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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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 Kronickis a RIE Associate facilitating classes at the RIE Center Hollywood.
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.
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!!)
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.
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” activities.
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!
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.
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
While caring for my 10-month-old nephew, I was sitting nearby observing him play. He was manipulating a ball and it fell out of his hands and rolled under a chair with several rungs underneath. He looked at the ball which was resting on the back rung underneath the chair and tried to reach through and grab the ball but his arm was too short and he could not reach it. He looked over at me and I simply commented that his ball had rolled under the chair. He then turned back to the chair and tried reaching for it again from different angles but still no luck. After sitting there and looking at the ball for about 4-5 minutes, he then put his hand on one of the rungs underneath the chair and pulled the chair. This motion caused the ball to roll forward and bring it just close enough for him to reach in again and grab it! The look on his face of pride and achievement was priceless. I just smiled. He grabbed his ball, crawled away from the chair and continued to play.
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.
Ezriel it was so much fun to observe your play while in our RIE® class together. I was particularly drawn to your ‘orderly’ play in the final months of class. I had noticed a few times that many of the children loved to dump items which didn’t really surprise me as this was a typical play pattern of young children. However, you were one person I thought might also have another plan during your play. Over the weeks, I decided to test my theory in the materials I set out for you and your friends.
The first month most items were in containers available to dump. Just as children like to dump, eventually play expands and the interest in filling containers is also present. I had watched you play for a few weeks and notice that you paid careful attention to the details of items and so I thought you might be one that would be interested in this idea. I had noticed over the weeks that you were often drawn to the star/sticky blocks. At first, you carefully just played with each one- inspecting all the elements, sometimes offering one to mom. Then another week, I put out an empty container nearby to see what that might provoke. Sure enough, you began transferring the objects – dumping out one, and filling the next!
Each time you played, your careful inspection always was there. Another week I set out a stacking toy and you spent time taking it apart, noticing that it somehow all went back together. You tested a few pieces to try out that theory before moving on to other things. After noticing this play exploration, I decided to put out other stacking items that really had no particular “right” way to go together. Sure enough, you found them again and I noticed your exploration went to the cups- stacking and un-stacking them as if to figure out exactly how it all worked.
Your intense focus always was present in your play, as well as your awareness of mom (often for a quick check in or cuddle) and your other friends explorations. As you explored, I noticed your consideration for others and how you took the initiative to invite them to play using non verbal cues- offering mom a toy or later a peer from class.
Your careful focus and intent to your play was never deterred. Although you offered items, and engaged your peers, if you wanted to finish with something you made sure to stand your ground and hold on tightly to ensure the other person knew your were still using the item. I even noticed a few times that if they pulled on something you weren’t done with you would offer them something else instead.
Your intrigue motivated your gross motor development, balance and movement skills. It seemed you often had a plan well before venturing to the other side of the classroom. You carefully observed, checked in with mom (with a look or a quick play nearby) and then ventured off for more exploration.
The playful exploration that took place showed so many profound life skills Ezriel. You demonstrated the building blocks of problem solving and critical thinking skills- stacking, observing, negotiating,and planning out your actions. Your offerings of materials or willingness to play near others showed beginning friendship skills and turn taking as well as a consideration for others that has obviously been modeled to you.
It was such a joy observing you and seeing your personality shine through over the weeks Ezriel. I can see that you are a kind, thoughtful and considerate boy eager to explore the world with an intense focus. I am excited for where these dispositions will take you in life! Thank you for the time we had to play together. I hope that we can spend more time together in the future!
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.
When your baby is not being held or cared for, placing them on their back to move freely helps them discover and take control of their body.
“On her back, she has the maximum mobility and support. She is freer to move her arms, legs, and body,
and do what she can do on her own.” –Magda Gerber, Your Self-Confident Baby
How to Do It:
Whether baby is not yet moving on their own or has learned to crawl, we always put the baby into a “starting position” on their back. This is where babies feel safest and most confident.
