Worried vs. Fully Present

I have a confession to make…I am a recovering Professional Worrier.

Professional? Yes. I know, as I unknowingly made it into a career.

I might just be among the best.  You see, I started my apprenticeship when I was very young. By the time I was five years old, my family had given me the affectionate name of “worry wart,” not something that most of us aspire to have as our moniker.

As I grew up, I tried hard to be well prepared in case anything went awry.  I worried about everything and everyone.  I could and would worry here, there, and everywhere in between.

As a parent and a caregiver, I worried a lot.  Do the infants in my care have what they need? Could I do more? Have I planned enough? 

Toddler reaching on a Pikler® triangle with an object in his hand and peering through the slots in the triangle, looking like they may drop the object over the top.

The continual worrying was exhausting, but I was really good at it.

What does this have to do with the Educaring® Approach?

Just about everything!

Magda Gerber addresses this topic in her book, Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect.  She understood that parenting is “the most difficult job for which you cannot really prepare yourself.” Can we make it easier? My answer is yes! 

How?–“by not trying to do the impossible while missing the obvious.” She advises parents to “relax, observe, and enjoy what their babies are doing, noticing and enjoying new skills as they develop naturally.”

Magda shares that our role as parents and caregivers is “to provide a secure and predictable environment.” We are encouraged to “be sensitive to your infant’s changing needs; the infant has to feel your caring presence.  But, you don’t have to teach. You don’t have to buy more gadgets. You and your infant can just exist and enjoy each other as your relationship develops.”

That last sentence sounded so peaceful and unlike any parenting or child development information I had ever encountered. “You and your infant can just exist and enjoy each other as your relationship develops.”

The Educaring® Approach invites each of us to become fully present and aware of our own attitudes, feelings, and perspectives. 

Toddler climbing down off a ramp during a RIE® Parent Infant Guidance™ Class

I realized that my own unneeded concern could cause a knee-jerk reaction (versus a thoughtful response) and leave out the opportunity for me to carefully observe and read the baby’s cues.  Maybe this is what Magda meant about “not trying to do the impossible while missing the obvious?” 

Striving to be more mindful has helped me find a natural rhythm with each baby, and our relationships have deepened as a result. As I learned to move slowly and observe, I watched the children experience pure joy and a true sense of accomplishment from their movement and play.  I witnessed the development of persistence, self-determination, and resilience; lifelong gifts they could carry with them. 

What can you do if you find yourself getting anxious and worrying?  Ellen Galinsky, author of Mind in the Making: Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs, has a suggestion. She developed a mantra, “Worry doesn’t work.” By saying it aloud and asking herself, “Okay, so what can I do instead?” —she gives herself time to slow down, reflect, problem solve, and thoughtfully proceed.

And so, I wish for you the chance to let go of the burden of unnecessary worry.  Try to set it aside for the children in your care and for yourself.  Why? Because “worry doesn’t work” and life is pretty amazing when we are willing to be in the moment. 

If you begin to struggle, it’s okay. You are human.  You are invited to try again.

Carolyn Paetzel is a RIE Associate

Originally appeared in the FORM newsletter

So, you’re having another baby! Congratulations! Now, don’t panic. How do you prepare your firstborn?

I will cover some essentials which include how to respond compassionately and confidently to your firstborn’s challenges.

One of the first images that comes to my mind is that of parents excitedly telling their firstborn that he’s going to have a sibling. How exciting! Some common phrases used are: “You’re going to be such a wonderful big brother.” “You’re going to love your little sister;” “How lucky your
baby brother is to have a big sister like you;” “You’re going to be such good friends;” “You’re going to have someone to play with.” It’s natural to paint a rosy picture, hoping our firstborn will behave according to these expectations and adore his new sibling. But, sibling relationships,
like all meaningful relationships, take time to grow. It is important to prepare our firstborn for the realities of a sibling. “Mommy and Daddy will be very tired.” “Baby will need Mommy’s (and Daddy’s) attention a lot just like you did when you
were tiny.” “You can be a big help.”

Expect more love. Expect more joy, work, frustration, anxiety and fatigue. It’s another part of life and it’s worth it!

Toddler looking right at the viewer while cuddling with mother in a calm and cozy snuggle.

Over the years, many parents have reported an easy, loving and affectionate transition. Sometimes there is little “acting out” on the part of the firstborn. But, be ready for anything. Here are just a few responses of firstborns that parents have shared with me over the years:
“Can we keep IT in the backyard?” “Can we throw it in the garbage?” “Put it back.” “Let’s give him away.” “I don’t like him.” “I hate him.” “I love her .” “Put her down.” “Don’t hold her!” “Do we have to keep him?” “Can we get a dog instead?” “Can I sleep in the same bed with her?” “I want to play with her.” “I want to hold her.” The list goes on and on.

These are actually age-appropriate responses. If we focus too much on our firstborn’s outer behavior, we might lose sight of his internal motivating feelings. It is essential to keep your fingers on the pulse of your older child’s world. Understand that the birth of a sibling is a huge
and often traumatic event and how you interact with him can set the stage for years to come. Your firstborn should feel safe to express himself. Even though he knows that he’s expected to be gentle, at times he might not have the impulse control as his emotions will vary from hour to hour. As tired as new parents are, it is important to observe and to set safe boundaries for your firstborn, physically and emotionally – boundaries enforced with predictability – combined with kindness and firmness. He needs to be listened to and not shamed. This is a time for parents to avoid admonitions such as, “That’s not nice.” “I don’t want you to say things like that.” “That’s mean.” “Don’t talk that way.” “You’re going to love her.” “I know you really love him.” “Grow up!” (That one really gets me.) “You’re a big girl now.” If you express disapproval, you’re
sending the message that it’s not OK to have feelings that aren’t “nice.” But your toddler DOES have these very big feelings and it’s normal. He needs his parents and trusted caregivers to help him safely process and navigate these feelings – to make sense of them and to self-regulate. This is the time to reinforce the foundation of trust that you’re building which supports authentic communication and respectful attachment. Our children can process and make sense of most situations as long as we validate their reality. It is the denial of reality that creates crazy-making, anger, self-doubt and causes repression of feelings.

Adult holding young child's hand while walking outside on a sunny day.

Try to avoid overly praising your toddler with “good job,” or by giving some kind of reward every time he expresses positive feelings toward his sibling. Otherwise, you might get the desired behavior, but it would be outer-directed with approval as the goal instead of motivated by intrinsic satisfaction. It’s fine to honestly express your happiness that he loves his baby sister, but I suggest keeping your responses low-key and authentic. If and when he is angry and jealous, be his steadfast advocate by acknowledging the reality of those feelings and helping
him find a safe outlet. Understand that it’s hard learning how to deal with all these big feelings but even so, baby sister must always be treated gently. As you acknowledge his feelings, use understandable, age-appropriate words with the knowledge that this new situation is difficult
for him. Some authentic responses might be: “I see this is hard for you.” “You had all my attention and it must be hard to have to share me with your brother.” “Thank you for telling me. You have a lot of big feelings.” “I hope one day you’ll feel differently but let’s figure out
what we can do to help you now.” “I’m so tired and I really want to spend some special time with you and without baby.” Help him find a place to safely redirect feelings within secure and predictable boundaries. Do not distract. While correcting and disciplining, remember that
discipline should be instructive and never punitive.

In conclusion, please be kind and forgiving not only to your child, but also to yourselves. If you were perfect parents, you would be impossible role models for your children to live up to. You’re going to make mistakes and that’s OK. How you deal with your mistakes is how your
children will deal with theirs. Try your best and acknowledge your successes and your mistakes. I wish you and your expanding family all the happiness and joy that comes with the challenges of the future. It’s a worthwhile and wonderful journey.

