“What is RIE anyway, and what it it all about ? I’ve heard that it is sort of cult like, that it is “hands off” parenting, that RIE believes in letting babies cry and not helping them… How can any of this be good for children ? Babies are vulnerable and need their parents to take care of them, hold them, and comfort them- otherwise, how will they learn to feel safe and loved ?”
This question was in my in-box this morning. Myths, misunderstandings, and misconceptions abound, so I thought I’d try to clarify.
The simple response is that RIE stands for Resources For Infant Educarers, which represents both the philosophy of infant care that Magda Gerber began introducing to parents and caregivers in the United States beginning in the 1970’s, as well the non-profit organization she founded, through which parenting classes and professional trainings are offered.
RIE emphasizes caring for infants with Respect for their unique needs, as well as their unique strengths and capabilities. Magda wanted us to look at babies not as needy little unformed lumps who are completely dependent on adults for everything, but as competent little beings in their own right, capable of being full and active participants in their own growth and development from the very beginning.
By the way, the concept of respect refers not to just what babies need and want, but what parents need and want as well. More about this later.
Educarer is a term Magda coined which embodies the idea that adults educate or teach, and babies absorb, many lessons about themselves, their world, and how capable (or not) we perceive them to be, through our approach to daily activities like diapering, feeding, bathing, play and discipline. In other words, our attitudes and actions give the baby messages about how we see him or her, which s/he internalizes, which then influences what s/he learns, and who s/he becomes.
RIE seeks to answer the question of how to go about parenting or caring for very young children in ways that will allow them to become self confident, competent, capable, exploring , curious, contented, secure, focused, resourceful, peaceful, inner directed, involved, aware, self-initiating, cooperative, attentive, interested, and authentic children and adults. When you think about what you hope to achieve through your parenting doesn’t that about cover it.?
Research proves that babies learn first and best within the context of a nurturing relationship with a trusted adult or adults, and then when basic needs for food, rest, and nurturing are met, through their own exploration of the world around them.
Obviously there are many means to achieving an end and the RIE philosophy offers one way.RIE encourages starting with basic trust – a belief that your baby has the ability to initiate, explore,and learn within an environment that is physically safe and emotionally nurturing. Diapering and other care-giving activities are ideally carried out in a manner that allows and encourages your child’s active participation. Providing uninterrupted playtime, and the freedom to explore, combined with sensitive observation on the part of adults in order to understand what is needed and when, along with consistency, and clearly defined limits and expectations (discipline), round out the recommendations.
Are you beginning to see that RIE is in no way “hands off ” parenting” ? In fact the relationship and the development of a strong reciprocal (two way) relationship and communication between parent and child are at the crux of the philosophy. They may be tiny, but don’t underestimate what babies bring to the table !
Nowhere is there ever any mention of allowing a baby to cry without consolation. What you will find is the suggestion that when a baby cries, the adult should take a moment to stand back and ask, “What is my baby trying to tell me ? What does she need in this moment?” as opposed to rushing in and automatically reacting by shushing, pacifying, rocking, feeding, or distracting. The idea is that the cry sends a message, and without a doubt a response is called for – but what response ? I refer to this as being responsive rather than reactive in your parenting. It leaves a little room for taking a breath, listening, and responding in a thoughtful way. This practice alone brings a new calm to your parenting and strengthens your relationship and communication with your baby.
Here’s an example: Baby J. (10 months old) wakes from his nap crying. This is unusual for him, as he usually wakes happy and babbling. I look at the clock and see he’s slept for an hour, which is half an hour less than he usually sleeps. I decide not to go into his room immediately,because it’s possible he may need to go back to sleep, and if I walk in, I know this will further arouse and upset him. So I wait 5 minutes and listen. After 5 minutes, he doesn’t settle, so I go to him, and greet him. J. is standing in his crib, and crying a little bit. He quiets when he sees me. “Hi J., you woke up a little early today! I heard you crying. Do you want to come up (reaching my arms out to him) ?” J. reaches out for me and I pick him up and he snuggles into my shoulder. After a few minutes, he pulls back, looks at me, and grins, and starts to wiggle to get down. ” Hold on little guy, let’s check your diaper, before you go play. You woke up from your nap a little early and I want to make sure it’s not because you are wet and uncomfortable.” So we change his diaper, and he is indeed wet AND poopy which probably explains the early waking. Once he’s changed, he plays happily for awhile, until it gets close to his lunch time. After lunch, he goes for his second nap of the day about 15 minutes early because he is fussy, and uninterested in playing.
This simple interaction is a dance and a conversation between J. and me.How do I decide how and when to respond ? Notice I don’t just rush in when J. cries and scoop him up. Why? Because I know this baby, and I know he sometimes wakes early from his nap, but that if he hasn’t quite finished sleeping, he will often go back to sleep on his own within 5 minutes if I leave him be. If he doesn’t go back to sleep in 5 minutes, something is up – he needs a diaper change, or he’s teething for instance. I don’t offer a pacifier or try to lull him back to sleep by rubbing his back, rocking him, or offering a bottle. Why ? Because he doesn’t use a pacifier, and he goes to sleep in his crib unassisted. If he’s awake and standing up in his crib, he’s done sleeping . It’s also not a time when he usually eats or is hungry – so I don’t offer food as comfort- I offer snuggling instead. I suspect a diaper change is in order, but I don’t automatically rush to do this either, until J. indicates that he’s ready to move on.
If you can’t imagine a baby (your baby) going to sleep in his crib unassisted without nursing or a pacifier, waking happy and cheerful, eating and sleeping at predictable times, and playing happily on his own for periods of time without being entertained by you, let me suggest that this is the joy and the gift of the philosophy in action. J. is a secure, happy, capable, communicative, loving, engaging little person, and his parents and I are utilizing many aspects of the RIE philosophy in caring for and raising him.
The proof is in the pudding so to speak, and parents utilizing the philosophy often find that they are rewarded for their efforts with babies who are happier and more content.