Decades of research illustrate the essential traits of quality care in the foundational years. The RIE approach aligns with this research. Our approaches to play, caregiving, conflict resolution, and natural gross motor development are rooted in the work of pioneers in development while continuing to incorporate cutting-edge neuroscience and attachment research by today’s leading thinkers.
A Broken Arm… or Impromptu Aerial Gymnastics?
Not a scratch on him?
Since the little boy I nanny for was born, his parents and I always gave him complete freedom of movement, inspired by Magda Gerber and Emmi Pikler. We never propped him in a sitting position, put him on playground structures, or pushed him to walk by having him dangle from our hands. As he grew, he was appropriately cautious in risky situations, but also very comfortable in his body and developing new skills. He fell a lot, but was never severely injured. When he was a toddler, he ran off a concrete ledge without looking where he was going and tumbled head-first off the edge to the ground over 4 feet below. I’ve cared for non-RIE children who broke their arms or collarbones in similar falls from playground equipment, but instead he tumbled in a perfect somersault worthy of the Olympics. He was shaken but didn’t have a scratch on him. This was just one of several near-misses that were saved by knowing to keep his body loose and to roll as he fell. I really believe RIE helped him to be safer with his body.
Balancing the Needs of Adults & Babies
You may remember that my daughter Rachel (who is now four years old) was eight months old when we started RIE® Parent-Infant Guidance classes. Well, here I am back again with my 8-month-old son Tobias. Both in the classes four years ago and this class I've heard you say many times "try to switch to the infant's point of view." I didn't understand you then, and I still don't. Would you please explain what you mean by switching points of view?
Old-time RIE Parent
After having taken your classes with Ryan, I became a RIE student and am now the Demonstrator of the RIE Parent-Infant Guidance class, and soon will be ready to teach RIE to mothers myself. I thought I had learned it all, but now feel confused.
I still remember how often you said years ago that the breast or bottle should be given when a baby is hungry, not every time the baby cries. Yet I see nursing mothers use the breast every time the baby winces—sometimes five, six times during our two-hour class—and you say nothing! Why?
A RIE Parent/Demonstrator
I chose both your letters to answer because many RIE II students as well as repeating mothers bring up similar issues. I will call it orthodoxy vs. individual considerations. As time goes by I tend to bend toward individual considerations. That means to apply to adults the same principles I have developed for babies. I make information available and the parent will use it when ready for it. No matter how healthy my "food" is, I do not believe in force feeding.
I think of mothers of newborn babies as tender and vulnerable. Never before did you have to cope with so little sleep, constant tiredness, the burden of always being on duty, and an array of nagging doubts about your parenting competencies. You cannot rehearse for those first months. So much is new—the baby, the situation, the reaction of the father and most of all your own feelings.
Sleeplessness and crying are the most difficult issues to contend with. (See my article on crying in the RIE manual, page 100.) The fastest, easiest and most pleasant way to stop the crying is to give the breast. The baby almost always accepts it, calms down and often falls asleep. It gives a mother a good feeling, physically, and reassures her of her ability to know what the baby needs and that she is able to provide it. It would be cruel and ineffective to take that away from her, or even to point out how often she offers the breast as an automatic reaction, rather than trying to find out why the baby is crying.
Slowly, as a mother feels more secure, a process of mutual adaptation develops. By that time parents are more open and ready for advice. That is when I offer other ways of responding to the baby. Ways I know will make life easier in the future. There is no right way.
And, even if there was one perfect "how to" for everyone, I must consider your personality characteristics, those of your husband, your family's living conditions, how much help you can get. In other words, what can you hear? What are you ready for, and when?
That requires compromise. I do present my knowledge and experiences hoping that eventually you will try to implement some of it, and keep trying even if the new approach does not bring miraculous results right away (although sometimes it does).
I believe that by coming to the classes you learn to observe and to "see" your baby, and eventually other babies, other mothers, and other options. I hope you will learn an attitude which can help you as a mother and a person, now and in the future.
The crux of the attitude is learning to switch to the infant's point of view. Once you can understand that and learn to switch, you develop techniques and gain insight used by most therapists.
This understanding is a golden key to living together with others. What makes this approach difficult with children is that you are the only one who does the switching. You must be able to see and understand both your child's and your own "points of view."
This is the role of the parent. Very young children cannot yet do it, and some children will never learn to see a situation through their parents' eyes.
I’ll give you an example. After spending many hours peacefully with your 8-month-old Tobias, you would like to visit with your friend on the phone. Tobias, who had looked peacefully absorbed, stops playing and starts screaming. You feel it is unfair. Have you not just spent leisure "quality time" with him?
Now, try to switch to Tobias' point of view. He does not have the capacity to think "My mommy gave me so much attention for so long, she now needs time for herself." All he feels is "I want her, and she is not here."
Would it be good then for you to stop doing anything for yourself and only consider what Tobias wants? Many "good" mothers try to do just that until their resentment of their babies becomes so strong that it scares them.
Resentment does not help any relationship, least of all a parent-child connection. If you switch back to your own point of view, you can tell Tobias, "I know you would like me around you all the time," (acknowledging his point of view), "But I want to talk on the phone now", (validating your own feelings). "I'll be back with you in twenty minutes" (giving hope).
Of course, Tobias will still want you to do nothing else but be available to him. Remind yourself nobody can or even should have everything they want whenever they want it. So, do not feel sorry for him. Nor does it help to get angry with him. Learning to wait, to not have your own will is a task, part of the curriculum of early childhood. The more mature capability of switching points of view is the task of parents. In the process parents learn to sensitively assess both their babies' needs and their own needs and how to balance them.
My best wishes to you in this switching/balancing exercise.
Dear Magda/Dear Parent - Balancing The Needs Of Adults & Babies
Educaring® Volume VIII / Number 1 / Winter 1987
Begin as You Wish to Proceed
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”
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.
Originally appeared in the FORM newsletter
Caring for Yourself
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®
Cultivating Trust: Paving the Way Toward Partnership With Parents
When I meet new parents and their babies for the very first time, I’m transported back to when my husband and I stood right outside the very same infant door . . .
As I cradled Phoenix in my arms, he gazed innocently up at me, and then over to his father, who was juggling the jumbo pack of diapers and wipes. Phoenix’s joyful expression left me with a deep feeling of anxiety.
Little did he know that Mom and Dad were about to make a quick getaway.
Having worked at the center already for three years, we were not only familiar, but friends with Ms. Sadaria, his primary caregiver. Still, we were taken a bit by surprise when, on Day 1, she announced all too soon that it was perhaps time to say our goodbyes and head to work; we could come back in four hours—most of which we spent pretty much in tears. Anxiety and guilt swept us: Would Phoenix feel abandoned? Did he like Ms. Sadaria as much as we did? How would he adjust to the noise and bustle of child care after his quiet home life? Would he get lost in the shuffle? It didn’t help that we were sequestered in the office (did I mention we worked there?) and able to hear his cries of complaint. Now, nine years later, when I meet new parents on their very first day, I’m prepared to offer a shoulder to cry on, empathy for their experience, and words of support. Recently, however, we have found that this has become less and less necessary—leaving one to ponder, what has changed over the last nine years?
Either parents are more eager to get back to work (unlikely) or they are confident that having their infant enrolled at Little Learners Lodge (LLL) is a very nice or great start in life. Since we pride ourselves on our ability to establish trust with both parents and infants, we’ll conclude the latter. So, why the jump in confidence? Let’s back up a little here, to understand why trust is at the core of everything we do . . . When Magda Gerber began working with infants and families in the United States, she developed an approach she called Educaring, the philosophical foundation for her organization, Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE).
Magda worked with families to help parents better understand the developmental skills, needs, and unique interests of their babies and helped parents develop the awareness to respond appropriately. The American culture fascinated Magda, and she was surprised to find that with all the blessings found here, parents still struggled with how to support their infants in building trusting and secure relationships with adults.
When she visited our school, in the 1980s, she was further surprised to find that young babies were so often separated from their parents at such an early age. Magda insisted to school founder, Beverly Kovach, that infants belong with their families, and not in child care, until the age of two. A mental health practitioner by profession, Beverly agreed. Yet, as a working mother of two small children, Beverly also understood that future realities would make center-based care more of a norm than an exception. Beverly began to explore how to integrate the Educaring Approach with center-based care that balanced the needs of the infants, parents, caregivers, and school while establishing strong secondary relationships so that infant would thrive while away from their families.
Today, LLL serves as a program in RIE mentorship and, as such, adheres to RIE’s guidelines on things like teacher training and mentorship, group size, physical care routines, environmental preparation, and meeting the social-emotional/physical needs, abilities, and interests of the child responsibly and with respect. The road to certification is long and well worth the effort. And, as we’ve learned along the way, establishing the culture of trust with parents is key, a precursor to our establishing relationships based on care and trust with their babies.