Newborns can be placed on their back in their crib or in a playpen. For babies who are turning to their side or more, create a clean, firm and safe space on the floor where you can lay them down — on the floor itself (which gives great traction) or on a blanket, rug or lambskin.
Always supporting their neck and head, lay baby down slowly with their bottom touching the ground first, then gently letting the back and eventually the head rest on the ground.
If they are able to move, they will easily get into their favorite position on their own from this starting point.
Why we do it:
On their backs, babies can see and hear better, breathe with more ease, don’t feel constrained or tense, and are in the place of the most stability and opportunity. They can also see YOU, their carer.
Even for babies who can roll over or sit, laying on the back is a starting or resting position, so it allows the baby to decide when and how they want to move next, a way we show respect for what they can already do.
On their back moving freely, you are giving your baby the chance to independently exercise their primitive reflexes, which may appear abrupt or jerky, but help baby make the adjustment from womb to world. These reflexes are the body’s way of keeping the baby safe and building up the body that they will eventually control.
Allows baby to build up the complex web of large and small muscles, bones, ligaments and fascia throughout the body that will enable later gross motor skills that are both efficient and graceful. Gross motor milestones — like crawling, sitting up, or walking — are achieved by the development of a many, many smaller movements — what we sometimes call “micro-milestones.” Nature has given your baby a perfect plan for movement development that we can trust will allow your baby to move with strength, efficiency and grace.
As the baby’s gross motor skills develop, the myelination of the nervous system is allowed to develop in it’s natural pattern.
We give the infant plenty of opportunity for free movement and uninterrupted play. Instead of trying to teach babies how to move, we appreciate and admire how babies are moving on their own at this point in time, knowing that the movements they self-initiate keep them safe and on track.
There is some research suggesting that when these reflexes are “retained” because the baby has not been allowed to move freely, it can lead to things like hypersensitivity, picky eating, poor muscle tone, or poor manual dexterity.
On their back, a baby can more easily see YOU, their parent or carer, so you can make face to face connections — a building block of their early emotional health. They can also discover their hands and begin to observe the world around them.
Ties to Principles:
Respect is the basis of the Educaring® Approach.
Basic trust in the infant to be an initiator, an explorer, and self-learner.
Freedom to explore and interact with other infants.
“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:
Let the baby know that you are there and you care.
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.
We can begin with simply talking, quietly to the baby.
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
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.
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
Observe, notice, consider before reflexively feeding, changing, or picking up.
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.
“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
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.
“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)
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.
“Passive toys make for active infants and active toys make passive infants.” — Madga Gerber
How to Do It:
What kinds of toys for babies should we choose?
Open-ended: they allow the infant to decide how to use them. Toys that are replicas of items limit the ways children use them. Choosing items that are versatile allows infants to create for themselves. They use their own ingenuity in using the materials, which can support these new ideas.
Safe: cleanable, too large to swallow or lodge in the nose or ear, breathable if they can cover the nose and mouth.
Passive: they allow the infant to act upon them rather than do for the infant.
Some ideas of simple objects:
Sturdy cotton or linen fabric square
Plastic containers of all sorts with lids
Metal juice can lids
Metal canning rings
Balls in a variety of shapes and sizes
Why we do it:
Increases attention span
Supports open-ended play
Supports creative thinking
Supports independent play
Supports executive function development
When choosing play objects embody the mantra “less is more.” The less the object does the more the infant and toddler can do. The less the toy specifies how it is to be used the more ingenuity the infant is allowed to bring to the time spent with the object.
Limiting the number of play objects is also important. Choosing too many reduces a child’s ability to focus on any one item for long periods of time. An abundance of objects means the child spends more time deciding what to play with and less time exploring the object in its many facets, capabilities and uses.
Simple objects, especially for toddlers, may come from the kitchen or recycling. You need not spend a lot of money on toys for your baby to stimulate learning. Simple objects build your baby’s capacity for creativity and attention.
Ties to Principles:
Basic trust in the child to be an initiator, an explorer and self learner.
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.