Wendy Kronick is a RIE Associate facilitating classes at the RIE Center Hollywood.

Originally appeared in the FORM newsletter

What does this mean for parents and caregivers of infants?

I’ll begin with the caveat that I don’t know that this is a direct quotation from Magda Gerber. Like many brilliant historical figures, we sometimes attribute meaningful quotations to people we honor and admire, even if they didn’t say them. However, I will say that it is a very apt
description, indeed, of her Educaring® Approach. This statement begs the question: how do you wish to proceed in your relationships with
children? I feel like this question is asking me to take the long view…a lifetime: What is my vision for children over the course of their lifetimes? What is yours? Take a moment now and think about it.

Toddler holding hand of mother while walking through empty city street on a sunny summer day.

My vision is to be in relationship with children and for them to grow into content and successful adults. I want to know who they are, and I want for them to know who THEY are.

It’s a simple wish, but not an easy one.

And yet, I’ve seen this vision unfold time and again. I’m fortunate enough to have been introduced to Magda’s work almost 20 years ago. I know teenagers and young adults who have grown up in families who practiced the Educaring Approach, and there is just something truly special about those individuals…they are teenagers you don’t mind being around!* There is a peace to them…poise, a solid presence….what they have is self-confidence. And I see that in every age and stage: teens, tweens, young school-aged children, preschoolers, and yes, infants and toddlers. Magda had it right: Your Self-Confident Baby, indeed!

*Parents of said teenagers always remind me that their brilliantly authentic teenagers can be just as authentically awful when in the privacy of their own homes…but hey, so can I! I mean, you have to let it all out someplace!

So, instilling that sense of self-confidence is how I wish to proceed. How do I begin?

By giving them the time and space to find it… In fact, not so much instilling self-confidence, as preserving it.

Magda asked us to start with the idea that infants arrive with individual and unique personalities and capabilities. Her Educaring Approach asks us to slow down and observe children…to look for that personality, those capacities…to invite them to participate whenever we engage with them…basically, to start in relationship with them.

The Educaring Approach starts with respect. That idea is so integral to the Approach that I remember, when I was first learning about RIE®, I thought surely it must stand for “Respect Infants Everywhere!”

At first blush, it may seem a strange verb to apply to infants. However, whenever I ask people to think about a respectful interaction they’ve had, universal themes always emerge: to be seen, to be heard, to have one’s point of view taken into consideration, to be trusted, to be spoken to in a meaningful way. It’s something we all want. As part of a mindfulness class I recently took, I heard that theme emerge again from no less than Oprah: All of us just want to be really seen…that I see you and I know that your being here matters. The human condition is that we all need to be heard. To be seen. To have our perspective acknowledged.

So, if we begin as we wish to proceed, we begin by seeing them and listening to them as infants.

(And I want to emphasize here, that it is never too late to start using the Educaring Approach. It is never too late to respect someone’s point of view and involve them!!)

Baby exploring wooden objects while on their stomach while in a RIE® Parent Infant Guidance™ Class.

The Educaring Approach helps us see that each child is unique, has a point of view, and is capable…it is our job to look for that point of view and to look for the abilities and to offer opportunities for them to demonstrate their capabilities and ever-growing competencies. Respecting infants opens a whole new world to us: rather than helpless, dependent creatures that need to be entertained, motivated, stimulated….we see curious, eager, thoughtful people…yes, people who depend on us for so much…but who also have startling capabilities when we take the time to look for them.

And that’s what we do in Parent-Infant Guidance™ classes each week…we practice observing them. And it is such a gift. Parents and caregivers watch as children encounter frustrations and solve problems, how they make connections, how they exist in a state of flow, moving from one object to the next, needing no guidance or direction…simply following their own interests. They are really in the process of what early childhood theorist Friedrich Froebel called “the language of things.”

To adults, this could seem boring. We already know what a metal ramekin feels like in our mouths, what items will fit inside of a 5 gallon water jug with a narrow mouth, that balls roll when you throw them and sometimes mason jar lids do, too, but stuffed kitties rarely do…we already are well-familiar with the way the light plays with objects to make shadows and that that beam of light moving across the ceiling is from a truck rumbling by. It’s tempting to want to jump in and teach or entertain, to show them that the balls can roll down the slide, that you can pop those funny egg shaped things together….but when you do that, you might miss them figuring out the kitty is just heavy enough to slide down that slide, and that moment of discovery when they figure out they can put those beads on every finger. Magda was fond of quoting Jean Piaget: “When you teach a child something, you forever take away his opportunity to learn it for himself.”

It’s tempting to help them with things that are easy for us…sure, you can open that jar with the toy inside or pull that big ball out from where it is wedged under the structure, but so can they…if they persevere a little. Frustration challenges us in big and small ways throughout life…sometimes even leading to leaps and growth, and sometimes just annoying us to tears… learning to mitigate frustration early in life is a gift. When you jump in to solve the problem every time, what you end up teaching is not how to open the jar or how to play with pop
beads or balls…but instead you teach them to look outside of themselves when they encounter a frustration or problem. That they need someone else to entertain them or tell them what to do next. This is absolutely not to say they will never look to you for help or for guidance!! No not at all! But instead, to have that self-confidence to look within themselves first, is the goal.

Of course, this is not to say we should never teach children! There is absolutely time for teaching, but before you teach…slow down…pause…and see what they already know, what they can already do…and what they are teaching us…there’s beauty in the simplest things if we slow down and see with their eyes. For example, during lunch with a toddler, I recently discovered how spectacular garbanzo beans are…their funny little shape, with a crack down one side, and a tiny little point that you can just grasp with your fingernails…there’s a papery
skin that pulls away, and they don’t squish, but rather crumble!

One of the things I love best to watch is how children learn to be with other children. That learning starts in earnest during those first moments when two infants can get close enough to touch, they want to explore each other’s faces and hands…and sometimes toes. While we have to keep them safe (those eyes are just SO tempting and the grasp is not quite refined…), also want to refrain from interfering too much…this is the first foray into the social world…their relationships with their peers.

Bring that careful observation and hesitation to interfere with you as they get a little older and start to pass toys back and forth and you’ll notice that for quite a while no one minds having a toy taken away, and in fact, it sometimes sparks a connection! Even when children do start to mind having a toy taken away, keeping children safe is still the only priority…this is when it is most critical to hold back with refereeing…this is when relationships are really developed. For infants and toddlers, learning how to be social, to be a part of this world, is all they are working
on…not whether or not they get to hold onto the truck for a few more minutes. With our careful observation and reflection, we can let children learn to negotiate these moments on their own. When we refrain from solving squabbles over toys, we are giving children the tools to move
through the social world confidently…knowing they can work things out with others, knowing you are there to support them, but also without having to go to you to solve it for them.

Woman and toddler looking at each other lovingly during RIE® Parent Infant Guidance™ Class at RIE Hollywood Center

In all of the scenarios above, I put the spotlight on what children can do, on their amazing capabilities and capacity for growth and self-knowledge. It’s true that infants and toddlers are capable of so much if we allow them to try, if we give them the time, space, and
opportunity…but there’s one more, critical element to this equation: attachment. None of that is possible outside the context of a caring and present relationship.