The first step in meeting parents must be taken with great care—for if relationships matter, they are to be cultivated at the onset. LLL operates under one key premise: parents love their babies and want the very best start in life for them. It is our job, then, as infant practitioners, to listen, communicate, and help parents meet the individual needs of their babies when they are under our care. In that caring, we further develop the relationship established with the parent, and now the child, so that a mutual bond of trust and love is cemented. “Go slow. And then go slower.”
Magda would remind us of this tenet when we were working with babies. Well, the same holds true with their parents. In fact, integrating the core principles of the Educaring Approach—respectful, reciprocal, and responsive caregiving throughout the enrollment process—has resulted in establishing a mutually trusting partnership with parents. It also enables us the opportunity to meet and establish a relationship with infants prior to that first school encounter. From our first contact with families to the first day they leave their child in our care is about a year-long process, which looks something like this:
First Contact: Expectant parents make that first inquiry to gather information about infant care programs. These inquiries are met as an opportunity for learning by our RIE-trained infant care specialists. A brief discussion regarding the center’s core values and daily experiences introduces new parents to the concept of RIE, and parents are referred to the school and RIE websites. In meeting both parents at the onset, we are able to dialogue about our core values, beliefs, and expectations around babies. Any differing opinions may even have an opportunity to be flushed out and addressed before baby gets caught up in the middle.
Open House: Each month, LLL offers an introductory presentation of RIE at the school, which serves as an Open House. Parents are able to visit the school facility, meet infant caregivers, and watch a presentation and video of the center’s implementation of RIE. This affords the adults additional time to examine our value system in an effort to make sure that the family and the caregivers are on the same page. Additionally, we are able to demonstrate caregiving routines that can help parents and caregivers to be more consistent with each other. When routines are more predictable for babies, they can feel refueled from the emotional connection with the adult, whether it is a family member or a primary caregiver. Both parents are invited to attend, and if the infant has been born, we often have an opportunity to meet the baby for the very first time.
Individual Tour: After attending an Open House, prospective families can now tour the facility. This hour-long individual time allows families and the RIE-trained administrator to talk about core values and begin to deepen the relationship established at first contact. Parents observe caregiving routines in action and are guided in sensitive observations while theory is put into practice. We are also able to gather important prenatal information from the parents if they are expecting, and, if the baby has arrived, get to know more about him or her personally. After this experience, families are given the opportunity to register their child in the program.
Registration: When they register, prospective families receive a copy of Your Self-Confident Baby (Gerber & Johnson, 2012) and RIE membership. Whether we have met the new baby yet or not, the family is considered a part of our school community. Periodically, we host Parent Education nights or social events, which we encourage registered families to attend. Often, caregivers are present during these events, which enable interaction in what will soon become a daily triad of partnership in care for the infant.
Communication: Each month, parents are contacted by phone by the Infant Supervisor. Unless families enroll in our Parent-Infant classes, this serves as our primary communication prior to the warming-in time, when we begin the process of acquainting the child with his or her caregiver and the environment.
Enrollment: Approximately three months prior to the baby’s first day, we set warming-in dates and assign the baby’s Primary Caregiver. Parents are invited to observe the environment again and are encouraged to take our Parent-Infant classes, which meet weekly, eight weeks prior to their baby’s start date. What an amazing opportunity for baby and caregiver to interact and get to know one another prior to that first day of school!
And then, two weeks before the baby’s first day, the family comes to LLL with their child for the very first time during daily operation. Slowly, we extend the amount of time we spend together with the baby from one hour to two, and then, perhaps, without Mom or Dad, and then for a half day, until finally, when baby is ready to start full-time, she has had an opportunity to establish a rapport with the person who will care for her primarily over the next two years while she is enrolled.
After our having taken those initial opportunities to develop a rapport and bridge between home and school life, the first day of child care is more apt to go something like:
“Good morning, nice to see you again.” Ms. Sadaria greets parents and their baby on the first day. “We have Suzanna’s personal items ready for her; you may recall where they are kept—in the cubby next to the diaper-changing area.” Suzanna’s parents place her on her back in the solarium and let her know they’ll be right back as they put her change of clothes away. She glances over at baby Noah, perhaps recognizing him from Parent-Infant Guidance classes, and then over to Ms. Sadaria, with whom she is now becoming familiar. When her parents return, they sit comfortably on the floor next to Suzanna and discuss the previous evening and morning. When it is time, Mom and Dad say their good-byes—both parents and child seem comfortable in the established routine. While there still may be tears and sadness over separation, both parents and caregiver are confident Suzanna’s needs will be met, having already spent so much time together. Ms. Sadaria will spend the next few weeks getting better acquainted with Suzanna’s cues.
By their first day, parent partnerships and respectful relationships are now well established and we’re already well on the way to developing new RIE advocates. And Suzanna, who will be with Ms. Sadaria for the next two years, is well on her way to becoming a self-confident baby.
Nicole Vigliotti is the Executive Director of Little Learners Lodge in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, where the infant and toddler rooms are RIE-Certified.
Published in Educaring, 31(1), Spring 2010.
Gerber, M., & Johnson, A. (2012). Your Self-confident Baby: How to Encourage YourChild’s Natural Abilities—From the Very Start. New York, NY: John Wiley &
Diamonds in the Vault: The Treasures We Gain From Taking Risks
The topic of this presentation is essentially “nurturing the nurturer.” How do we, as infant family service professionals, keep the work alive? Stay upbeat and avoid the dreaded burnout? I have been blessed with extraordinary teachers. Magda Gerber was a major influence. She truly believed in quality of life and understood the importance of sustainability in our work and lives, which I think is key to any discussion about nurturing the nurturer. I do not want to say to you, remember to breathe deeply . . . take walks . . . talk with friends . . . enjoy the arts . . . because you know this. So what do we do to nurture ourselves?
I think a large part of burnout has to do with continuing to work in systems that are broken, acting in ways that are not in accordance with our inner voices, and drudging through processes that have problems and waste time.
Sometimes we begin to sort of sleepwalk through the day without being truly awake to the child or family that we are supposed to be serving.
I believe that an effective way to keep the vital energy that propels us forward each day is to take a step, a leap of faith, a VAULT into space, where we challenge the status quo, try something new, or name the elephant in the room. I began to think about this presentation last August when Olympic star Shawn Johnson was vaulting her way to international prominence. I was struck by the courage and trust she must have to risk all and vault into the air like she does. I also wondered, imagined, the thrill, the reward, the rush she must get as she vaults.
Thus, the title to this presentation: “Diamonds in the Vault: The Treasures We Gain from Taking Risks.” It is funny that the word “vault” has such dramatically different definitions as a locked room full of treasures or a leap into space. What if a vault was not where you keep your diamonds, but instead, when you vault, you find diamonds? I do believe that a leap of faith can lead to treasures. This image of diamonds serves because they are not only pretty and shiny; they are incredibly strong and last forever.
One wise teacher, Jeree Pawl, a beloved infant mental health specialist, said to me once, “People learn well from what they are already doing” (J. Pawl, personal communication, November 2004).
I believe that everyone has vaulted in some way in their lives and gained subsequent diamonds—sparkling treasures to admire, to share, to gain* strength from. Reflect, now, on a time in your life when you made a change, small or large, where you made a difference, personal or professional. How did you know you had to make a change? To take a risk? Everyone is different, but each of us does have an inner barometer to help us know when we must make a change, and we all experience consequences when we don’t pay attention. I would like to share a couple of stories, which will hopefully illustrate this notion of risk taking as an essential form of self-preservation and personal development.
At the age of 15, I had a brief foray into the field of fast food. I worked at a fast food restaurant for three weeks. I was learning an important lesson, in those three weeks, that has stayed with me. People would come to the restaurant and order food, pay, get their orders, and leave without ever once noticing that there were live people behind the counter. They literally did not see a person. This was disturbing. I have always felt that the experience I had at 15 helped me to know that every person in service, everywhere, is a person first, with a family, experiences, interests, concerns. In that way I am grateful for my brief experience in the restaurant business.
Another key lesson I got from my first job was from my mother. I would come home from work greasy, queasy, and in low spirits. One day my mother said, “You know, if you really hate that job, you should quit. You can find work you really love. You do not have to hate your work.” I quit that day. (I did not know about the customary two weeks’ notice.) I vaulted. Of course, I was 15 and living at home, so the risk taking, though life-changing, was not life-threatening in any way. I am not advocating quitting your jobs. I am advocating listening to yourself and doing what you need to do. And only you can know what that is for you.