“Quality time is what everyone really wants: a gift of time and attention.” — Magda Gerber
How to do it:
Carve out time when you can be fully present with your child. Your infant, toddler, or child will appreciate your ability to be fully present with them even if it’s just for 10 minutes. This is the true definition of quality time. This is much better than being half present for a longer period.
Set aside your devices. They take your attention away from baby.
Seat yourself on the floor near your child in a space where they can safely explore. If you can’t sit on the floor, just get as low to the ground as they are so they can really feel your presence. Get comfortable. Have a good view of what they are doing.
Let go of any agendas for how you think your baby and you should spend this time. This is why we call this “wants nothing” time — because we don’t want anything from our baby. There is no expectation, no task to complete, etc.
If this is new for you, and you feel like it, you can say something like, “I just like being with you. I’m going to be sitting here enjoying watching you play.”
Let your child lead the interaction. How do they decide to use this time? Do they want to play? Do they want to sit on your lap? What’s important is that they choose how to use this time.
Observe them. What can you learn about them from what they are doing or the choices they make?
Think about how good it feels when someone you love gives you their full attention and appreciates you for who you are.
Participate when they show you they want you to get involved or ask you to. But still follow their lead.
Enjoy being fully present with your child.
When you are out of time, you can tell them in a straightforward way that it’s now time to do whatever comes next.
Try to schedule a time like this with your child on a regular basis.
Why we do it:
We learn so much about our children during these quiet moments of observation.
We all want to be seen and understood.
Children feel deeply connected to us after moments of full attention making it easier for them to be separated when you can’t be together.
It helps you understand how your child is developing.
I recently took my son to a birthday party for a young friend of ours. As usual each child was accompanied by their parent(s). When it was time, the children were served and encouraged to eat some lunch, and then the adults served themselves. The children finished quickly, and resumed playing with each other. I noticed my friends (who are very attentive to their child), were eating lunch and visiting with other adults. They really seemed to be enjoying themselves. Half way through the meal, their 3 1/2 year old approached the mother and asked her to go with him and play the game with the other children. Looking down at her plate, she tapped her fork on her salad, put it down, got up and left the table to accompany the child to the play area.
I stopped, started to say something, and realized she was gone. I was surprised at her reaction, and I realized how much RIE had really changed my life. Perhaps if I hadn’t heard and been encouraged so often by Magda to also take care of myself, I might have jumped up to please my child too. Instead I could hear myself saying, I’m eating right now, and you’ll have to wait until I am finished.”
When I work in a therapeutic setting with families, I come in contact with parents who have”sacrificed” a great deal for their child(ren). They sacrifice time, money, sometimes their relationship(s) for the sake of the child. So often I hear about how their child doesn’t “appreciate” all they have done for him/her. When I hear this a red flag goes up and I immediately explore with the parents what they are doing for themselves. Usually they have neglected themselves so much that their lives revolve around the children, and there is little left for themselves as a couple or an individual. Often they feel resentful and angry and it hinders the relationship with their child(ten). They are always waiting for the child to say “thank you”, and truly “appreciate” all they have done.
The first time I took my son to RIE, I was struck by the encouragement we got as parents to make sure we got our needs met. Magda would encourage us to respect ourselves, as we respected our child. Learning this has been difficult at times, since all around us our experience is that we “should” sacrifice for our child(ren)! But when we sacrifice what is the price? For the parent they may begin to feel unappreciated, resentful and overwhelmed. For the child they may never learn to respect their parent as a human being with needs; they may feel that they have to do everything for their parent(s) since the parent “gave them so much”, or they may feel such power in the family that they are overwhelmed with all the responsibility.
What RIE has helped me to do is “internalize” that my basic needs are important too. It’s OK to finish eating, it’s OK to take my shoes off, change my clothes, and go to the bathroom, before I change that diaper. The payoff for me is that I feel nurtured, and I can then give back to my child without resentment, or anger. My child learns to respect my needs and others, while learning to respect himself. No one has to be martyred and everyone wins.
