Ten Steps to the RIE Philosophy


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