Carol Pinto, a friend and colleague who is a RIE Associate and Feldenkrais practitioner and a longtime associate of Magda Gerber, uses the following exercise in training to help participants tune in to the innate wisdom babies have about their own bodies. I think it fits for this context as well. “Just for a moment, freeze; don’t move. Now ask yourself, ‘Am I comfortable? If not, what do I need to do to become comfortable?’ Now please go ahead and make yourselves more comfortable as needed.” Now the last question of the exercise is this: “Could anyone else have known and told you, in that moment, what you needed to become comfortable?”
We need to remember to trust ourselves, and to listen to our inner barometers. Do you need to make a change, speak to someone, listen to someone? Vault?
I cast about for a couple of years seeking my bliss, and I found it in the sparkling eyes and chubby fingers of toddlers, in the open gaze and milky breath of infants. I started to work at the Child Educational Center in La Cañada, California, with one-year-olds. I was home, and I began to hear about this lady, Magda Gerber, and her philosophy of respectful care for infants and toddlers. Long story short, Magda became my most influential teacher. Magda was never afraid to name the elephant in the room. She relished intense discussions and would say to students in class, “Go ahead, disagree with me—I love it!” She would encourage dissent and then participate in lively debates. Magda used to say to infant/toddler caregivers, “If you are totally exhausted at the end of each day, you are doing something wrong.” People did not like hearing this from her and would fight her on it. But I always heard her saying, make life sustainable for you and the infants in a group care context, with parents and infants, or in the clinical context as well.
Are your expectations reasonable? Is your environment supporting you? What can you change to make life easier for you and the babies?
Can you imagine how exhausting it is to try so hard to get babies to do something like that every morning? Not only that, but we have learned that this sort of experience is not compatible with how infants learn. Another teacher, Maria Montessori (1912), said, “A still and silent child is not obedient, he is annihilated” (p. 86). Infants move, make noise, change their minds.
Magda taught me that infants learn in the context of secure relationships, from following lines of inquiry and being supported in discovery. A baby explores with constant inquiry. “What does this feel like? What if I bang it? What if I bang it again? What is this over here? Mmm. She is warm and smells good.” I doubt that infants are cognizant of risk taking as risk taking, but I think they are continuously engaged in risk taking as they press the world for more and more information.
Magda Gerber, who understood how infants learn about the world, would encourage people who work with infants and families to examine their own behavior and expectations and find a rhythm in daily life with children and families that is realistic. Magda Gerber also said, “What children get, they come to expect, and eventually need.” In terms of a daily interaction, do you want to have ten steps for a bedtime ritual or two or three? What kinds of routines can we live with and sustain each day, as family members and as professionals? We all know the difference, when our work gives us energy and we feel pumped up or when our work is wearing us down day by day. If that is the case for you right now, what do you need to do to change that?
I once observed a well-meaning teacher who was trying to have a circle time with babies. Has anyone ever tried to herd cats? Well, that is similar to trying to get a bunch of babies to all concentrate on the same thing at the same time, a topic the teacher picked the night before. In this infant circle time, one teacher had an actual old-school pointer and was showing babies pictures of animals on the wall while the assistant played cat shepherd, trying to get the babies to sit and watch the pointer. We may ask why?
I would like to share another example of a small and significant vault, which yielded a shiny diamond, which I observed at the Pikler Institute, a residential infant care facility in Budapest, Hungary. The Pikler Institute is named after its founder, pediatrician Emmi Pikler, who was also a mentor to Magda Gerber. The Institute is known for its extraordinarily sensitive care of infants who have been placed there by the Hungarian authorities due to some kind of trauma or loss. Usually, when you think of an orphanage in eastern, or in this case central, Europe, you do not imagine a tender, therapeutic setting; but the Pikler Institute has the answers to successful residential care, and they are a methodological institute providing training to residential care facilities all over the world. At the Institute, there is a strong emphasis on the relational aspect of the daily caregiving routines such as meals and bathing, which they call the pleasures of life. Children are recognized as active participants in every process that involves them. They have primary caregivers who develop close relationships with each child.
I visited the Pikler Institute in July of 1998 with a small group of colleagues. The first morning, Anna Tardos, who is the director of the Pikler Institute and Emmi Pikler’s daughter, told us the stories of the 40 children who were living at the Institute at that time. The stories were devastating. There were siblings who had been found locked in an apartment where their father had killed himself three days earlier; there was a baby recently brought from a Romanian orphanage who still rocked on hands and knees occasionally. When we were sent to different parts of the Institute to observe, we were each amazed to see thriving, sun-kissed, smiling children who were in relationships, playing, and helping others. One little boy, about two years old, with paralysis down one side of his body, was determinedly creeping up a steep sand hill to triumphantly grab a shovel at the top; he turned and grinned to share his victory with his caregiver.
One story we heard the first morning was of 18-month-old twins, a boy and girl, who had been brought in only the day before. They were found with their mother living in a train station; the mother was probably engaging in prostitution and possibly doing drugs. These two children were visited by their mother once or twice a day, when she would breast-feed them at the Institute. We saw her a few times. My heart ached for her. She looked hungry and angry.
The Institute staff members were very concerned about the mental health of the twins, and during the week of our seminar the whole Institute was wrapped up in how to best serve these children. They said the little girl seemed depressed. They were more concerned about her than her brother, who was responding to the warm care, eating well and beginning to play. They said these two children had never played. There was a lot of crying from both of the children, and the sound traveled in the small center, straining everyone’s ears and hearts. The nurse had tried having the children sleep together in the same crib, but the girl was biting her brother. They were together all day and night in the same small group and shared a caregiver.
The last morning I was to observe in the group where the twins were. The nurse was bathing the girl twin, and she had moved a crib nearby so that the brother, who had just had his bath, could stand in the crib and watch his sister, and she could see him. He would not be wandering around the bathroom requiring the attention of the nurse; he was safe, and nearby. The sister, I’ll call her Stela, was sitting in the tub, which is intentionally placed at a height that allows the nurse to have face-to-face interactions with the child. (Every aspect of care at the Institute is so carefully considered, it is humbling.) The child had already been washed all over; she was soapy and shiny, and her eyes downcast.
The motions of all the caregiving routines at the Institute are very predictable, prescribed, so that children, who have experienced the most unpredictable upheavals in their short lives, can predict, anticipate, and participate. That said, the routines are not rigid, because the child, an active participant, brings a unique flavor to each event. In this case, the nurse was giving space and time for Stela to play in the soapy water. The child sat motionless, not meeting the gaze of the nurse, who was speaking gently to her.
Now for the vault, the risk moment; so tiny, so significant.
The nurse scooped up a small handful of suds; she was patting them and showing them to Stela. She blew on them; they splattered on Stela’s tummy. Stela looked up and a tiny, little, shiny, beautiful smile appeared. It even traveled to Stela’s gorgeous brown eyes. The nurse smiled and said something to the child like, “The bubbles are on your tummy. You smiled a bit then.” The nurse’s whole body showed her relief and joy. She glanced at me for a second and I smiled. I saw it, too, and we both had tears in our eyes. Stela’s little smile was certainly a diamond.
Now it may seem like not much of a risk or a leap to blow bubbles on a cute little tummy at bath time, but a lot was going on, and one thing to consider is that this woman had seven other babies in her group to care for. Not only that, but she does these baths every single day; she could so easily be just going through the motions. But she was so alive to the moment with that child, observing every little movement and following her gaze. Additionally, this nurse had no way of knowing if this child would be there for the long term or only a short time. She did not let this uncertainty dampen her efforts at creating a connection with this child. At the Pikler Institute they would say that she was “listening” to the child, not just following the prescribed actions.
How do you know when to vault? To try something new, to risk a little emotional safety for a better emotional climate? I have been asking people this question for months now. My good friend and colleague, RIE Associate Ruth Anne Hammond, is involved in a study group with Dr. Allan Schore of the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. I asked her, “How do you know when to take a risk and make a change?” She said, “You know because your body tells you.” I asked Ruth Anne for clarification and she said that basically your right brain is operating at such high speed, taking in information through the senses, reading cues; it is nonlinear, global, emotional. The right brain is connected to your sense of well-being; your body tells you whether or not something feels right—it is a body-based feeling; it is not a thought. Our culture has taught us to ignore our bodies and that linear thoughts are more real; yet in relationships with infants, who are all feelings, we must engage on a feeling level. Trust your own feelings in responding to infants—as the nurse did with Stela. Taking a risk is important. If we don’t ever mess up, we don’t ever get a chance to grow. Growth happens in times of disorganization, which is a necessary component of growth. What if Stela had not smiled when the bubbles were blown onto her belly? What if she had been startled and cried?