At the beginning of this discussion, I talked about slowing down, observing…and allowing them to participate whenever we engage them…and that’s the key. When do we most often engage with children? Over caregiving routines! Changing diapers and wiping noses and feeding and dressing and applying sunscreen and changing diapers and wiping sticky fingers and bathing and brushing hair and clipping fingernails, and did I mention changing diapers? Well, the amazing thing about all of those caregiving routines is that they are in fact “care-building”

Attachment is formed when you have a need and that need is met, or at least responded to in a contingent way…and all caregiving is, is meeting needs over and over again! Filling an empty stomach, taking away an uncomfortable lumpy diaper and replacing it with a fresh one, getting the stickiness off your fingers (we will be friends forever if you help me get stickiness off my fingers!)….whenever you meet a child’s need, you are filling them up, showing them that you can be trusted…and when you meet those ways in a respectful way (slowing down so you really see them, taking their point of view into consideration, speaking to them in a meaningful way, and yes, trusting them to be a partner in the exchange, not merely a passive recipient), attachment becomes that much stronger.

I’m well-aware that caregiving routines are not always as copacetic as outlined above…that there are diaper changes that feel more like wrestling matches, more than a few Cheerios getting tossed deliberately onto the floor, and some distinctly Houdini-like moves that can be
involved in getting a child into a carseat. But I said “respect the child,” so that means that’s okay? Skip the diaper, let them toss food all over the place, wait for them to decide when they want to get in the carseat? Not at all! Part of respecting someone is setting healthy limits and boundaries, and caregiving moments (and yes, other moments in life, too!) give you the opportunity to set those limits. This is where the “meeting the need contingently” comes into play…you slow down, acknowledge their point of view, then set the limit.

This can be one of the hardest things to do for infants and toddlers: setting limits can feel punitive, or like we are not listening to the child’s needs and desires. But it is one of the most important things we can do for them. We all function better in life when we know where the limits
are and operate within them (think about speed limits…it’s dangerous when people drive well over or even well under that limit) and children are the same. They need to know there are limits and that they are solid and consistent. Once that is established, they can relax and explore
within the confines of those limits.

Which is not at all to say that setting limits is peaceful: children will and should test limits, and that testing may involve big emotions, especially as children get older. That’s okay! Going back to my initial statement…my vision for children… to grow into content adults, allowing children to express big, loud, upset emotions is part of it!

Toddler sitting outside on a fall day noticing something on their finger and observing closely.

It helps me when I remember that life is full of both joyful, ecstatic happiness…and sadness, grief, anger, and despair. Those darker emotions are hard to handle. I certainly don’t like feeling that way, and I really don’t like it when anyone I care about feels that way, but I also know that those feelings are normal, they aren’t bad or scary, and they will end. And what makes it easier is having someone with me who knows that, too, who doesn’t try to rush me through it, belittle or dismiss it, but who is present to me and to it, offering me comfort if I need it, as I calm down.

My life was transformed when I learned of Magda Gerber’s wisdom and work, and I hope to help transform the lives of the families I encounter, but I think Magda always says it best and I want to give her (almost) the last word here. From her iconic film, Seeing Infants with New Eyes: “You know, having a little bit more respectful world…where people allow each other to be what they are, where we don’t need to manipulate, where we can have more trust. We can trust ourselves and each other, where we don’t need to always perform. And that’s one of the sad things, we all know it’s not always easy to always play a role. And yet, we want even our infants
to play roles, to perform according to somebody’s script or schedule. So it may be a more comfortable life we could create.”
A more comfortable life…an admirable way to proceed, is it not? Shall we begin?

Melani Ladygo is a RIE Associate who lives and works in the San Fernando Valley.

Originally appeared in the FORM newsletter

A key RIE Practice is telling your child everything you are going to do with them before you do it when interacting. This becomes part of your daily routine so much that one can often forget how infrequent it is for us to pause, explain, and pause again in our society. One rare rainy day in Los Angeles, my toddler  and I were taking a walk, when we came across a worm right in the middle of the sidewalk. My daughter noticed the worm. She then got down really close to the worm and said: “I pick you up.” She waited a moment and then so slowly and so gently she picked up the worm and moved it toward the grass. She then looked at the worm and said: “I set you down.” Then she slowly set the worm down. “Goodbye,” she said in parting as she stood up, smiled, and started her walk again.

— Kelly S.

Preschool girl in a pink patterned dress, grey leggings, and sandals is in a tree on a sunny day smiling and looking proud of herself.

I realized the impact of RIE and respectful parenting when I was out with another family for a play day.  At the end of the play session, my daughter and my friend’s two children wanted to stay and were protesting leaving the park.  I acknowledged my daughter’s feelings that she didn’t want to leave, that we had fun playing, and she could leave when she was ready.  We repeated our conversation about 10 minutes later, and after that, she said she was ready to leave and started walking away.  My friend and her children had a more emotional discussion, and afterwards, my friend asked me how I “knew” how to speak with my daughter.  I was so surprised that she had observed my conversation, and it was the first time that I realized the impact of respectful parenting.  She saw that when we had a dialogue, my daughter understood what I was telling her and that we could talk about what was happening without having a big, emotional reaction by both the parent and the child. 

Principle: Basic trust in the child to be an initiator, an explorer, and a self-learner

— Christine H.

From RIE, I learned that I could offer my toddler choices. Living in New York City, we spent a lot of time going places in a stroller and she had reached the stage where she did not always want to get back into the stroller after she had been out. One day she didn’t want to leave the park, so I tried to give her a choice and allow for some autonomy. I asked her, “Do you want to get into the stroller yourself? Or would you like me to help you?” Then I waited. It took her a moment, but then she crawled in by herself and sat down. No frustration for her or for me. It wasn’t a big surprise later when one of her favorite early words was “self!” and she enjoyed crawling into her stroller.

— Jennifer

Mother smiles at baby

I learned about RIE when my first daughter was about 15 months old, so when I had my second daughter, I had the chance to use the RIE approach from the beginning. For weeks and months, I had been engaging my baby during diapering and telling her what I was going to do at each step. Then one day, when I asked her if she could lift her bottom so I could put on a new diaper, and I waited a moment as usual, she looked at me and the she did it! It was the first time and I was amazed. Although she couldn’t speak, she understood me! It was such an exciting moment of connection and insight, and a confirmation that this RIE practice really worked! My baby had been paying attention, could respond to my requests, and wanted to connect with me. It was so rewarding and my heart felt so full of love, respect, and connection.

Principle: Involvement of the child in all care activities

— Jennifer

Dear Levi:

You are barely 3 months old and already you are responding to your mother’s encouragement toward learning what words and non-verbal communication movements and gestures mean.  Your mother told me a story about you, when you were responding to her conversation with you.

You were resting on your back in the supine position on your changing table.  Your mother was ready to put socks on your feet.  She looked into your eyes and said to you, “Levi, I want to put your sock on one of your feet.  Can you stretch your leg out so I can put the sock on?”  YOU FOLLOWED HER REQUEST!  You stretched out your leg for her to apply the sock to your feet and toes.  Then, when she asked, you stretched out the other leg and foot for the other sock to be put on.

This was quite a special moment for your mother.  Since you were born, she has been talking to you about what she is doing with you and for you.  She would say to you, “I am going to pick you up, now” or “I am going to wash your face.” She would even tell you when she was going to leave you in your safe place for a few minutes while she did a household chore or something personal.  She trusted that you were listening and that one day you would try to respond in some way.   This happened today when you responded to her request by participating in the putting on of your socks by stretching out your legs and feet.  You are so young still, yet, at this moment you demonstrated that you had grasped the understanding of the event and showed the desired response.

In the RIE philosophy, it is claimed that parents who talk to their children regularly, even their youngest infants, are establishing the “groundwork” for future communication.  Also, when an alert, aware adult shows a child respect by thoroughly explaining  the events of the environment and the events that directly relate to the child, respect is being shown the child and the child will reciprocate.  This reciprocal respect may be shown through cooperative actions from the child and predictions from the child about what is to come and what is expected.  In the situation discussed in this story, Levi, you showed your mother that her respectful  conversations with you gained your respect for her caregiving actions with you.  As you stretched out one leg and foot, you probably predicted that there would be a need to stretch the second leg and foot in her direction and this is just what you did.

