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What is RIE parenting? What parents need to know about Resources for Infant Educarers

"How did you get her to talk like that?" an inquiring woman wanted to know as my daughter and I shared conversation over a puzzle at the library.

"I'm not sure I necessarily got her to do anything," I kindly replied, "but I've always talked to her like she is a person."

Both my husband and I bypassed baby talk and spoke to our young children in words they could understand, in a voice that is our own. I recall a moment when questioned why I was responding to 9-month-old babble, why I would engage in a conversation with no translation. At that time I did not fully know what my captivated child understood, but I believed that offering him my attention and being present in the dialog was more beneficial than it was harmful.

My parenting beliefs continuously evolve from my experiences as a mother, through studies in the fields of psychology and education, in reading research, engaging in discussion and attending to intuition. I choose not to follow one path of parenting but value many aspects of various styles. There exist recognized parenting styles such as authoritative, neglectful, permissive, and authoritarian, amidst many other perspectives of parenting.

I was recently introduced to a philosophy of parenting called RIE, Resources for Infant Educarers. Some of the ideas resonated with me, many of the practices I had already been doing without realizing that there was a name, label, or respected viewpoint.

Here's what I've learned about this practice.

What is RIE?

Magda Gerber, an early childhood educator with a passion to care for young children, created the RIE philosophy alongside pediatrician Emmi Pickler, who shared the vision that young children will reach their full potential when viewed in ways that allow them to be active participants in their own lives.

It is my interpretation that the basis of this philosophy is respect, to treat a child as a human being and not an object. By the way we look, listen, and learn from others, we demonstrate our reverence for their uniqueness. The goal is to develop an authentic child who feels secure and able.

How to implement RIE

The RIE method is guided by trust in a child's capacity to learn and is executed through observation. When we pause with awareness we can notice subtle expressions and behaviors that serve as cues for communicating needs and desires. We can then choose to actively teach a lesson or intentionally allow one to transpire. Gerber considered that children thrive when encouraged to independently explore in safe and supportive environments.

Here are a few practices related to the RIE method.

1. Allow space for safe struggle and feelings of frustration.

Intentionally stepping back to watch an infant try to reach a toy that is slightly further than arm's reach can be difficult to witness, but the joy that transpires when the goal is finally accomplished is significant in developing confidence and independence. Offer support through acknowledging the effort, maybe say, "I saw you work so hard!"

2. Establish clearly understood and consistent boundaries that communicate expectations with care.

This can be communicated through sharing details rather than demands. Instead of shouting, "Stop that, because I said so" try calmly and clearly saying, "Please choose something else, that is not a safe choice."

3. During an activity, encourage a child to be an active participant rather than a passive recipient.

This is possible by being fully present, offering interaction, and generating mutual enjoyment. An example of this might include telling a baby what you are doing before you do it. "I am picking you up to change your diaper."

4. Honor a child’s unique path.

We may want to tie a young child's shoes because it is faster and we do it the "right way" but in the spirit of learning, if the shoe gets tied does it really matter how? There will be a time to refine skills, while there is also a time to realize abilities.

5. Watch from a distance, and let them be.

There are moments to engage and moments to allow self-directed play, both equally essential for development. This can be difficult as guilt creeps in and we wonder if we are doing too much or not enough. We can check our intention here and ask ourselves, are we seeking to ignore behavior or encourage being?

6. Recognize that as much as we do not like being interrupted while working or doing chores, they do not either, and play is their “work.”

Instead of demanding "come here now" simply say "choose one more thing to do, then please come here" communicates honor and models respect.

What REI is not

One criticism of this philosophy is that it is too hands-off. Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but as guides of our children, we must discover what works best for them, the relationship we share and the moment we are in. I believe that allowing a frustrating experience to happen with the intention to learn is beneficial as long as we know that comforting a crying child is essential.

Although there is a strong emphasis on independence, this philosophy is one of parenting with awareness. Above all, RIE revolves around respect. A young child is placed in a safe space with soft boundaries intended for discovery and growth. When we offer children the freedom to discover in a supportive atmosphere, they seek, see, and strive.

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