I have been reading material and having discussions about attunement and misattunement. I am learning about how the “rupture” that can occur during misattunement can then be “repaired.” If the nurse had indeed created a stress response instead of a playful response by her actions, perhaps she might have initiated repair by soothingly saying, “I am sorry; it seems that I startled you. I thought you might like it. I will remember you did not like to be splashed on your tummy. Shall we wipe it off?” Making a mistake is okay. The process of repair is the important thing. It still moves the relationship to a new place. The fact that she tried something is significant.
This budding relationship between Stela and the nurse was not an attachment relationship, though it may well become one. I recently had a conversation about this with Miriam Silverman from the Infant Parent Program at the University of California—San Francisco, and I asked her,
“How important is the repair process if there is a rupture when a relationship is just forming?” “Extremely important,” she said. The child is just learning what to expect from the adult. Stela is finding out if she can have an effect on her nurse. Miriam also said that the repair is the most important, that there is no need to manufacture ruptures to accelerate the process. She said some people actually believe they need to create difficult situations for children so they can learn to cope. This is unnecessary. Life does this for us. So there is a little breathing room. You do not have to be successful every time you leap!
So what does it mean? Should we all vault out of here and blow soap suds on babies’ bellies? No, of course not. But to be alive, to be awake, to notice when the gap appears and vault when the vaulting is good! And maybe catch some diamonds.
Deborah Greenwald, MA, RIE Associate
Montessori, M. (1912). Chapter V. The Montessori method (A. E. George, Trans.) (pp. 86–106). New York, NY: Frederick A. Stokes.
Educaring and Attachment Theory
As a parent, RIE II* student and clinical psychologist who wrote a doctoral dissertation grounded in Attachment Theory (Bowlby, 1958, 1969, 1973, 1980; Bretherton, 1985), I never cease to be amazed at the similarities between the RIE principles and the basic tenets of Attachment Theory (AT). In the following article, I will share with you a few of the ways in which Educaring provides a method for applying the theory of attachment to the day-to-day job of raising children. I will also clarify some common misconceptions about attachment theory and their implications for infant care.
According to AT, an infant's attachment to one or two preferred individuals is instinctual. From the moment they are born, every human infant exhibits "attachment behaviors"- crying, smiling, sucking, following and clinging that elicit caregiving behaviors from these preferred individuals, who become "attachment figures". Adequate responses to the infant's attachment behaviors create a psychological "secure base," a conscious and unconscious sense, based on caregiving experiences with the attachment figure, that relationships can provide safety, intimacy, predictability, consistency, authenticity, trust and comfort. Non-responsiveness to attachment behaviors, Bowlby believed, could lead to the sense that relationships cause anxiety as well as social and emotional difficulties.
AT emphasizes that the infant's psychological secure base is formed in large part during caregiving interactions. Emmi Pikler shared this belief that "the relationship between child and parent is established through the activities of care, that is feeding, changing, and bathing." (David & Appell, pp. 9) She trained many individuals, including Magda Gerber, in how to do this respectfully: slowing down, picking up the infant carefully and gently, telling the infant what you are doing, appreciating the infant's ability to participate, and responding to the infant's cues of interest and desire to be involved in their care. The RIE principle, Involvement of the child in all caregiving activities to allow the child to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient, provides parents with specific techniques for caring for their children in a way that enhances their relationship and communicates security, love and trust, which are all necessary to form the secure base: Prepare ahead; observe the infant and wait until she is ready; explain what you are doing; slow down and pay full attention, are some examples of these very user-friendly, concrete steps that parents can follow in order to communicate a feeling of consistency, trust and security during caregiving.
According to AT, another requirement for the development of the secure base is sensitive and appropriate responsiveness to the infant's attachment behaviors. Educaring provides parents with specific guidelines for responding sensitively to attachment behaviors. Let us take the attachment behavior of clinging, for example. The RIE principle, Observation of the child in order to understand her needs, instructs parents in the first aspect of sensitive responsiveness to any attachment behavior, that is identifying the behavior and assessing what the child needs. Magda tells us that when you observe your child making yourself available to the child and learning about your child's temperament and personality and how she responds to her environment.
In Dear Parent, Magda counsels parents who observe that their infant cries hysterically until picked up to hold their child! That is being respectful of a newborn's need for being held! Similarly, during parent-infant classes, when a child comes into class and chooses to stay with her caregiver, I tell parents to observe their child and be respectful of the child's need for proximity and physical contact; when the child no longer needs it, she will let you know! Observation will let you know not only when any attachment behavior is activated, but also when the attachment behavior has been terminated by the parent's appropriate response.
This leads me to an important misconception about infant attachment behaviors. Attachment behaviors are not always active. Bowlby emphasizes that the instinctual behaviors that comprise the human attachment behavioral system are governed by the same principles which govern instinctual behaviors in other animal species. Like mating instincts in birds, for example, the instinctual behaviors of the attachment behavioral system in humans are activated by environmental stimuli. Once they become activated, the behavior continues until an environmental response terminates the behavior. In this way, attachment behavior is "goal-directed," the goal being regulating the distance between an infant and his or her mother.
For example, the infant's need to cling to his mother may be activated when the infant is distressed, but once the mother picks up the infant and holds him, the infant no longer needs to be held. According to this model, it is not the case that infants always need to be held and should be "attached" to their parents 24 hours a day. Observation teaches us that children need and want to be held, and it also teaches us when the instinct for holding has been satisfied and when infants are ready for something else, namely independent exploration of the environment.
Bowlby places special emphasis on the relation between security and independence. He believed that a secure base is a prerequisite for the infant's exploration of his environment, which leads to his mastery of social, emotional, physical and cognitive developmental tasks. Although they seem antithetical on the surface, Bowlby regarded exploration of the environment and seeking proximity to the caregiver when the child experiences danger, fatigue, distress or illness as two separate, co-evolved behavioral systems.
The complementarity of dependence and independence is central to attachment theory. Bowlby argued that the needs for contact with the attachment figure and self-reliance/autonomy both serve an individual advantageously when they work together. He considered the balance between attachment and exploration to be the foundation for the development of normative mental health. In experimental settings, security in infant-mother attachment is defined as a balance between an infant's attachment behaviors and exploration of the environment (Ainsworth, Blehar, Waters & Wall, 1978).
The RIE principles Time for uninterrupted play and Freedom to explore and interact with other infants are consistent with the crucial role that exploration of the environment plays in healthy infant development according to AT. Educaring proposes a paradigm for caring for infants that focuses on this balance between time together with caregivers and time apart from caregivers and helps parents work out the emotional, environmental and logistical obstacles to achieving this desired balance.
Gerber (2002) elaborates on the difficulties inherent in finding a balance between respecting infants' needs for proximity to parents and their needs for independent exploration that she calls Time together, Time apart: "When adults try to do their own work while trying to pay attention to their children, both parent and child end up feeling frustrated. This trap, I feel, is created by books and advisors who say that a baby needs to have his parent near him at all times...Many parents are concerned about not being 'good parents' when they are not with their child. I still do not understand why it is so difficult for parents to accept that it is alright to leave a child to explore in a totally safe place, while the parent is available but doing something else within hearing distance" (Gerber, reference).
Aside from giving parents permission to allow their children freedom to explore, RIE also offers parents a wealth of ideas and suggestions about setting up an environment that is conducive to their infant's freedom, a necessary condition for exploration: The presence of an available caregiver who is paying attention but not intrusive; a peaceful environment that is not over-stimulating by way of too much noise, light or activity; simple, safe, age-appropriate objects that encourage the child to be active; gross motor and fine motor challenges; freedom to move; and gates that provide safe boundaries, for example. The RIE principles Basic trust in the child to be an initiator, an explorer, and a self-learner and An environment which is physically safe, emotionally nurturing, and cognitively challenging give parents specific guidelines to follow to facilitate their infant's exploration and to make it pleasurable for the child and the parent.
Safety, which Gerber emphasizes is essential for infants' well-being and for parents' ability to relax and enjoy their children, is also a prerequisite for exploration. AT posits that active exploration is terminated during danger or threat. Infants require safe, age-appropriate challenges in the environment for which they feel ready. Otherwise, they will instinctually turn off the exploration system and an attachment behavior will be activated. The more age-appropriate and safe the environment, the more the infant will explore it willingly.