Another principle of the RIE philosophy suggests that adults will be most successful in their parenting practices if they engage their children in what is really important to them.  As you are only beginning this life, you are already realizing that putting on clothing and taking off clothing occurs for you many times per day and is of great interest to you.  The textures of the fabric that touch your skin are many.  Some fabrics are soft and comfy.   Others are rough or scratchy.   The pulling and pushing of your body to get the clothing on and off is a regular occurrence for you.  Your mother is making these happenings so interesting and more comfortable for you when she tells you about your clothes and how she is going to move you around to put them on and take them off.  This must be why you responded to having soft, warm socks placed on your feet.  You were interested and ready for what was to happen to your legs and feet.

I know that your mother will be telling me of other events that are RIE-like moments between the two of you. I will be waiting to hear about them.

Smiles from your friend and your mother’s friend,


Whether in the home or a child care center, the environment must change in response to the growth of children. In addition to the obvious changes suggested and necessitated by children’s physical growth, such as the move from a crib to a bed or mat, there are many ways in which we can plan and modify the environment to respond to changes in children’s emotional and intellectual growth.

When planning environments for infants and toddlers, it is wise to keep in mind our goals for the children. By identifying our objectives in working with children, we can focus more clearly on the physical setting, and use it effectively to support our long-range goals.

In keeping with a few key elements of the RIE philosophy, here are some suggestions for modifying the environment to respond to the changing needs of children.

RIE goal: Independence

Although “independence” is a loaded word, carrying with it connotations of detachment from other people, we choose to use it to describe a young child’s capabilities and areas of competence. When we say that we have the goal of independence for infants and toddlers, we mean that we allow and encourage them to do what they can do, to resolve some of the age-appropriate problems that they will encounter.

In order to foster this type of independence in young children, we can use the environment to make available those things which we adults have observed the child is ready to access. This requires some forethought and planning, not only regarding just what we want to have available to young children, but how physically to arrange the space.

Naturally, when working with very young children, very low furniture is needed. Open shelving, crates or cubes turned on their sides or low bookcases are all satisfactory storage areas for the playthings and belongings of infants and toddlers. Not only do storage areas need to be low, but they also need to be kept very orderly. A toy is not really accessible to a child if it is not kept in essentially the same place from day to day. In order to obtain something, a child must know both how to get it, and where it is. Along these same lines, only those things which are genuinely available to the children should be stored in the accessible areas. Those things which need adult supervision should be stored in higher or closed areas, to be brought out when the adults are available to watch over their use.

The same storage principles hold for items of clothing which we expect children to be somewhat responsible for, such as shoes and jackets. Low shelves, pegs in a wall out of traffic patterns or cubbies will all serve to help children become more independent.

Facilities for handwashing can also be arranged to accommodate very small children. If a low sink is not available, a sturdy dishpan filled with warm water and placed on a low table is a good alternative. It can also be put away when hand washing time is over.

Of course, very low tables and seats are important in helping children develop a sense of independence.  Children will quickly learn that they are able to bring themselves to the table and leave it without adult help. In some styles of child care this would be undesirable, but the RIE philosophy stresses teaching children to make choices and decisions, such as if and when to sit at a table. (For specific information on very small tables and chairs, see the Fall 1983 issue of Educaring.)

While at the table, the type and presentation of foods can also foster children’s independence. Finger foods such as cheese, tender cooked chicken, slices of hard-cooked egg, chunks of raw, peeled fruit all can be handled by little fingers, making meals child-directed rather than adult-controlled times. (In fact, so appealing is the concept of independent eating that at home three year-old Thomas Beatty requests bananas “the way Magda cuts them.” To do bananas the “Magda way”, peel them, cut in half or thirds, then cut in quarters the long way. You end up with banana sticks that even young toddlers can pick up and eat easily.)

Expecting and allowing young children to have some control over whether they will be in- or outside at certain times may also be desirable. If very young children are to be responsible for moving from one area to another, the door itself should be responsive to their needs. A door that can be kept open with a strong hook or latch will make it safe for children to move through alone; a lightweight screen door may need a second handle at toddler-height to accommodate small people. Conversely, if we want to be certain that children do not move from one area to another, it is our responsibility as adults to make certain that doors or gates are closed and latched securely, that children are truly unable to open them independently. It is not realistic to think that very young children will be able to understand why they should not open a door or gate which they are capable of opening.

Finally, the RIE philosophy advocates the idea that infants and toddlers should have access to one another, under the guidance of responsive adults. Independence, babies doing what they can do, includes being aware of other people, adults and children, and learning about the self through interaction. In an environment where young children are kept separated or restrained in swings, walkers and the like, the opportunities for encountering one another are eliminated. Rather, infants need an environment with large open spaces and enough simple equipment and materials to avoid too many squabbles over possession. Within such a carefully-planned space, infants can be free to move toward and away from one another, to explore the area and meet one another while the adults remain alert and available to move to where they are needed. Babies can reach out to and touch each other, even climb with and over each other without becoming distressed. Of course, adults must keep them from touching eyes and pulling hair, but in an open environment these incidents are infrequent. Engagements over toys are inevitable, and with adult support, even infants can begin to resolve both the issue of possession and the feelings that follow such disputes.

Naturally, every home and each center is unique, with problems and possibilities all its own. Hopefully, some of these suggestions will be useful, and ideally they will suggest more ideas for your individual situation. We would love to hear from you with ideas, suggestions and problems relating to the physical environment you work with, either at home or in a center. Future issues of Educaring will explore this topic further.

EDUCARING® Volume VI,  Number 1, Winter 1985

What to do when your baby cries?

Crying is your child’s language. It is her way of communicating her needs to her parents. Every average, healthy child cries.”

— Magda Gerber, Your Self Confident Baby

How to do it:

  1. Let the baby know that you are there and you care.
  2. We don’t always know what is making a baby cry exactly or often what to do about it. For many of this knowing what to do isn’t instinctual. It takes time, patience, observation, and practice.
  3. We can begin with simply talking, quietly to the baby.
  4. Acknowledge what you see and what you are feeling: “I see you are uncomfortable. And hearing you cry really upsets me. I want to find out what you need. Tell me. I will try to understand your cues and in time, you will learn to give them to me.” Madga Gerber, Dear Parent
  5. Notice what you are feeling when your baby cries. Do you feel anxious, helpless, empathy, frustration, or even anger? Our reactions are important to examine and explore.
  6. Try thinking out loud about the possible explanations, “Is your diaper wet? I don’t think you’re hungry because you just ate…” Magda Gerber, Dear Parent
  7. Observe, notice, consider before reflexively feeding, changing, or picking up.
  8. Why are they needing to cry? Rather than see your role as one who needs to stop the crying begin to see your role is to understand why they are crying.
  9. “Respect, the child’s right to express his feelings, or moods.” ; “All babies cry. We would worry if they didn’t.” Magda Gerber, Dear Parent
  10. Allow yourselves time to begin this life long relationship. Your baby will eventually come to anticipate and respond to your relaxed, calm response to their communication.

