner, 50, who has two sons, Jake, 5, and Nick, 3, with second wife Michele Singer, executive producer on the show, and a stepdaughter, Tracy, 32, from his marriage to director Penny Marshall (they divorced in 1981). “[Scientists] have been unable to get this information out to the public. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

While making the laugh-laced special, Reiner reflected on how lucky he’d been. “My father was a very loving person,” he says of comedian-director Carl, who reteams in the show with Mel Brooks for a 2,000-Year-Old-Man skit to talk about which great people in history had been hugged as kids. “It’s a seriously wonderful project,” says the elder Reiner, “and a little humor never hurt anything.”

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