As the infant matures, the instinctual responses that Bowlby delineates develop into more refined and complex behaviors. The integration of the instinctual responses coincides with the child's cognitive development. Towards the end of the first year, and especially during the second and third when the child is acquiring the use of language, a child is busy constructing "working models” of how the physical world, how his mother and other significant persons, and how he himself may be expected to behave, and how each interacts with all the others (Bowlby, 1969). Within the framework of these working models the child evaluates particular aspects of his environment and makes his "attachment plans." (Bowlby, 1969)
As the individual matures, expectations about interactions between oneself and others are built from actual caregiving experiences. These expectations, which are integrated with the emotional experiences associated with the interactions, become internalized and create the "internal working model" (Bowlby, 1969, 1973, 1980; Bretherton, 1985).
The internal working model (IWM) contains working models of self and other that are complementary. For example, if the attachment figure provides for the infant's needs for proximity and comfort while simultaneously allowing for the infant's needs for independent exploration of the environment, the child will probably develop a model of self as valued and self-reliant and a model of other as dependable, sensitive and available. If the attachment figure is rejecting of the infant's needs, the child will probably construct a model of self as unworthy and incompetent and a model of other as intrusive, unreliable, and uncaring (Bowlby, 1973; Bretherton, 1995). The above provides a theoretical framework for how and why responding sensitively, being available and communicating honestly and consistently, the ingredients of respect, results in children who are securely attached and who feel self-confident, resourceful, secure and authentic. Isn't it nice to know that what we are doing is consistent with one of the most well-known and well-respected theories of child development?
Parents in my observation and guidance classes sometimes say, "I am worried that my child isn't attached." I explain, "All human infants do it; it's an instinctual behavior that is species-specific. It's not a question of if or how strongly your infant attaches to you. Rather, it's a question of the style or strategy that your infant develops in order to fulfill her instinctual need for felt security. In research studies, infant attachment strategies are broadly classified as either 'secure' or 'anxious.' 'Secure' strategies are defined as balanced between actively exploring the environment and seeking out contact with the attachment figure when the infant is distressed, ill, fatigued, when faced with environmental danger, and upon separation from and return of the attachment figure. 'Insecure' strategies are characterized by exploration that is either non-existent or indifferent, and either mix active comfort-seeking with continued crying, struggling or rigidity or avoid seeking out the attachment figure during times of distress, danger, etc." I suggest that parents carefully observe their childrens' behavior in order to evaluate their child's attachment strategy.
I have provided you with a number of examples of Educaring principles and techniques that I believe are consistent with the requirements for the development of "secure" infant attachment strategies proposed by AT. The quality of early attachment is important to all people caring for infants because it is well-documented that secure infant-mother attachment is associated with social and emotional competence.
Further studies are required to examine the relation of the RIE principles and infant-mother attachment. For example, it would be interesting to examine differences in infant-parent attachment between parents who are trained to respectfully observe their infants and those who receive some basic education in child development without training in respectful observation. For lack of scientific evidence that Educaring facilitates the development of an infant's psychological "secure base," let us respect and enjoy our children and be respectful of the choices that parents make in responding to what Magda calls “the many perplexing issues of parenthood."
*RIE II is the Practicum portion of the RIE professional training
By Johanna Herwitz, Ph.D. & RIE Associate in New York ,NY.
Educaring, Volume 26, No. 1, Spring 2006, Resources for Infant Educarers.
Ainsworth, M. D. S., Blehar, M. C., Waters, E., & Wall, S. (1978). Patterns of attachment: A psycho-logical study of the strange situation. Hillsdale, NJ: Erlbaum Associates.
Bowlby, J. (1958). The nature of the child's tie to the mother. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 39, 350-373.
Bowlby, J. (1969, 1982). Attachment and Loss. Volume I: Attachment. New York: Basic Books.
Bowlby, J. (1973). Attachment and Loss. Volume II: Separation. New York: Basic Books.
Bowlby, J. (1980). Attachment and Loss. Volume III: Loss. New York: Basic Books.
Bretherton, I. (1985). Attachment Theory: Retrospect and prospect. In I. Bretherton & E. Waters (Eds.), Growing points in attachment theory and research. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 50, (1-2, Serial No. 209).
Bretherton, I. (1995). The origins of attachment theory. In S. Goldberg, R. Muir, & J. Kerr (Eds.), Attachment theory: Social, developmental and clinical perspectives. Hillsdale, NJ: The Analytic Press.
David, M. & Appell, G. (1973). Loczy: An Unusual Approach to Mothering. Paris: Editions du Scarabée.
Gerber, M. (2002). Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect. Los Angeles: Resources for Infant Educarers.
Gerber, M. & Johnson, A. (1998). Your Self-Confident Baby. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Educaring, Interpersonal Neuroscience, and Selective Intervention
In my work to deepen my practice and understanding of Magda Gerber’s Educaring Approach, it has been my privilege and pleasure for the past few years to participate in a study group with Allan N. Schore, clinical professor at the UCLA School of Medicine and one of the key thinkers in interpersonal neuroscience since the early 1990s—the Decade of the Brain (Bush, 1990). His work is an outgrowth of affective neuroscience, which is the study of how emotions are linked with neurological structures and processes to shed light on the interface between mind, emotions, and body. According to Jaak Panksepp (1998), the scientist who coined the term affective neuroscience, “there is really no other way to obtain biological knowledge about emotional matters except through arduous brain research (usually in other species), guided by meaningful psychological concepts” (p. ix).
My work with Dr. Schore has begun to find its way into my practice as an educator, both in my classes for parents, infants, and toddlers and in my courses for adults. This emerging field of neuroscience, fueled by the technological ability to see into living, active brains, has much to offer in shaping our thinking about who infants and toddlers are, and what they need during the critical first two or three years of their lives. It has been encouraging to discover how relevant affective neuroscience, with its psychobiological perspective, is to the Educaring Approach pioneered by Magda Gerber (Gerber, 1979). A comprehensive comparative analysis of these two ways of looking at infants would be a monumental undertaking. Here, I presume only to make a start.
The Embodied Brain
As researchers learn more about how the brain, the mind, and the body interact to form a person with a personality, the definition of the brain has necessarily changed. Whereas we generally think of the brain as a mass of tissue in our heads, protected by our craniums, this definition is inadequate in understanding how we actually function. Our bodies are much more than a transport system for our minds. According to Dr. Daniel Siegel, clinical professor of psychiatry at the UCLA School of Medicine and another important pioneer in the integration of biology and psychology, “in interpersonal neurobiology we use the simple term ‘brain’ as a shorthand reference for the neural mechanism of the whole of the energy and information flow that moves throughout the extensive interconnections of the body proper and the skull-based collection of cells in the head” (2012, Section 3-1).
In other words, we must always think of the mind as fully embodied. This acknowledgment of the body is fully congruent with the almost sacred way in which practitioners of Educaring handle the infant’s body, knowing this will have lasting effects upon the child’s mind. The reverse is also true: How we relate to the mind of the infant will take up residence in his body, one way or another, for good or ill. Neuroscience helps us understand how this takes place.
The merging of social sciences and artificial intelligence (AI) tools can be seen as a deep learning phenomenon, where the understanding of human behavior is analyzed with the help of technology. With AI-powered tools, researchers are able to explore large amounts of data that would have been unattainable in the past. Star GPT Est enables collaboration between classmates who are enrolled in the same course(s). This means that peers can study together more efficiently rather than spending vast amounts of energy searching elsewhere for reliable sources or materials needed during a project or paper submission process!
Nature’s Surprises—Genetics and Epigenetics
The old way of seeing development in the either/or paradigm of “nature vs. nurture” has been effectively and universally transformed into a more integrated and bidirectional interplay of “nature and nurture.” As explained by Schore & Schore (2005), “. . . studies in neuroscience indicate that development represents an experiential shaping of genetic potential and that early experiences with the social environment are critical to the maturation of brain tissue. Thus, nature’s potential can be realized only as it is facilitated by nurture” (p. 205).
The surprising discovery that humans have only about 22,000 genes in their cells, rather than the 100,000-plus genes scientists expected to find as they mapped the human genome, has given rise to the field of study called epigenetics. According to Panksepp (2008), epigenetics consists of “all those semi-permanent, non-mutational changes in how genes function . . . that can dramatically modify body and brain, changes that can be passed down through the generations with no modification of fundamental gene structure, no change in the classic nucleotide pairings of DNA sequences.” He further explains, “in epigenesis, lasting changes in gene expression profiles are controlled by environmental inputs rather than by the information intrinsic to the genes themselves” (p. 58).