Why we do it:

  • Many babies cry a lot during the first weeks, and even the first three months, of life, as they adjust to a world that is totally new to them.
  • Crying is the baby’s mode of self-expression. It is the only way the baby can express feelings or discomfort. It is also a way to discharge energy.
  • Your responsiveness is the key factor in helping your baby feel secure. We MUST respond. It is HOW we respond that deserves more consideration.
  • We want to learn to read and then respond to the baby’s real need. Taking our time allows us to learn our baby’s different cries and what they mean.
  • Sometimes talking calmly and directly to the baby soothes the baby. If we observe carefully, we may see that simple acknowledgement, “You don’t seem comfortable…” and looking at your face is enough. No need for extra efforts or tricks to calm.
  • The way we respond also “conditions” the baby to expect specific responses (feeding, covering, rocking, patting). We are mindful about how we respond, making it a dialogue with the baby, so that we don’t create a need where one didn’t exist.
  • When you talk quietly to your crying baby, you begin a practice of lifelong, honest communication that will benefit both of you.

Ties to Principles:

What parents and carers say:

“With Ethan’s colic, I followed every suggestion and piece of advice I received. Four months…of RIE classes provided us with a gentle, calm, relaxed alternative to the chaotic and frenetic “solutions” offered by well-meaning friends and relatives.” (Dear Parent, p.43)

Adapted from Dear Parent by Magda Gerber and Your Self- Confident Baby by Magda Gerber


Bell, S., & Mary D. Salter Ainsworth. (1972). Infant Crying and Maternal Responsiveness. Child Development, 43(4), 1171-1190. doi:10.2307/1127506

Gerber, M. (2002) Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect (pp. 40-41)

Gerber, M. (1998) Your Self Confident Baby (pp. 45)

Tal-Chen Rabinowitch, Pnina Klein, Gila Atira & Ruhama Ben-Eliezer (2020) Caregiver-versus mother-infant interactions in relation to cognitive, social and emotional measures at 11 years of age, Early Child Development and Care.

What is another kind of quality time with your baby?

I’ll dance with you and then you must dance with me.” — Magda Gerber

Adapted from Dear Parent by Magda Gerber and the RIE Manual

How to do it:

  • Find meaning in the times we have to engage with our baby; the times when we “want something” because we have a task to complete with the baby. Caregiving times are often times when we want something — for example, changing a diaper, going to sleep, getting dressed, etc.
  • Tell the infant what you want to do: “I want to change your diaper.”
  • We are looking for ways to invite the infant’s cooperation. 
  • Go slowly so the infant can follow along and participate as much as they can. 
  • Toddlers can become playful during these times. It is helpful to acknowledge their playfulness while reminding them of the task at hand. If they continue to try to play, it is helpful to remain firm (not harsh). “It is time to put your clean diaper on. I am going to put it on now.” 

Why we do it:

  • Infants learn self-control, self-discipline, and cooperation during “wants something” time.

Ties to Principles:

What parents and carers say:



Gerber, M. (2002) Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect (pp. 76-77)

Greenwald, D. and Weaver, J. (2013), Gerber, M. (1979) The RIE Manual for Parents and Professionals Expanded Edition Extended Edition (pp. 16-18) 

Dear Magda,

When our play group gets together, none of our 13-18 month old children seem to be able to share toys. It doesn’t matter who’s toy it really is, whichever baby has it at a given moment will simply refuse to let another child have it. We all want our children to grow into generous, caring people. How can we help them learn to share?

– Playgroup Parents

Dear Parents,

Before a child can learn to share, she needs to go through certain stages of development. In the beginning an infant perceives herself, not as separate, but as part of the world she feels, touches, tastes, sees and hears. Slowly an awareness that there is a world outside, that there is a “Me” and a “non-Me” emerges. Later she realizes that there are differences in people, there is a “mommy” and a “not mommy”, there are familiar and unfamiliar people and objects. At this stage when a child holds or even just wants an object in her mind it is “hers”. The child doesn’t yet have the concept of ownership.

Sharing is based on the knowledge of ownership and use. The owner lets someone else use an object with the knowledge that it will be returned later. But the infant also has no concept of time. Only “now” exists. Even two minutes may seem like forever. We can not expect a young child to perceive what sharing means.

If we expect a behavior from our children that they are not ready for or don’t understand, they may be able to learn to do what we ask, but it will be done because they feel parental pressure, or from a desire for parental approval, or out of fear of punishment. Personality characteristics such as generosity, empathy, caring and sharing cannot be taught, they can only be modeled. Growing up in a family where parents share not only objects, but also time and attention, will help a child to develop these personality traits.

There are certain behaviors, however, that we can expect. If your child is hurting another child, for example, you should be firm. You are in charge, and can not allow any child to hurt another. If you have a group of two or more young children (up to six toddlers–more than this will make a crowd who can not be expected to enjoy each other’s company), you should have several of the same toys available. Of course, a child will always want the truck that the other child is playing with ‘because it is moving, it is alive. If a conflict or fight does develop, there are some steps you can follow.

First, move peacefully, stay close and wait patiently. The children may be able to handle it themselves. If the children are “fighting” without harming each other, this is good practice for them and they should be allowed to continue. 

You could then state the conflict in a non-judgemental way, be neutral and impartial, and make a comment such as, “Both you, Andrea, and you, Jason, want the same truck.” This helps calm the children by letting them know that they are being understood and empathized with.

If they are still in conflict, look around the room and ask the children if they see another toy they would like to play with. You may pick it up and start playing with the toy yourself. This may make it attractive to the toddler.

If the fight keeps on. you may choose to intervene more directly. You might want to change the routine, and put the toy in question away. In other words, you become the problem solver, instead of letting the children solve their own problem.

Following the RIE approach, we start with the least amount of help and intervention, and then slowly increase it. We do expect and trust that even infants learn most by working out conflicts all by themselves.



Educaring® Volume 4, Number 4, Fall 1983

Dear Magda,

As I read Educaring I get the feeling that the RIE® philosophy is rather cold and impersonal. You talk of independence and autonomy for infants, but not of loving them. You emphasize the importance of speaking to babies, but not of holding them. You tell parents ways of feeding and bathing their infants, but you don’t talk about playing with them.

Frankly, babies are dependent on adults, not only for food and shelter, but for love, emotional warmth and comfort too. Where do these needs fit into the RIE philosophy?

Concerned Parent

Dear Parent,

For years and years when talking to groups of parents, I asked them, “What do infants need beyond food, hygiene, etc?” The answer was unanimously, “Love.” But what is love?

Rather than trying to explain or analyze “love” theoretically, I will share with you from my own subjective experiences how it feels to be loved, and how it feels to love.

It makes me feel good, it opens me up, it gives me strength. I feel less vulnerable, lonely, helpless, confused. I feel more honest, more rich. It fills me with hope, trust, creative energy. It refuels me and prepares me to face life.

How do I perceive the other person who gives me things? I see her as honest, as one who sees and accepts me for what I really am, who responds to me objectively without being critical. I respect her authenticity and values and she respects mine. She is one who is available when needed, who listens and hears, who looks and sees me, who genuinely shares herself.

In short, I perceive one who loves me, who gives me these feelings, as one who cares.

In no other loving connection is “caring” as crucial as in the parent/infant relationship. This relationship is, at first, one-sided. It is the parent who is the giver; the child slowly learns to love. At the time when parental roles were more limited, parental love had been differentiated into two categories: maternal and paternal love. Maternal love was described as unconditional. The infant is loved because he or she is. Ideally, every human being should start life with this kind of love.

Paternal love has some strings attached. The father has expectations for the young child and love for “good” and “expected” behavior. Many people cannot make the shift from being loved and fully accepted the way they are, to having to earn or deserve love. They insist on being loved while being obnoxious, pushing the parents to the limits of their tolerance. This state or fixation on total acceptance peaks around two and again in adolescence.

The grace period of maternal love lays down a foundation of self- acceptance. Paternal love is a bridge preparing a child to live in the real world, where he has to “deserve” love and appreciation. I see the value of both. I recommend that parents read The Art of Loving by Eric Fromm, who defines love as caring, respecting, assuming responsibility for and acquiring knowledge about the other person.