Educaring® Volume X / Number 4 / Fall 1989/A Pocketful Of RIE®
Setting Toddler Limits & Parent Permissiveness between First and Second Child
Today I had the rare chance to spend the day alone with Naomi. The day flowed slowly at her almost two-year-old rhythm. She took an hour bath, with plenty of time to overcome her reluctance at each rinse; I watched as she sorted and resorted all her clothes, then tried to put her feet into her shirt sleeves. Together we walked up and down the main street in town, pausing long to watch the birds in the store window, and returning ritualistically to see them on the way home. She was the leader, I the follower. Yet I was able to say, “no, I don’t want to read anymore” when I’d read my quota at the bookstore, and Naomi scooted off the bench and climbed onto the rocking horse; and when we reached the car I was able to say “I want to go right now. You can climb up on the car seat or I can pick you up,” knowing that Naomi knew I meant what I said and that she would shortly comply in her way.
With my first child I was not able to shift rhythms, to move so easily from the child’s point of view to the adult’s. Like Alice in Wonderland, I tumbled into his world unprepared and tried to follow his lead. When I was with him I gave in totally to being with him, trying to facilitate what he wanted, as if I were a nurturing environment for him rather than a parent and person in my own right. Eating breakfast, getting dressed and ready to go in the morning could take hours—and did, regularly. When his “needs were met” (the words I so often used) I dressed quickly, furtively, leading one friend to say that I looked as though I didn’t take good care of myself—and I didn’t. I was there only for him, nurturing him at my own expense.
Yet there were also rewards for me in this style of mothering. I was a sensitive and patient observer and enjoyed entering into my child’s world. There was excitement for me in the fine tuning of waiting for him to make a choice, of finding a way in which a limit could be acceptable to him, usually after much patient waiting and many alternatives. My difficulties began when my son began to want to test his strength as a separate person in the months before his second birthday and I was not a strong enough parent for him to test himself against. Instead of listening to what he wanted, being clear about what were acceptable alternatives and staying good humoredly firm with some compromises now and then , I would bend myself out of shape trying to please him, to “make things ok for him.” He, of course, could not tolerate that amount of power, and the more I gave in the more outrageous his demands became. I became the adult kneeling at the feet of a tyrannical toddler. That phase of our mutual dependence ended not in a gentle letting-go, but in an explosion. We are still painfully relearning how to be together simply, how to take turns leading and following. Relearning is hard.
Fortunately I have grown since my first child, and understand better what I learned in my internship with Magda Gerber. I have learned the hard way that the empathy that came so easily to me needed to be balanced by a clear, firm adult presence. Quality time emphasizes proceeding at the child’s rhythm without giving in to all of the child’s wants. With my second child I am unambivalently clear that I am the parent, and, while I give her quality time and try to respect her wishes, ultimately, I am in charge. I experience a sense of ease, relaxation and freedom in this relationship that I did not experience trying to be just a facilitator to my son. While I am still mostly “Mama” to my daughter, I sense that she is growing up respecting me as a person, too.
I entered parenthood eagerly, after years of teaching young children. How could I have gone so far wrong in knowing what it means to be a parent? In looking back, I sense that I identified with the child in me more than with the parent. That identification led me to interpret “letting children grow at their own speed” or “letting them move on to new experiences (e.g.,weaning, separation, toilet training) when they’re ready” to mean that any adult intervention was probably harmful and that I should follow my child’s lead whenever possible, because he instinctively knew what was best. While identifying with a child is perfectly acceptable and recommended, merging totally or over-identification is not.
However, children need more than unqualified acceptance. They need more than their own reality reflected back to them. They need parents who appreciate children’s experience yet are not children, but adults, with adult needs and an adult point of view. We have all come to appreciate people who were important to us, but who were detached enough from us to facilitate our growth in a direction that we were unable to perceive. A mother who has decided to wean her child can, without making the mistake of setting her child on a rigid timetable, provide a cup, nurse her child at regular times, gradually eliminate nursings, and then, at what she feels is the appropriate time, say “We’re going to stop nursing now.” If she can initiate this kind of gradual, responsive weaning, she and her child will probably have less disappointment to cope with than if she, in effect, says, ‘You tell me when it’s time to stop nursing and how to stop.” Instead of assuming that in order to enter the child’s world we must remember that in the child’s world there is a place for us as adults—patient, impatient; sensitive, grouchy; often in charge.