This means that experiences or behaviors affecting one’s biology, such as diet, exercise, or exposure to toxins, can cause changes in how genes function (i.e., what proteins they produce) that may be passed on to one’s offspring, without actually changing the gene. This is a major finding—that the slow, Darwinian changes over eons that we have understood regarding evolution are not the whole story. For instance, there is evidence that changes to the brain caused by stress experienced by one generation can be epigenetically passed down, via sperm and egg, to children and grandchildren, impairing their ability to manage stress effectively (Siegel, 2012, pp. 7–8). Also, it has been found that maternal anxiety during pregnancy causes stress on the unborn child that impairs physical development as well as emotion and attention regulation, and can predispose the infant to various diseases later in life, such as asthma and inflammatory and cardiovascular illnesses (Thomson, 2007). Fortunately, there is also evidence that healthier environments and relationships can mitigate these effects (Cloud, 2010).
In the decades preceding the advent of this new science, Magda Gerber (1998) taught that it is appropriate to have basic trust in the nature of the infant (i.e., the genetic program) to drive the process of development, but also that how adults see, and therefore treat, the baby influences the child’s developmental outcome. This could be thought of as the behavioral aspect of developmental epigenetics.
Seeing Differently—Magda Gerber’s Vision
Magda focused her efforts as an educator on helping parents and caregivers appreciate the child’s basic nature and inner agenda (Gerber & Christianson, 1989). While always supporting the parents’ intuitive understanding, she encouraged them to fit their way of nurturing to what the baby’s behavior and countenance communicated. Her goal was to help parents and caregivers provide optimal interface between biological imperative (or genetic programming) and the necessary experiences for learning in all developmental domains—physical, cognitive, and socioemotional. In the classic video about her approach, Seeing Infants with New Eyes, Gerber says, “I see differently” (Beatty & Stranger, 1984).
Where others saw helplessness, Gerber saw initiative and inner motivation. Where others saw in a quiet baby nothing much going on, she saw a budding person listening to the messages generated from within, and she protected the baby’s right to turn inward. Where others saw a sponge passively soaking up information, she saw an infant constructing a worldview based upon input actively elicited from the people and things around her, with “down time” for integration of new learning. This sounds much like the “co-construction” referred to in the “two-person psychology” (Bromberg, 2011) that is now at the forefront of the field. Simply put, what is learned within a relational context causes the participants’ brains to change, and this type of experience-dependent growth is co-constructed between the two (or more) people. It must be noted that epigenetic effects are an important underpinning of this co-construction.
Implicit Knowing and Explicit Guidance—Right-Brain/Left-Brain Paradox
There is a paradox in my work as a parent (and caregiver) educator, when intuition or instinct, based upon implicit right-hemisphere processes (Schore, 2003), and explicit learning, which is a conscious left-hemisphere function, bump up against each other in parenting and in teaching. Caring for an infant in an optimal way requires the free flow of affective, bodily based emotional information processing that happens at the speed of light and outside of conscious awareness (Schore, 2012b). Generally, this right-hemispherical, somewhat automatic way of responding to infants is based upon the parents’ or caregivers’ own early pre-conscious learning that is built into their neurobiology (Schore, 1994). If they had a good enough infancy themselves, the parents’ instincts would likely be well targeted to meet their babies’ needs. When parents were cared for as infants in a less sensitive way, sometimes they struggle to understand and respond to their babies’ needs with sensitivity.
I want to emphasize that all parents do the very best they know how to do, and never, ever, should be subject to negative judgments; this is never helpful. They need to receive the same compassion and space for growth that we advocate for infants. There is an attachment history inside every person. This includes facilitators, and some insight into one’s own attachment style is important before embarking on helping others. A very helpful book in exploring Attachment Theory is Becoming Attached by Robert Karen (1998).
In any event, many people would like to care for infants differently than they were cared for, and avail themselves of various books, articles, or classes on the topic (using the left hemisphere) to help them grow beyond their early “programming.” Each new generation of parents needs to find their way as the world changes. Looking for external guidance to supplement the implicit aspects of parenting is a typical right-hemisphere/left-hemisphere interface that often leads to disequilibrium (McGilchrist, 2009). As a facilitator, how can I teach what cannot be taught, but only learned—or perhaps, co-constructed?
Magda Gerber’s parent education program accounted for this paradox. In the format she so brilliantly devised, a small group of parents gathered weekly for one-and-a-half to two hours, for up to two years, to quietly observe their babies and simply enjoy being together. As facilitator, in a prepared environment, she modeled her approach during interventions related to child-child interactions and limit setting, while the parents, with her guidance, were in charge of feeding, diapering, and soothing their babies. What is remarkable about this format is the level of protection given to the infants’ autonomy. By discouraging the parents from stimulating the children during class, Magda gave the parents the opportunity to see what their infants were interested in without outside suggestion or coercion, what they could do on their own without help, and how they related to the other infants and adults in the group. We call this “quiet observation time” because the adults still themselves to make way for the infants or toddlers to find out what interests them without coercion of any kind. This kind of quiet observation is “object-free”; we don’t have any plan for what we should see, or want to see, but instead remain open and aware so that we can truly see who the children are. This format is used in all RIE Parent-Infant Guidance classes to this day. Parents are often surprised at how much their infants can do on their own, and become advocates for their children’s right to make choices in their activity. (Even though the benefits of play for older children, and the neuroscience supporting play, have been written about extensively in the last decade or so, still it is the Educaring Approach that most succinctly explains and supports free play for even very young infants. There could be another whole paper on that topic, certainly.)
Attachment Theory and Neuroscience
Now, 25 years after my first experience as a parent with a baby in Magda’s class, I realize that she was, in essence, interactively regulating my sense of safety, my trust in the competence and well-being of my child, and my self-confidence as a mother. It has been a challenge to find teachers who match Magda’s passion and deep understanding of infants and their parents. What she taught has prepared me to hear the messages coming from Dr. Schore and his colleagues with respect to infant psychoneurobiological development. It is an exciting time to be in the infant/family field.
It was from Magda that I first learned about Attachment Theory. In its essence, Attachment Theory provides a way of understanding the development of a person’s underlying assumptions about how people are expected to behave and feel in intimate relationships. If a child is cared for with consistency and sensitivity to her needs and capacities, she will develop securely, with an assumption that people can be trusted to help in times of need and to collaborate in creating happiness. If a child’s important caregivers (generally assumed to be primarily the mother and a few others) are not consistently available to meet the child’s physical and emotional needs, insecure patterns will form. The child will become a person with less trust in others and himself, and be less able to handle stress and live happily (Bowlby, 1969/1982/1999). Affective and interpersonal neurosciences are an outgrowth of this model (Schore, 1982/1999).
Educaring as Preventive Intervention
Attachment Theory and neuroscience are used to inform psychotherapies developed to help people overcome difficult early life experiences. The changes brought about by therapy are understood to have epigenetic effects on the structure of neurological systems underlying the person’s emotional health, through a process whereby the therapist and client form a growth-enhancing relationship. Relationship-based therapy actually changes the brains of the patients over time by recapitulating the primary attachment relationship (with the therapist in the role of the “good enough” parent) during growth-promoting patterns of interaction (Schore, 2012b). Perhaps not coincidentally, the format of RIE Parent-Infant Guidance classes, which Magda thought of as preventive intervention (Gerber, 1979), brings to mind the components of therapy outlined by Lou Cozolino (2006) in his book The Neuroscience of Human Relationships: A safe and trusting relationship with an attuned therapist. The maintenance of moderate levels of arousal. The activation of cognition and emotion. The co-construction of narratives that reflect a positive, optimistic self. (p. 308)
If one changes the word “therapist” to “facilitator” and the word “self” to “self-as-parent,” there is tremendous resonance with Educaring methodologies. The facilitator works with the parents to establish trust and a sense of safety as they and their child explore ways of being together as a dyad and in a group. The facilitator makes sure that the environment is interesting to the children but quiet and low-key so as not to distract or overstimulate. The children, who are allowed to be in charge of their own levels of arousal, stimulate themselves, first by moving their bodies, then in more complex play. The facilitator helps the parents and caregivers tune in to the activities of the children during the period of quiet observation—which is cognitively and emotionally engaging for adults and children alike. Finally, the facilitator aids the parents and children in seeing from each other’s points of view, which contributes to the co-construction of meaningful narratives. Sometimes this means the facilitator must assist in down-regulating an anxious parent’s worries, while at the same time honoring their concerns, or in up-regulating a more detached parent’s interest in and attention to the baby’s cues and explorations. This individualized way of being together, supporting the children’s autonomy and competence while honing the adults’ capacity to enjoy and attune to their babies, serves to enhance the security of attachment. Magda often laughingly said she believed this approach would save families the need for (and cost of) therapy down the line. (The sensitive observation we think of as the hallmark of the Educaring Approach fits very closely with the concept of awareness in neuroscience, and deserves its own full treatment.)
