Everything you need to know about ‘doing’ RIE – or at least an Introduction.

Everything you need to know about 'doing' RIE

My awesome wife is neither emotional nor verbose.    Here’s a summary about RIE she put together for my little brother:

I love RIE. I love RIE because it provided me with a framework for caregiving. In our isolated society where we don’t regularly have family or family-like people around us to model a parenting structure, its nice to have a guide. But more importantly, I love the philosophy behind RIE. It taught me to think in a different, more “respect-conscious” way about my relationships and interactions with all people, not just my child.

Respect – that is the key concept of RIE. While the actual techniques of RIE are many and varied, the concept of respect is what informs each of them. Some of the recommended care techniques of RIE can feel crazy and silly, and they often feel out of step with the cultural norm. But seen through the lens of respect, they are quite logical.

  1. Tell the infant what you are going to do before you do it, then wait for her to help / respond. This is one RIE technique that can seem particularly crazy and embarrassing, especially when the infant is very young. Like all RIE practices, though, its good to start early so that everybody – caregiver and infant – becomes accustomed to it. Eventually the baby will start responding – raising a leg when being diapered or an arm when getting dressed.

This is one practice that seems more logical when you imagine an adult in place of the infant. Picture someone just walking up to you and moving your body around.  This is also one of the techniques that was applicable to my elderly mom. When I helped to dress or bath her, it really felt much more respectful if I told her what I was going to do first. You’ll notice that many health care professionals now use this practice too.

  1. Set-up an enclosed play space (or spaces) where the infant never needs to be told “don’t touch that.” A non-RIE practitioner might look askance at this practice because it may look like you are restricting the infant – enclosing it in a cage. But rather than limiting the infant, this practice gives him incredible freedom. It offers the infant his very own space where he can do as he pleases – safely and without interruption. As with the above practice, it is all about respecting the infant by offering him his own space where he can safely move about and explore without being interrupted. And uninterrupted play will build focus, concentration and curiosity by allowing the child to decide what he does and for how long. Again, start this practice early, before the infant really knows what is happening, and he will be less likely to feel like he is being abandoned or shut-in.
  1. Minimize all levels of judgement – both positive and negative – by simply communicating what you observe. There is no need to praise an infant for sitting up, nor reprimand her for taking a toy from another child. These are just things that babies do. They need not be judged, but can be acknowledged. The short-hand term for this practice is “sportscasting” and sounds something like: ‘Homer you sat up,’ ‘Maggie you want the toy,’ or ‘Bart you ruined Thanksgiving’ – oops, I mean – ‘Bart you fell and banged your head.’ I think this practice helps us to respect and remember the fact that babies are just doing what is natural for them.
  1. Allow the infant to develop her gross motor skills at her own speed, without intervention. In other words, respect the infant’s ability to develop and decide when she is ready to “take the next step.” Specifically, this means always putting the child down on her back; when she wants and is ready, she’ll rollover and/or move her own body as she would like and is capable of. Wonderfully, this approach also means not holding the child up or giving her walkers when she is learning to walk. If you allow it, the child will figure out how to crawl, how to stand and how to walk – all on its own. The child will fall and stumble, but that is a natural and beneficial part of growing and learning.  Allowing the child on its own to do the work of developing her mobility also creates a beautiful confidence in and awareness of her body.
  1. As the child gets older, provide support, but allow him to work through conflicts. By far, this is the hardest RIE technique to employ “out in the world.” I find that parents expect, or at least want, babies to behave perfectly and politely and we are embarrassed when they do not. To deal with our own embarrassment, we often intervene when kids are not sharing. But kids don’t know any better and, as infants and toddlers, they do not understand sharing.

RIE suggests that during a conflict the parent shouldn’t intervene and “fix” the situation. Instead, the parent should go to and be present during the conflict (this also will signal to other parents that you actually are paying attention) and then sportscast what is taking place – “Maggie you want the shovel. It looks like Bart also wants the shovel.” The only intervention would be to protect the children from getting hurt, which might involve holding the object if it is being pulled (though not necessarily taking it) or holding your hand in front of a child to protect it from a swinging object or body part. Other parents will demand that their child share and will say “don’t” a lot. A RIE parent will go to the situation and stand by to help, but will not tell the child how to behave. In other words, you will be a freak at best and a pariah at worst on the playground.

We continue to try to use the basics of this technique even today, reminding ourselves with the mantra “information, not direction.” I like to think that the skills I developed using this technique will continue to benefit me right through high school and college, as at that age in particular a child does not want to be told what to do. It is a way to pay attention to your child, be present for your child, and provide information to your child, but to allow your child to solve his own problems.   Stepping back – one of the very hardest parts of parenting.

  1. A bonus highlight! In re-reading the above, I noted that the words “not intervening” are repeated often. This suggests that RIE is neglectful. But another very important concept of RIE is boundaries. It is critical for a parent to be present and observant and to set boundaries so that children are safe and respectful of those around them. Within those boundaries, though, a RIE parent allows her child great freedom.

So,  I added this:

The foundation under the techniques she mentions is adopting to the baby’s pace as well as (trying to) understand his pov.    The main tricks are:

1)  Understanding and developing a respectful point of view, and
2)  Incorporating it in your actions.

The second one is more tricky, and really requires “parent behavioral training” – developing new habits of interaction for dealing with your baby.   This is like Stoicism (see elsewhere) – developing effective habits of thought.    Often these new habits conflict with your own instincts, such as your feeling that you must protect and help your baby at all times, as well as sometimes being contrary to the habits of your peers & family members.      Couples can support each other in improving habits, but doing so requires teamwork:   trust, risk-taking and patience.


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