To care is to put love into action. The way we care for our babies is then how they experience our love.

How and when do you pick your baby up? For instance, when you are in a hurry, do you pick him up without warning or plop him down abruptly? Are you responding to the baby’s needs or your own?

When do you smile at your baby? If your infant could express the bewilderment she feels when looking at her mother’s smiling face while being propped in an uncomfortable position, it may sound like, “Mommy, why do you smile at me when I feel so uncomfortable?”

How do you talk to your infant? Do you tell him “I love you” just when you are at the end of your tolerance, when what you really feel is “I wish I never had a baby”? When what you say is inconsistent with what you feel, your baby receives a double message. Rather than feeling reassured of your love, he feels confused.

When do you choose to hug and kiss your child? Is it when you come home from a party and look at your peacefully sleeping child that you start touching and kissing her and wake her up? Although an act of love, this was serving your needs, not the baby’s.

Do you tolerate your child’s crying? It seems so much easier to do something about crying: to pick up, move around, take for a ride, pat, bounce. When the baby cries, the first step is to try to determine why he cries, rather than to try to stop the crying. When you have eliminated hunger and the other standard discomforts and the baby is still crying, that is the time to tolerate crying, even to respect the infant’s right to cry. You might want to say, “I am here to help you, but I do not know what you need. Try to tell me.” If that is what you feel, share it; this is the beginning of communication.

How do you set limits and restrain your child? Some parents are afraid that setting limits or disagreeing with a child will be perceived as unloving. Yet sometimes setting a limit is in the best interest of the child, and is therefore an act of love. Even though the child may be protesting, you know that what you are doing is for the child’s sake. The most obvious example is the baby’s car seat. Even when she objects to being strapped into it, you continue with the task because you know that it keeps her safe.

Do you allow your baby to experience some frustration? It is difficult for parents to learn that they cannot spare their children from all pain and frustration. Yet the only way anybody can develop frustration tolerance is by experiencing and directly dealing with it.

In what ways do you allow your infant to explore freely and to make choices? Superimposing your ideas of showing love may prevent an infant from making choices or engaging in exploration. For instance, do you hold your baby in your lap in such a way that he can leave when he is ready, or do you hold on to him? Wanting to hold a child can become holding the child back from free exploration, making him passive and overdependent. Showing love means being available rather than intrusive.

Do you tell your child how you really feel? How confusing for a child to have a parent who pretends to be the always loving, always cheerful person. If you learn to communicate how you are feeling (tired, peaceful, upset, joyful, angry, etc.) you become authentic and allow your child to grow up authentic.

Dear parent, I agree that babies need love, emotional warmth and comfort. Most people associate parental love with the easy solutions of holding, nursing, cuddling. What is much more difficult is to find the balance between holding on and letting go. It is a lifelong struggle, and maybe the hardest part of parenting. Good luck and many rewards.


Magda Gerber


Volume VI, Number 1, Winter 1985

Dear Magda,

Help! I don’t know what has happened to my wonderful child. My husband and I, even our babysitter, have followed your advice and RIE’s philosophy since our son Bryan was born. He has always responded just as you predicted. That is, until he turned nineteen months old.

That was two months ago, and since that time he has become almost a different person. Gone is the peaceful, consistent, predictable baby. In his place we have a willful, difficult, unpredictable toddler. Needless to say, we are confused and unhappy, but what really bothers us is that Bryan doesn’t seem very happy any more.

Please tell us, where did we go wrong? Is this a stage, or are we stuck with this different Bryan for the rest of our lives?

Frustrated Parents

Dear Parents,

As you have discovered, toddlerhood is a time of constant struggle. For the child, it is a period of strong ambivalence. He is filled with turmoil and overwhelming opposite feelings. No suggestion you give Bryan will be right, because a toddler has opposing inner needs. He needs to feel dependent and independent, big and little, strong and weak. At various times, the toddler feels omnipotent and helpless.

You ask why this is such a difficult time. Because you have observed Bryan during his infancy and treated him with respect as RIE advises, you are aware of the sense of security he achieved during his first year or so of life. His baby-world was completely safe. But now, as he becomes upright and starts to toddle, as he begins to understand language, his cocoon of security is shattered. He is able to sense more and more about the human condition, about reality. His need for magic is jeopardized by feeling helpless in crucial situations.

As Bryan begins to acquire language, he becomes able to communicate his needs. No longer is he the dependent, cuddly baby who elicits compassion, love and caring. Instead he is an explorer. He must find out who he is and how much power he has.

Once you understand the importance and the magnitude of Bryan’s struggle, your attitude can begin to support his rapid physical and emotional growth. It is difficult to live with a toddler with focus and empathy.

The toddler is a terrible, terrific, tiresome, true, torn human being. Try to imagine a see-saw with the toddler in the middle swaying from one side, one extreme to the other. There are times when Bryan feels that all the world is his oyster. At other times, he believes all the world to be his enemy.

You need enormous amounts of energy, patience, and compassion. You must learn to keep the optimal distance from Bryan while he is exploring. You can learn to function as an island of security in the sea of confusion and anxiety. You may be able to communicate a feeling of security to Bryan if you yourself can inwardly believe that this crucial period is really very short, although it seems to last forever.  

And most of all, you need humor.

To live with a toddler can, in a funny way, be therapeutic. All the human anxieties of feeling good and bad, loved and abandoned, peak. It’s like a ritual of passage. If this passage from babyhood to pre-school-ness was difficult for you as a child, it will be difficult for you to go through again. Eventually we have to explore the scary things we would rather avoid.

Best wishes and good luck with your journey as a family!


Dear Magda / Dear Parent – Toddler Defiance

Educaring® Vol. VII, Number 3, Summer 1986

Dear Magda,

It is becoming more and more difficult to put Alison, my seven-month-old, to sleep. I have always nursed her to sleep, but now she wakes up crying as soon as I put her down, or shortly thereafter. I have tried putting her down later and later in the evening, thinking she was not sleepy, but this did not help. Now, neither Alison nor I get enough sleep. Help!

Tired Parent

Dear Parent,

I’ll try. But do not expect a magic formula; sometimes we cannot isolate any one problem area from the rest of the everyday life of your baby.

I know that the easiest way to put your baby to sleep is to nurse her into sleep. I have observed, however, that as an infant becomes more aware of herself and of her environment, it is better to put her down while she is still somewhat awake. It is possible that waking up in a crib with no memory of having been put there can be disorienting and scary. Babies younger than Alison may wake up confused because of the sudden change in their sensitive vestibular organization, (i.e. going from a more upright position to lying flat in the crib).

Rather than putting Alison down later and later, I suggest that you sensitively observe the very first signs of tiredness. That is the time a child is ready for sleep. As time goes by, increased tiredness builds resistance —and once the second wind hits, going to sleep becomes an ordeal for both your baby and you. An overtired child sleeps restlessly, wakes up more often during the night and gets up grouchy, way too early in the morning. Stress and overstimulation can also cause exhaustion, irritability and resistance to sleep.

Many parents I have advised have learned with surprise and delight that contrary to their fears, putting babies to bed very early in the evening did not make them wake up earlier in the morning. Indeed, their babies often woke up much later in the morning, adding hours of sleep.

Your goal is to develop good sleeping habits. The easiest way to develop good habits in general is to have a predictable daily life. Young babies thrive on routine. Ideally, daily events of eating, sleeping, bathing, outdoor play. etc., happen around the same time and in the same sequence each day. As the baby is learning to anticipate the next event, many conflicts are eliminated. A mutual adaptation of the biological rhythm of your baby and your family schedule develops. It also enables you, the parent, to plan ahead for those blocks of time when your baby is usually napping or playing peacefully.

