RIE stands for “Resources For Infant Educarers” and is often known as Respectful Parenting. RIE was brought to the U.S. by infant-development expert Magda Gerber in 1978. Magda Gerber, born in Hungary, had previously worked closely with paediatrician dr. Emmi Pikler and from that experience she framed the RIE approach that refers to giving babies more independence, allowing their natural abilities to flourish with minimal intervention and respect.
Magda Gerber passed away in 2007 but RIE keeps growing and has received a great deal of attention in the last few years.
One of RIE’s largest spokespersons today is the amazing Janet Lansbury. She is a parent educator, writer and blogger and it was actually through her blog, that I first got to know about the RIE approach. Her blog is a wealth of information about Respectful Parenting (just be careful because you’ll easily get hooked!) and her two books, Elevating Child Care & No Bad Kids as well as Magda Gerber’s Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect and Your Self-Confident Baby, are the perfect place to start if you would like to educate yourself more about the Respectful approach to childcare.
RIE is a whole world of principals, concepts and approaches. Some we might resonate with straight away while others require a change of mindset and a bit of an effort to grasp to be able to apply in our daily life.
The way I see it, Respectful Parenting is based on three core concepts; Respect, trust and connection.
Like the name implies, respect is an incredibly important part of Respectful Parenting. From the very first days of life we respond to infants and children with the same respectfulness we try to use in our adult relationships. We believe children are whole people and try our best to see the world with their eyes. We perceive babies as competent and invite them to co-operate in everyday caregiving activities and give them space to grow and play and be, in their authentic way on their own terms.
How would we want to be treated?
A really good exercise I got to know through Janet Lansbury’s blog helps us with this mindset change that many of us need to go through when starting to implement the Respectful approach to babies. We imagine a scenario where we need help with all caregiving activities, maybe we are very old or sick. Whatever it is we are not able to move or speak properly. With that in mind we ask ourselves, how would we want our caregivers to treat us? Most of us would probably like to know in advance what was going to happen to us, if we were to be moved around or picked up, if our clothes would be removed or if a stranger would be touching us.
Another part of the RIE approach that relates to respect is how we practice respectful and straightforward communication when we talk to babies, we are authentic and refrain from using the typical baby language. We are honest, calm and real. The magic happens when we stop and start sensitively observing our children, listening to their cues and seeing how they are trying to communicate with us – and communicate back to them! This way we get to know our children on a new level and we start to really see them for who they are.
We also respect play and the importance of allowing babies to explore their environment and the objects around them on their own terms. We allow babies to control what they choose to play with and how they choose to play. Like Magda Gerber said “Let the child be the scriptwriter, the director and actor in his own play.” and with that in mind we try not to interfere or influence their play.
We support self-directed play and trust in their unique gift of learning through their exploration, we support growth mindset by understanding that the process of exploring and experimenting through play is more important than the end result. In a safe environment, with open ended materials around we give babies the freedom and time to let their curiosity take over and get into deep play.
Trust is another extremely important part of RIE. For example we trust babies to develop their motor skills naturally. We don’t help or teach babies to sit up, turn from their backs to their stomach, stand up or walk. Our role is really to just provide a safe and nurturing environment where the child can explore and move on their own terms.
We need to trust the child when it tries out new challenges (form learning how to crawl to, doing jigsaw puzzles, drinking from a cup or buttoning clothes). By allowing children to tackle their challenges on their own and not intervening, trying only to support them through “sportscasting” and by helping them in a minimal way when something gets too challenging,,,, we show them that we trust them and believe in them.
We also trust that children are always good and believe that when they show undesirable behaviour, it’s because they’re simply having a hard time and need assistance from us.
We allow children to express all their emotions and support them through difficult emotions and tantrums, that way we form a very strong bond with the child and allow them to practice accepting the limits we have set and thus gaining self-discipline.
We don’t set limits to children’s emotions and what they are feeling and expressing, but we do set limits to their behaviours.
When we set limits we do it calmly but with confidence and we are ready to follow through with what we’ve said and help a child to quit undesirable behaviour when that’s needed. We are connected with our child and we always acknowledge the child’s emotions while at the same time holding the limits that have been set.
Respectful Parenting pushes us to look inwards, to be aware of our own feelings, and our triggers. To always try to understand where our reactions are coming from. We try to reframe our thoughts about our children and their behaviours, we keep an open mind and try to refrain from judging them or labelling.
There is so much more to say about this incredible approach that has changed my life in so many ways, made me a better person and a better parent and has helped so many families around the globe. But my goal for this post was to do a short overview of what I believe is the core of Respectful Parenting and to sum it up I believe it really is about a healthy relationship between a parent and a child, a relationship where both enjoy themselves and a relationship that is based on a deep connection, trust and respect.
We not only respect babies, we demonstrate our respect every time we interact with them. Respecting a child means treating even the youngest infant as a unique human being, not as an object
- Magda Gerber