As parents we can best enter the child’s world in observation and special moments where we can glimpse the child’s reality and appreciate it, but not attempt to stay. I feel some poignancy in realizing this, for I have experienced a deep tenderness in holding and rocking a child to sleep and remembering that trust and surrender, and I have felt an aching beauty in seeing the world through my child’s eyes. Yet I cannot give in to this over-identification, for to do so makes me a child again, and to be the most effective parent to my children I cannot be a child. I am sometimes sad that my children will never know me as the child that I was, that I cannot go down Alice’s rabbit hole again. I can, however, take special pleasure in following Naomi, for I know that I do so as part of a larger dance in which I also lead.
By Diana Rothman
Diana was a RIE Associate and an Instructor in the Family Life Program at Cabrillo College in Santa Cruz, CA. At the time of the article, Diana was the mother of Does, age 5, and Naomi, age 2.
Educaring® Volume II / Number 2 / Spring 1981
Recently a friend and I took our children to a local park. After some time together she turned to me and said, “You know, what I really like about your kids is how secure they are. They are so centered, so capable of dealing with things as they happen. They relate to adults from such a grounded position.” Pleased, of course, with her comments, I immediately reviewed for myself how my children came to be this way. My first response was, “That’s exactly the kind of people I want them to be!” It is easy to understand how someone could perceive Erin’s sense of herself at three-and-a-half because she has so many more ways of interacting with others, verbally and non-verbally, but it delighted me that my friend could see it also in Benjamin who is just thirteen months. This exchange reinforced for me the soundness of the RIE philosophy.
In an infant’s first twelve months, we focus on the building of trust/security and work towards autonomy as one of our goals. For infants, trust is developed through the way we handle them, how we speak to them, our ability to pick up the infants’ cues and communicate our own, offering choices whenever possible, and providing a stable environment, including predictable routines.
Consistency is a key principle in all of these areas. A consistent primary carer is one who spends more time with the infant than anyone else and who not only meets the infant’s demanding, constant physical needs but who has the interest, ability and time to observe everything about the infant with the intention of getting to know him or her. It is only in this manner, and not so much through the reading of child development manuals, that a parent or carer can really become an expert on a particular infant. In most cases the mother is the primary carer in the early months, but the father, sibling, friend or other relative can also become an expert by spending as much time observing and interacting with the infant as possible. One caution here is that the quality of time spent is as important as the quantity. A parent who spends time in focused activity and observation several times a day will reap greater results than one who is around all the time but who is usually preoccupied with housework, personal projects, or the telephone. In addition, it is important to allow an infant to spend some time alone in order to become acquainted with the sounds, smells, and visions of nature, home, and family and develop a way of relating at his or her own pace and style. Awake or asleep, infants can be left in a crib or a larger fenced-in area indoors or out for quite some time before they need a change in activity. Safety, of course, from well-intentioned but curious siblings, family pets or other potential dangers must be considered.
Respect is the second key principle in the development of trust/security. Before the infant appears on the scene, he or she is a real person, with particular individual needs and ways of expressing them. From the infant’s birth it is our job to recognize these needs, weigh them with our own, and respond to them in a respectable manner. While we feel it is essential to talk directly to infants and young children in every stage of development, many people find this difficult to do in actual practice. Many parents become impatient and can’t wait for an infant’s response, be it to their own greeting, the introduction of a new toy, or the rhythm and sequence of the child’s large motor development. All too often I cringe as parents give their children directives such as, “Wave goodbye. (forcing the child’s hand to wave).” or “Say thank you, Mary.” From experience I can say that if we trust our children and ourselves and provide good models for them they will eventually blossom and learn social graces on their own. I see no reason to treat them as puppets, and prefer to await their authentic actions and responses.