But be prepared that there will be times when a child becomes reluctant to fall asleep, e.g. when she comes down with a sickness, shortly before a spurt of new developmental milestones, or during certain vulnerable times of emotional growth, such as separation anxiety. Your 7-month-old Alison is at a sensitive period for separation anxiety.

Both the amount and the pattern of sleep change from child to child and of course change as she grows. Newborn and very young babies alternate periods of sleep with periods of wakefulness six to ten times within 24 hours, with an average of 18 to 21 hours of steep; two- to three-year-olds average 12-14 hours of sleep.

Everything that happens to your baby during the day can influence her sleep pattern. Does she spend plenty of time playing outdoors? Building a room-size outdoor playpen is an excellent investment. Napping outdoors is a good habit.

I want to talk a little about how to put a baby to bed. As bedtime approaches, create an atmosphere that becomes progressively slower paced and more quiet. Do you happen to know the lovely book by Margaret Wise Brown, Good Night Moon, in which page by page the room darkens, gradually evoking a sleepy mood? This is the feeling I suggest you work toward.

Repeating a simple pre-bedtime ritual helps your baby to get ready gradually. For example, making a habit of commenting while putting away toys can be helpful: “The ball goes into this basket here in the corner; dolly sits on the top shelf; the toys will stay here until morning when you can play with them again.” Such comments build a bridge between “tonight” and “tomorrow,” and provide a sense of continuity and security. Then you may continue, “I am going to pull the curtains now, then I will turn off the big light and put on the night light, then I will go into the other room.” As Alison grows older, she may take over your role and have such monologues herself.

Some infants have a special bed companion, a “lovey” such as a Teddy bear or blanket, also referred to as a transitional object. Putting Alison and her lovey to bed, you may talk to the bear, “Have a peaceful rest. I will cover both Alison and you so that the two of you will feel comfortable and cozy. Are you ready for your lullaby?” (You may want to sing or wind up a music box — music is a soothing way to end a day.)

Finally, caress your baby gently and say, “Good night. I’ll see you in the morning.”

As you can see, l am giving you ideas of how you can create an atmosphere conducive to rest. But remember nobody can make another person fall asleep, (short of giving sleeping pills). How to relax and let sleep come is a skill Alison, like everybody else, must learn all by herself. Children also wake up several times during the night and learn how to ease themselves back into sleep (unless they have a need or get scared).

Your overall attitude can make a difference. Do not feel sorry for “poor baby” who must go to bed — rather remember how good it feels to rest when you are tired, and how nice it feels to wake up refreshed.

Wishing you peaceful nights and joyful days in 1984.


Editor’s note: We have followed these guidelines with Nathan from his earliest days, and he now knows when he needs sleep and that it feels good to sleep when he is tired. The other day, he came into the kitchen after his rest, hugged me and said, “Mommy, I had a wonderful nap.” 


EDUCARING® Volume V, Number 1, Winter 1984

Dear Magda,

I work in an infant day care center and my daughter Alicia, 13 months old, is also at the center. We have a boy, 19 months, who bites. He is the terror of the children, the staff and the parents. We’ve tried everything. We had a special meeting to figure out how to handle Rick. Some of the advice has been to bite him back, tie a cloth over his mouth, put him into time out, or tell his mother not to bring him until he stops biting. I do not feel comfortable with any of these solutions. Why does he bite? How can we help Rick?

Dear Parent,

Biters are the problems of many families and real trouble in group settings. The problem usually begins when the peacefully-nursing mother first gets bitten by her suckling infant. A loud “ouch” and withdrawal of the breast lets the baby know that she does not like to be bitten. Infants first bite because biting comes naturally, because their gums are itchy, and their teeth are coming in. When they get a strong reaction it is interesting to try to elicit it over and over again. It is fun. Like mouthing, biting is instinctual. Erik Erikson describes it as the oral-aggressive phase of infancy. Because it is instinctual, adults respond to it with more anger, anxiety and vengeance than to other aggressive acts. Outbursts like “I’ll bite you back so you’ll feel how it hurts,” or “Don’t you bite ever again!” are common. The absurdity of the demand “Don’t you bite ever again!” was terrifyingly illustrated by a little autistic child who indeed stopped biting altogether and changed his normal eating habits into swallowing only pureed food.

Of course, our reactions and remediation would be different depending on the age of the child, the frequency of the biting, the situation in which it occurs and the basic well-being and mood of the child—whether the child seems reasonably happy, or irritable much of the time. While in early infancy biting is rather exploratory, toddlers bite when frustrated, angry, or tired. Young children want what they want right away with no delay. This is the very nature of childhood. Waiting can be too upsetting. Sometimes frustration builds up over a period of time. Young children may become irritable because their basic needs are not met properly. Too much stimulation or poor timing may interfere with the biological rhythm, preventing them from sleeping when sleepy or eating when hungry. Parents may have difficulty coordinating their activities and providing a predictable environment for the baby. If a child shows other signs of frustration, I would look at his daily life to discover the source of his overall maladjustment and change it. If I have to deal with a chronic biter who intimidates other children, I must use sensitive but strong strategy. Not only are the other children scared of the biter, the biter is even more scared of his potential power to harm. Both “victim” and “aggressor” need to feel that the adult is in charge and can protect them.

I will describe how I handled our notorious two year-old biter. His mother was desperate. She said that as soon as the children saw her son, Andy, on the playground, they ran away from him. Andy and four other children in his group came once a week for two hours to our infant program. When I first saw Andy bite, I told him calmly but firmly, “I will not let you bite any child or big person. If you feel like biting, here are things (teething rings, rubber or plastic objects, etc.) you can bite.” From then on I watched him very closely in order to predict what would trigger his aggressiveness and prevent him from doing it. When I sensed he was getting out of control, I would hold him firmly but not punitively, telling him that I would not let him bite, and he needed to learn to trust me. He eventually relaxed and I let go of him. At times Andy was playfully chewing on a plastic donut, part of a stacking toy. Once Andy got upset and started to run across the room to find his “biting ring.” Lo and behold, another child inadvertently crossed his way. This was too much for Andy and he bit her. I said to Andy, “I saw you wanted to get your ring but it was too far and Tammy got in your way. How about tying your ring on your neck* so you will have it right there when you need it?” Andy was so proud of his own biting ring that all the other children asked to have one tied around their necks, too. This lasted for a little while and was the end of any biting in that group.

*Magda describes making the biting ring available at that time. Today we have clips that allow us to attach a biting ring to the pants or shirt and this would provide a safer biting solution.

Biting_Dear Magda/Dear Parent 

Educaring® Volume II / Number 2 / Spring 1981


In a 1976 issue of Afterbirth, Janet Gonzalez-Mena published a list of “Ten Steps to the D.I.P. Philosophy.” This list, slightly revised, provides us with a brief, practical synopsis of the RIE philosophy. If you, as an educarer, have grasped the essence of our philosophy, this list will be a helpful tool for you to review the way you care for children. It is a reminder that caring for infants, with respect and quality foremost in our minds, must not become routine. Perhaps the next time you find yourself facing a new situation with your infant, these guidelines will help deepen and strengthen your motives, insight, and perception.

1. Involve the infant in caretaking chores, such as diapering. Don’t just distract him so you can get the job done faster.

  • Remember that babies have long attention spans if they’re actually involved in something.
  • Consider that you can give the baby a feeling for team work which can become a lifelong attitude.
  • Realize how much learning goes on in these kinds of interactions.

2. Invest in quality time when you are totally available to the infant. Don’t settle for constant time together when you are only half there.

