RIE Moment: My Body Did It

Toddler walking with hands in the air holding onto plastic cylinders in a RIE® Parent-Infant Guidance Class™ with Pikler® Triangle and people and toys in the background.

When my daughter was two we had a small group of children who would occasionally come play at our house.  Many of these children were a bit older than her and their favorite thing to do was climb up on top of our little playhouse.  Kylie would watch them and desperately wanted to get up there with them.  She would try to climb but finding it too much of a challenge she would call to me for help.  I would come over and say, “I see you want to climb on the house.  It would be fun to be up there.  When your body is ready you will be able to climb there.”  She was often frustrated that I wouldn’t place her up there, but I stayed with it.  All summer she watched the children climb to the top of the little house, and she continued to try to scramble up there herself.  Many days it would be just the two of us in the yard and she would spend a great deal of time working on it.  One day I was in the garden and I saw that she was getting close. 

She swung her leg over the edge and she was up.  She scrambled to her feet on top of the house. She threw her arms in the air and, not to me or to anyone else, shouted, “My Body Did It!” It was clear that she felt the joy of her own success.  She had confidence in her body and her ability to persist, persevere and problem solve.  If I had set her on top of that little house, she would not have had any of that. 

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

— Melanie S.

Toddler girl using a play stethoscope to check on her stuffed animal

“My 6-month-old always cried at vaccinations. This time, I explained to her what would happen before and then at the clinic, and lo and behold, she just looked at the nurse and did not cry! I was amazed!” 

Principle: Involvement of the child all care activities to allow them to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient

White toddler smiling at the camera while peeking out on top of park play structure.

We practiced the RIE principles from birth. My daughter was always free to explore and was trusted in her self-initiated movement. When she was about 15 months old, we were at a playground with a tall structure. She climbed the stairs to the structure and I stayed on the ground. She came to an open section with a drop off. I told her there was an edge and a drop off. She came to the side peering over. Then she held onto a bar dipping her one foot over the edge bending her knee to test the depth of the drop. She did this over and over until she seemed satisfied with the fact that the drop off was deeper than she could reach with her foot. She never once came close to falling. She knew where the edge was and trusted herself.

Principle: Freedom to explore

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

— Kelly S.

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

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

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

— Christine H.

Two felt balls on white sheet. One ball is white and light blue and the other is white and red used during RIE® Parent Infant Guidance™ Classes

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. 

Principle: Trust in the Infant’s Competence

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

— Jennifer

Mother smiles at baby

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

Principle: Involvement of the child in all care activities

— Jennifer

Not too long after I took RIE Foundations, I was confiding in a friend about some troubles in my life…lots of stress, job not going well, struggling with my partner relationship. This very wise friend – who I had previously spent hours ranting to about RIE – asked what I thought would happen if I tried treating myself the way I treated the babies in my care: respecting my own needs and feelings as valid, being compassionate, strategizing without judgment. WOW. My whole life turned on a dime. It was a huge epiphany for me to realize that these ideas really are for everyone, not just babies!