The Soundness of the RIE Philosophy

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


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