Put-downs, a form of disrespect which I have recently learned is a common occurrence in elementary school classrooms, occur in the youngest children’s lives as well. Sometimes they are direct such as, “What do you need again? You’re always so whiny?”, or indirect, such as a parent who, in the presence of the child, talks about them in the third person as if they weren’t even there. As parents, we all have a right to get frustrated at times, but we can try to do so without offending our children or betraying their sense of trust/security. Recently one frustrated mother, desperate for advice, spoke for about five minutes about her toddler’s behavior of the past week. When she was done I asked if she realized that the whole time she was talking, her child, who was present, was listening and probably understanding most of what was being said about her. The mother, surprised and somewhat embarrassed, began to step back and look at her daughter in a new light as someone who could participate in our conversation and whose feelings needed to be considered and respected. In parent/toddler classes we often hear parents comparing their children with comments such as, “Your baby walked at nine months? I wish mine would start walking. He’s so slow.” When we insist on doing things for children who are capable of helping themselves or doing things to them which they are not prepared to anticipate, such as picking them up from behind with no forewarning, we are giving non-verbal messages that we do not trust them or respect their own abilities and feelings.
Respecting infants includes trusting them to solve their own problems whenever possible, intervening selectively, and providing a predictable environment. Infants who are treated in a respectful and consistent manner ultimately enjoy their autonomy, are challenged by problems, come to trust adults and develop a secure sense of self which will remain with them through adulthood.
Educaring® Volume III / Number 2 / Spring 1982 / A Pocketful of RIE
From parents who have taken your Parent-Infant Guidance classes, I heard that you indeed respect the babies’ choices—that they are allowed, even encouraged, to do what they want to do. My question is: isn’t this too permissive? How will these infants ever learn discipline?
It seems to me that you have learned about one aspect of the RIE philosophy, without having been made aware of the whole picture. At RIE, we certainly believe in the benefits of discipline, for both parents and infants. The word discipline has different meanings, both according to the dictionary and in people’s minds. Parents often think of it as punishment, corporal or otherwise, or as a system of punishments and rewards. I see discipline as being a social contract, in which family (or community) members agree to accept and obey a particular set of rules. We need discipline just as we need traffic signs, and we have a mutual expectation that these red, yellow, and green lights will be observed in the same way by all members. Living within a system of generally accepted rules makes life easier for all of us. While rules vary among cultures and among families, I think most people would agree that a mutually acceptable system of rules is necessary for co-existence. This system can be determined within each family by clarifying the needs of its members and then developing a set of rules or guidelines which accommodates those needs as much as possible. After deciding on the rules, a parent must then introduce them to the child and reinforce them. The question is how? My guidelines for the ‘how’ are as follows:
1) Establish a few, simple, reasonable rules and make sure they are age-appropriate;
2) Expect these rules to be obeyed;
3) Be consistent but not rigid;
4) Give the child choices within a secure framework;
5) Remember that even children (especially children) need to be able to save face and avoid power struggles.
Let me talk about each one of these guidelines. First of all, remember that discipline is not a set of rigidly enforced mandates, but a process in which the child learns to become a social being. Social learning, like any other form of learning, is dependent upon the child’s capacities. Don’t expect things of a child that are against the very nature of her current developmental stage. To expect a newborn not to cry, a very young baby not to put things in her mouth, or a toddler not to say no is unreasonable. Also, timing is an important factor. One can’t expect cooperation from a sleepy or hungry baby.
“Knowing when to give infants freedom and when to introduce limits is most important and is the backbone of the RIE approach.”
The second guideline concerns expectations as well. In my practice I have seen that a child’s response to parental demands depends very much upon the parents’ own deep-down expectations. The way a demand is expressed triggers the child to do something or not to do it. If the parent doesn’t really believe in the validity of a particular rule, or is afraid that the child will not obey, chances are the child won’t.