Mother as External Regulator
Magda had an intuitive understanding, undoubtedly heightened by her early work in Hungary with Dr. Emmi Pikler, that small differences in how babies are handled and spoken to can have large effects on their development. Now we know this is true from a neuroscience perspective (Schore, 1994). Magda introduced me to pediatrician and psychoanalyst D. W. Winnicott’s famous quotation, “There is no such thing as a baby... [there is] a baby and someone” (Winnicott, 1964, p. 89). For years I thought of this as just metaphorical imagery, but Dr. Schore’s summation of the actual physical reality was a revelation: “[T]he mother’s external regulation of the infant’s developing yet still immature emotional systems during particular critical periods may represent the essential factor that influences the experience-dependent growth of brain areas prospectively involved in self-regulation.” He goes on to say, “by mediating and modulating environmental input, the primary caregiver supplies the ‘experience’ required for the experience-dependent maturation of a structural system responsible for the regulation of the individual’s socioemotional function” (Schore, 1994, pp. 31–33). For instance, when a baby looks into his mother’s face and sees an expression that in some way mirrors the feelings he is having, whether distressed or happy, he is able to build a mental representation (via new neural connections) that will help him understand other people’s feelings. This is because his mother has taught him what this feeling looks like on faces. By contrast, if the mother is not attuned to the baby’s feeling states, and does not show him how feelings look by reflecting his back to him, the baby will not have had the chance to grow these connections in his brain, and he may never be as understanding of or be able to read others as he could have been with the right experiences.
Dr. Schore has pointed out that this process mirrors the ideas from 60 years ago of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky that “what the child can only do with the help of the adult today she will do on her own tomorrow” (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 87). Vygotsky’s idea of the “zone of proximal development” that educators employ in understanding school-aged children’s learning is, then, also at play in children’s emotion regulation as infants and toddlers. This is co-regulation.
The basic premise is that an organism must be able to maintain homeostasis in order to survive, and in the case of mammals, including humans, this is first achieved in the context of a primary relationship, most usually with the mother. Self-regulation is a biological survival mechanism that supports homeostasis through co-regulation with the input of another, plus independent auto-regulation. Therefore, an infant’s healthy development of his or her self-regulatory capacity to maintain emotional and organismic homeostasis depends upon a consistently present, effective, and sensitive co- regulator. This interactive regulation is essential to the development of the baby’s brain/mind, as chronically unregulated stress inhibits the proliferation of neural connections necessary for optimal brain development.
In his important iteration of this perspective, Ed Tronick proposes in his Mutual Regulation Model (MRM) that infants have “self-organizing neurobehavioral capacities that operate to organize behavioral states (from sleep to alertness) and biopsychological processes, such as self-regulation of arousal, selective attention, learning and memory, social engagement and communication, neuroception, and acting purposefully in the world—that they use for making sense of themselves and their place in the world.” At the same time, Tronick continues, “an infant could not be viewed as a self- contained system. We have to think of an infant as a sub-system within a larger dyadic regulatory system. The other sub-system is the caregiver” (Tronick, 2007, pp. 8–9).
Interestingly, Tronick was also influenced by Winnicott’s aforementioned point. The quotation Tronick used was “No baby is without a mother” (as cited in Tronick, 2007, p. 10), but both express the same necessity of the “other” to the baby’s actual existence, physical as well as psychological. The key thing to remember about self-regulation is that it is interactively accomplished at least some of the time. The younger an infant is, the more it needs the help of an attuned adult partner to accomplish self-regulation, though even very young babies have the ability to autonomously regulate some of their biological systems, such as how much milk or food to consume, and how much sleep is needed.
Another basic assumption of Regulation Theory is that even adults at times need to have others with whom to interactively co-regulate, to help them recover from stress or to share pleasures, though in different ways than young children, of course. Where neuroscience seems to be headed is that the default regulatory orientation of the brain presupposes a relational underpinning for all humans (Coan, 2012).
Without the interactive regulation a caring adult provides, the most beautiful, enriched environment cannot help even the most genetically perfect baby to become well regulated. According to Schore (1994), “Any understanding of the ontogeny of autoregulatory systems and indeed of development per se must be anchored in the fact that structure is literally being built on a daily basis during the time of accelerated and continuing brain growth in infancy. [The] stupendous growth rate of the first year of life is reflected in the increase in brain weight from 400 g at birth to 1200 g at 12 months” (p. 10). He goes on to point out that this growth is experience dependent, and that the most important experiences are in the social realm. How the mother picks up the baby’s psychobiological states, through her own bodily feeling states, and how she contingently responds determine how the baby’s genes will express themselves in building the brain, most notably the structures of the subcortical* fear and arousal systems, which are in a sensitive stage of development from the third trimester of gestation through the first two years of life. According to an overwhelming body of research cited by Schore (1994), the right hemisphere grows at a faster rate during this period than the left hemisphere. At about a year and a half, with the relationship-oriented right hemisphere fairly well established, its growth slows as the left hemisphere’s growth speeds up, and the child becomes more interested in material objects and concepts. This fact makes Magda’s abhorrence of the use of flash cards to teach babies things like the names of presidents utterly prescient. Trying to jam facts into the minds of babies is ultimately futile, anyway, due to infantile amnesia, which is the natural process by which almost all people lose their specific recollections of their lives prior to about the age of four. They will have forgotten all those presidents’ names by the time they start school.
The quality of care a child receives during this crucial period of development will determine the quality of the neural network he or she will depend upon for the rest of his or her life. Dr. Schore has concluded, from the literature showing a growing rate of mental health problems in young people, that many hours in child care, separate from the primary attachment figure, may not serve this process well (Schore, 2012a). He says that our society may be straying too far in its child-rearing practices from what Bowlby (1969/1982/1999) described as our ancestral “environment of evolutionary adaptedness” (p. 58). Magda felt the same concern, which is why she advocated that mothers delay returning to work after the birth of their babies for as long as possible, and why she dedicated her life to teaching professional caregivers ways of caring that mitigate the effects of separation. This highly charged topic will require much attention from all segments of society, especially at the policy level, as we move further into the twenty-first century.
Selective Intervention and Interactive Regulation
The idea that infants and their caregivers are neuropsychobiologically connected feels wonderfully congruent with Magda’s teachings. She taught about “Selective Intervention” (National Commission on Resources for Youth, Inc., Kohler & Wright, 1978), in which adults pay attention to the child but don’t always act to intervene when the child shows some distress, in order that the child might learn to manage some challenges on his or her own. Tronick’s MRM incorporates the necessity of auto-regulation as well, recognizing that poorly coordinated interventions interfere with the baby’s self-regulation. For instance, when a baby has had enough arousal through face-to-face interaction, and averts her gaze in order to down-regulate her excitement, the adult can overstimulate if she keeps trying to get the baby’s attention, thus adding to rather than decreasing stress.
In my practice, I often see mothers feeding a fussy baby when hunger probably is not the cause of the crying. As a mother, I distinctly remember having Magda think with me as to whether nursing was actually the response my baby needed in moments of distress. Be it noted that I wouldn’t want anyone to think I do not value the breast-feeding relationship. Nursing a baby is the natural way to provide physical nourishment, bodily warmth, and a sense of connectedness between mother and baby, and it continues to provide all these things as the child develops. However, as they become more active and more mature, babies need more complex interventions to meet their physical and social-emotional needs. Nursing can become more of a distraction than a well-targeted intervention.
Magda’s caveat to “wait” to see what the child can do is congruent with the precepts of interpersonal neurobiology. Just because the adult is not “doing something” does not mean she is not there, or that her watchful presence is meaningless to the child. Imagine a child who rolls off the edge of the carpet onto the wood floor for the first time, and cries in surprise. If his mother rushes to him and scoops him up, presenting a very worried face, saying, “Oh, poor baby, you’re all right, you’re all right!” (and offers the breast), the baby will sense that what just happened was scary to his mother and therefore should be scary to him (and that if he’s scared, he should eat). However, if the mother says, with an interested but not overly worried expression, “Oh, that was a surprise. You rolled off the carpet,” maybe the baby gets the message, “If Mama is not rushing to me, is not upset, perhaps this situation isn’t as bad as I thought it was.”
If the adults don’t overreact to this small but meaningful moment, the baby can turn his attention to the situation at hand—the texture of the wood, the temperature, the differences, looking back to where he was before he rolled off the carpet, how his body feels underneath the surprise of falling—taking it all in and integrating the experience. It is the opportunity to integrate experience into meaningful patterns that promotes the optimal brain connectivity that sets the stage for emotional and intellectual intelligence (Siegel, 2010). When we are able to slow our responses down—and slowing down was Magda’s most cherished admonishment to adults who care for infants and toddlers—and give our attention to the meanings the children seem to be making, we are contributing to their present and future integrity as human beings. Our mere attention to their process actually determines what qualities are encoded in their brains.
