RIE Moment: On the Edge

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

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

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!

RIE Associate Kristy Thomas

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. As the baby’s gross motor skills develop, the myelination of the nervous system is allowed to develop in it’s natural pattern.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.

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


Gerber, M. (2002) Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect (pp. 181)

Gerber, M. (1998) Your Self Confident Baby (pp.23)

Schott, J.M. and Rossner, M.N. (2003). The Grasp and Other Primitive Reflexes. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry (74:558–560) Retrieved from 


Baby lying on their back with arms reaching upward with text surrounding the image explaining benefits of placing an infant on their back.

What to do when your baby cries?

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

— Magda Gerber, Your Self Confident Baby

How to do it:

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

Why we do it:

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

Ties to Principles:

What parents and carers say:

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

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


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

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

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

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

What is another kind of quality time with your baby?

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

Adapted from Dear Parent by Magda Gerber and the RIE Manual

How to do it:

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

Why we do it:

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

Ties to Principles:

What parents and carers say:



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

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

What is quality time with your baby?

“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.
  • It builds a deep sense of connection.

Ties to Principles:

What parents and carers say:

“Let your baby bask in the golden glow of your attention.” Lee Fernandez, RIE Associate 

Adapted from Dear Parent by Magda Gerber and the RIE Manual


Gerber, M. (2002) Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect (pp. 75-76)

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

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

Dear Magda,

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

Tired Parent

Dear Parent,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wishing you peaceful nights and joyful days in 1984.


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

EDUCARING® Volume V, Number 1, Winter 1984

Dear Magda,

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

– Playgroup Parents

Dear Parents,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Educaring® Volume 4, Number 4, Fall 1983

Dear Magda,

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

Dear Parent,

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

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

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

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

Biting_Dear Magda/Dear Parent 

Educaring® Volume II / Number 2 / Spring 1981