The third guideline calls for consistency. Predictability is habit-forming, and the formulation of habits makes it much easier to live with rules. There are some things we don’t need or want to re-examine every time we do them, such as brushing our teeth. It’s much more convenient for us if actions like these become second nature. Because very young children do not understand the reasons behind the rules they are expected to follow, it is better if these rules become simply a matter of course. For example, it is much easier to get a baby to go to sleep when the same schedule and routine precedes each night’s bedtime. This should continue until the childherself indicates the need for some sort of change. In addition, we all know how difficult it is to change habits once we have them. For this reason alone we should try to establish good habits from the very beginning. This is why I tell parents to start establishing patterns and routines right from the child’s birth. Through regularity of routines, babies eventually learn to anticipate that which is expected of them. This is the beginning of discipline.
The fourth guideline refers to choice within boundaries. Boundaries which are predictably and consistently reinforced provide security. In order to really develop inner discipline, children must be given the freedom to make choices. Knowing when to give infants freedom and when to introduce limits is most important and is the backbone of the RIE approach. We need to remember that limits function as traffic signals, keeping things flowing smoothly between family members. Within this framework are those things a child isexpected to do (non-negotiable areas), what she is allowed to do (negotiable areas), what is tolerated (“I don’t really like that, but I can understand why you need to do it.”), and what is forbidden.
These are the parameters of discipline. Within these parameters are what 1 perceives as being inviolable areas of choice. Babies have an inborn capacity to make healthful choices about how they want to move and learn. They should be provided with safe, appropriately-sized rooms in which they can move and explore freely. Their use of objects and play materials should not be restricted, governed, or overly interfered with. Babies must have freedom of choice in the area of gross motor development and manipulation.
One can further enhance the child’s sense of himself as a decision-maker by allowing enough time to elapse after requesting something, so that the child can decide on his own whether or not to cooperate. This leads to the fifth guideline. If a child spends hours playing uninterruptedly, he will be much more willing to cooperate with the demands of his parent. If he doesn’t have to fight for autonomy, he can comfortably relinquish it once in a while. And we must understand that children need to be able to save face when they have not obeyed a rule. Children fight an inner struggle. One part of them wants to please, yet they also have to resist in order to test the limits of their power.
“if the parent doesn’t really believe in the validity of a particular rule, or is afraid that the child will not obey, chances are the child won’t.”
In a way, each one of us carries around that eternal two-year-old, who shouts “no” as he is offered an ice-cream cone, even while reaching for it. None of us really likes to be told what to do, even when it is good for us.
In our Parent-Infant Guidance classes we like to model how we teach and reinforce rules. We have a snack for the older babies at a special table around which the demonstrator and the babies sit. Children may choose between items to eat or drink, and may choose not to have a snack, but they may not take food, juice, or bottles away from the table. It is an incredible learning experience for all of us to see how even the youngest infants learn the rule and decide whether or not to obey it. After many repetitions of the rule they get the message and then have to test it over and over again. We’ve often seen a baby or toddler steal away from the table and then turn back to make sure that the demonstrator sees her, as though she were checking to see whether the rule would be enforced. This shows that the child understands that a rule exists.
It is natural for children to carry food away from the table. They can see no real reason not to. When a child ignores the rule, the demonstrator tries to show that she fully understands the child’s desire to do what he wants, and that he is not naughty or bad for having that desire. Therefore, she does not get angry with the child, but calmly and unemotionally repeats the rule.
Of course, we understand parents who get irritated after their toddlers play with the television set after being told “no” several times. But it becomes easier to handle once one realizes that the child’s behavior stems from a natural inclination and not from a desire to drive the parent crazy.
So, as you can see, dear parent, the RIE approach to discipline is not permissive, but understanding. Children, like adults, need rules and guidelines. I conceptualize discipline as being a system based on and facilitative of mutual respect among family members. We could easily exchange the word ‘discipline’ for the word ‘educaring’—they are both a combination of learning and nurturance. The goal is inner or self-discipline, self confidence, and joy in the act of cooperation.
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
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.
DEAR MAGDA / DEAR PARENT – Sharing
Educaring® Volume 4, Number 4, Fall 1983
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?
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 ofLoving 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.
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?
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 optimaldistance 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!