  • Give the baby privacy—space and time alone.
  • Give yourself privacy—space and time alone.
  • Think of caring activities as quality times, not as chores.

3. Respect the baby as an individual. Avoid treating him as a cute, empty-headed doll to be manipulated.

  • Try to tune in on the baby’s real needs, rather than your own projected needs.
  • Really listen to him when he expresses needs. He will learn to refine his ways of expression.
  • Avoid talking about the baby in front of him.
  • Respect the baby’s feelings and his right to express them. It’s okay to be mad, sad, frustrated, etc.
  • Offer strength to a child in conflict by being available, reflective, and neither judgmental nor over sympathetic.
  • Help the baby to anticipate what will happen by telling him what you intend to do. Give the baby a chance to respond before you start the action.

4. Learn the baby’s system of communication and teach him yours. Don’t underestimate his ability to communicate.

  • Regard crying as communication and try to understand it, not just stop it.
  • Talk to the baby in a natural way using daily language, not “baby talk.”
  • Cut down on endless chatter. A small amount of meaningful talk will be listened to.
  • Don’t repeat yourself over and over.

5. Be honest about your feelings, rather than pretending to feel something you don’t.

  • Give appropriate, honest feedback, being careful not to hook the baby on praise.
  • Try to be aware of sending mixed messages and guard against it.

6. Invest time and energy into the building of human relationships and the development of the baby’s personality. Don’t concentrate on cognitive development alone, buying a lot of gadgets to promote it.

  • Help the baby learn to use the potential he has.
  • Help the baby to come to see himself as a problem solver.

7. Build security by teaching trust. Avoid placing the baby in situations in which he can’t depend on you.

  • Don’t sneak away without telling him.
  • Be available, if possible, when he really needs you.
  • Understand he will go through periods when he needs you even more than usual.

8. Focus on the quality of development in each stage. Don’t be concerned about reaching developmental milestones in a hurry.

  • Let the baby develop on his own. Don’t push him to do things he can’t do on his own before he is ready.
  • Don’t teach the baby—facilitate his learning.
  • Give the baby plenty of physical freedom.
  • Let the baby stimulate himself—respect him for knowing what is best for him.
  • Try not to promote a “circus atmosphere” where the baby gets hooked on being entertained.

9. Model the behavior you want to teach. Don’t preach.

  • Respond to aggression with gentleness if you want to teach gentleness. Don’t give aggression for aggression.
  • Teach sharing by sharing.
  • Be aware that all you teach is yourself. 

10. Give the baby a chance to solve his own problems. Avoid taking away valuable learning opportunities from him.

  • Try to wait after the expression of a need to allow enough time for the child to attempt to satisfy himself.
  • When the baby is going around in circles, or seems stuck, facilitate the smallest step necessary to enable him to solve the problem himself.
  • Give the baby opportunities to practice decision-making by giving him a reasonable number of real choices when it is appropriate. 

Janet Gonzalez-Mena is a RIE-trained infant Specialist. She has Co-authored, with Dianne Eyer, a book entitled Infancy and Caregiving, Mayfield Publishing Co. along with several other books.

Educaring® Volume I / Number 4 / Autumn 1980

The RIE approach assumes that no matter his/her age a child is able to understand a great deal about what is going on around him/her. RIE parents talk to their babies from birth on as though they will understand, not only the tone, but also the content of the message.

Equally important in the RIE philosophy is the idea that infants are/can be competent individuals, capable of confronting and resolving age-appropriate dilemmas. RIE babies are allowed and encouraged to solve their own problems whenever reasonable and safe,

While RIE does not emphasize infants’ language development, nor even suggest that using RIE’s guidelines will accelerate the growth of language, it should not be surprising that babies who are talked to and listened to, and are allowed to engage in problem-solving will begin at an early age to use language as a problem-solving tool.

As “RIE parents” we began speaking to Nathan the day he was born. We always address him in tones of voice which indicate our respect for him as a person; we also treat his responses with respect.

Even though we have always behaved as though Nathan could understand our words, we have sometimes been surprised at how much he actually does understand. For instance, one day  when he was about 13 months old, Nathan indicated that he wanted to look at the dog outside the window. Neither Ben nor I was available to lift him up to see, so we suggested that he go into the other room, get a stool, bring it back to the window and climb up to look out. We had no idea what Nathan would do as he crept out of the room. A few minutes later we heard the rumble of something being pushed down the hail, and Nathan shortly appeared in the doorway with the stool and an ear-to-ear grin. He pushed the stool to the window and clambered up to peer out, leaving us determined never to underestimate his comprehension.

At our house, the bedtime routine includes bath, then stories on the big bed, and last cuddling into the crib with special blankets. When Nathan was about 14 months old, we gave him the responsibility of ending his story-time and telling us when he was ready for bed. We simply said, “Tell us when you’re ready to go to bed.” From that time on, nearly every night, he stops the story after about ten minutes and says, “Night-night now,” and off he goes.

As Nathan’s vocabulary has grown, we naturally expect him to use the words he knows. When he was about 15 months old, we stopped responding to grunts and whines, and now we ask him to tell us what he wants in a normal tone of voice. We have found that Nathan is able to express his wants and needs in words or through actions. When he doesn’t know the name of something he wants, he points or reaches toward it, or finds an analogy. For example, when he was 18 months old, his regular carer gave him a drink of apple juice diluted with water. Apparently, the proportion of water to juice was higher than usual, because after tasting it, he held the cup out to her and said, “More juice, no water.”

Because we listen to Nathan, and take him seriously, he is confident about trying new language skills. He has invented two contractions: “in’t”, as in “Cup, milk in’t”, and “on’t”, as in “Put peanut butter on’t”. He also feels free to use the words he knows to describe things whose names he doesn’t know. When he was 19 months old, we were walking on the sidewalk when he said what sounded like ”Hot leaf”. Wondering if I had heard correctly, I repeated, “Hot leaf?”  “Yeah. hot leaf,” Nathan said, and pointed to the bright orange petal of a bird-of-paradise flower.

Probably the most important aspect of language as a problem-solving tool is being able to get help when it is genuinely needed. The newborn quickly learns that a cry brings help/comfort, and that literal cry for help extends well past infancy. However, when language is a natural part of a very young child’s repertoire, it soon becomes even more powerful than a cry, because it can get specific, appropriate assistance very quickly.

One day when Nathan was about 19 months old, he was playing under the kitchen table while I did chores in various parts of the house. As I passed through the kitchen, he showed me how he was climbing around under the table, saying “underneath.”  I told him I thought that looked like fun, and went off into the bedroom. A couple of minutes later, I heard a near-panicked Nathan calling, “Stuck! Stuck, Mommy, stuck!” I raced into the kitchen to find Nathan under the table with his head wedged sideways into the 3-inch space between the table’s lower cross-members and the floor. It took a minute or so for me to help him get himself out of the jam, but he emerged unscathed. (He still plays under the table, and hasn’t gotten “stuck” again.)

However, there are a few instances when even language can’t get him what he wants. A few weeks ago, Nathan, now at 21 months, had a bad case of stomach flu. For nearly three days, he could keep nothing down. Toward the end of the second day of vomiting, he asked for orange juice. I denied his request, explaining that his tummy was too sick for juice, and offered a sip of water. He began to cry and said, “Orange juice, ple-e-ease.” I again offered water and said I was sorry, but he was too sick for juice, that it would make him throw up.  In a last-ditch effort to get the longed-for juice, he said, “Orange juice, please. Nathan be very careful!” It seemed to me that he was trying to tell me that he’d try his best not to throw up, if I’d just give him some juice. He eventually settled for water, poor guy!

Educaring® Volume IV / Number 1 / Winter 1983