If the baby is able to calm down and continue playing after falling off the rug, the child has successfully self-regulated. If the baby is not able to get himself back into play after a minute or two, the mother could then offer some concrete help and comfort. By means of many opportunities to observe, the adult gains sensitivity, learning when to step in, when to hold back. This is part of the trial-and-error process that child rearing presents. The baby can sense, in the adult’s calm, watchful presence, this very special type of observation Magda encouraged. The baby can learn that, although some experiences may be stressful, all is well, generally—and that stress can be managed.
Building the Capacity for Joy
One area from interpersonal neuroscience that I believe should be considered by practitioners of Educaring is the amplification of positive affect. While this topic warrants its own full treatment, it should at least be briefly noted that the importance of the adult in helping the child achieve joy states is just as important as helping the child overcome negative emotions. This is something all good and loving parents intuitively do, through various playful interactions. In his book Affect Regulation and the Origin of the Self (1994), Schore provides a convincing, well-supported argument that joyful stimulation is essential in parent-infant relations. I would add that, when babies are in child care for long hours, this need must be met by a primary caregiver. We must not think we can just put a baby’s brain development on the shelf until Mommy comes back.
In speaking of the emotional interactions that characterize early face-to-face protoconversations, Schore (1994) says, “The burgeoning capacity of the infant to experience positive ‘vitality’ affects is thus at this stage of development ‘externally’ regulated by the mother’s participation in the psychobiological attunement process” (p. 87). Being sensitive to the baby’s capacity to handle high and low arousal, the sensitive adult leads (and follows) the baby up and down in excitement, based on intuitively felt feedback between adult and infant. We may not notice when it is happening smoothly, but when the adult is overstimulating or understimulating, the mismatch is more evident. Sometimes Educaring practitioners may underemphasize the importance of the input from adults in promoting joy states, and sometimes non-Educaring observers misinterpret our noninterference in infants’ play as understimulating or withholding. As always, a balanced perspective would most nearly approximate the truth. One of the important ways adults who implement the principles of Educaring promote joyful arousal is by providing a safe yet interesting environment (sometimes with other babies) for the child to explore, thus allowing the baby to regulate her own arousal through movement and play—another facet of this topic that should be fully treated in further exploring Educaring and neuroscience.
Caring for a baby is a process fraught with errors. Fortunately, the interactive regulatory system is set up to account for the fact that we miss their cues more often than not (70% of the time, on average, according to Tronick’s research (Tronick, 2007, p. 179), and we make mistakes on a regular basis as we offer or withhold our help. Winnicott (1953) says we are actually only supposed to be “good enough,” thank heaven. Otherwise, why would babies need to learn to communicate more and more effectively and persistently? And how could we ever succeed in helping them become healthily independent-yet-connected people?
Observation Promotes Security
Magda demonstrated time and again not only that healthy attachment is supported through physical proximity, such as during caregiving and cuddling, but also that the adult’s attention and careful observation during the baby’s explorations promote security. However, it is important to allow the baby some time to be alone in a safe environment as well. A baby who is under scrutiny every waking moment might gain the mistaken notion that she is not safe unless someone is watching. This may be a little controversial to some, but the evidence from families and programs that have implemented Magda’s ideas is convincing: if adults are caring and intentional in how and when they pay attention, infants thrive. In the “less is more” approach of the Educaring paradigm, it is the quality of the adult’s attention that informs development and promotes security. Magda always thought parenting could be a little more conscious, a little less reactive (Beatty & Stranger, 1984).
The task of parents or caregivers really is to be connected enough to the baby to see if he or she needs help or not (and, if so, to figure out what kind of help), always keeping in mind that we need to allow for greater and greater autonomy as babies develop. Affective neuroscience and RIE both agree that an adult’s intuitive understanding of a baby comes first, and that being aware of one’s own attachment patterns and history can lead to more effective care of infants. This requires a balance of right- and left-hemisphere ways of seeing infants—with the right hemisphere promoting implicit understanding and the left hemisphere filling in the blanks when our understanding wavers or is inadequate in meeting their needs. Practitioners of the Educaring Approach and practitioners of interpersonal neuroscience have much to offer each other in the service of infant mental health. If there is one simple point of convergence, I have found in my studies in Educaring and affective neuroscience, it is that, in the first two or three years of a child’s life, it is more important to support emotional connections than cognitive learning. Said simply, it is more important to read the baby than to read to the baby. Everything important proceeds from this secure base.
Finally, if self-regulation is composed of a combination of co-regulation and auto-regulation, the sensitive adult is actually co-regulating when allowing an infant a chance to auto-regulate. Allowing a child (when he is not stressed to the far reaches of his regulatory boundaries) appropriate opportunities to auto-regulate is not abandonment; it is discernment. It is, as Magda coined it, selective intervention.
* Subcortical (meaning below the cortex) regions of the brain include the limbic and brainstem areas, as well as neural systems throughout the body (Siegel, 2012, Section AI–79).
Ruth Anne Hammond, RIE Associate
From the RIE Manual
Beatty, T. (Producer and Director), & Stranger, C. (Producer and Director). (1984). Seeing infants with new eyes [DVD].
Bowlby, J. (1969/1982/1999). Attachment and loss: Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.
Bromberg, P. (2011). The shadow of the tsunami and the growth of the relational mind. New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.
Bush, G. (1990, July 17). Presidential proclamation 6158. Retrieved from http://www.loc.gov/loc/brain/
Cloud, J. (2010, January 6). Why your DNA isn’t your destiny. Time. Retrieved from http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1952313-3,00.html
Coan, J. (2012, March). Social baseline theory. Speech presented at the UCLA Attachment/Interpersonal Neuroscience Conference, Los Angeles, CA.
Cozolino, L. (2006). The neuroscience of human relationships. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
Gerber, M. (Ed.). (1979). The RIE manual for parents and professionals (10th ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Resources for Infant Educarers.
Gerber, M. (Producer), & Christianson, R. (Director). (1989). See how they move [DVD]. Available from http://rie.org/categories/dvd
Gerber, M. (2002). Dear parent: Caring for infants with respect (2nd ed.; J. Weaver, Ed.). Los Angeles, CA: Resources for Infant Educarers.
Niepodleglej, B (2023). Responsibility and awareness in iGaming niche. Site.
Karen, R. (1998). Becoming attached: First relationships and how they shape our capacity to love. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
McGilchrist, I. (2009). The master and his emissary: The divided brain and the making of the Western world. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
The National Commission on Resources for Youth, Inc. (Producer), Kohler, M. (Director), & Wright, P. (Director). (1978). On their own with our help [DVD]. Available from http://rie.org/categories/dvd
Panksepp, J. (1998). Affective neuroscience: The foundations of human and animal emotions. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.
Panksepp, J. (2008, Summer). Play, ADHD, and the construction of the social brain: Should the first class each day be recess? The American Journal of Play, 1(1), 55–79.
Schore, A. N. (1982/1999). Foreword. In J. Bowlby, Attachment and loss: Vol. 1 (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Basic Books.
Schore, A. N. (1994). Affect regulation and the origin of the self. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
Schore, A. N. (2003). Affect regulation and the repair of the self. New York, NY: W. W. Norton. developing right brain: Linking developmental neuroscience to pediatrics. Pediatrics in Review, 26(6). 204–217.
Schore, A. N. (2012a, March 10). Perspectives from regulation theory: Early brain development and the increased prevalence of severe mental disorders in U. S. youth. Speech at the UCLA Attachment/Interpersonal Neuroscience Conference, Los Angeles, CA.
Schore, A. N. (2012b). The science of the art of psychotherapy. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
Siegel, D. J. (2010). Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation. New York, NY: Random House.
Siegel, D. J. (2012). Pocket guide to interpersonal neurobiology. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
Thomson, P. (2007). Down will come baby: Prenatal stress, primitive defenses and gestational dysregulation. Journal of Trauma & Dissociation, 8(3), 85–113.
Tronick, E. (2007). The neurobehavioral and social-emotional development of infants and children. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.
Vygotsky, L. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Winnicott, D. W. (1953). Transitional objects and transitional phenomena; a study of the first not-me possession. The International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 34(2), 89–97.
Winnicott, D. W. (1964). The child, the family, the outside world. Cambridge, MA: Perseus Publishing.
Erikson’s Stages of Psycho-social Development
"The human being, at all times, from the first kick in utero to the last breath is organized into groupings of geographic and historical coherence: family, class, community, nation."Erik Erikson
A guiding principle of RIE is trust in the infant's competency. RIE sees the infant as a capable learner who can be trusted to be an initiator, problem solver, and collaborator. In an environment where infants are trusted, they learn to trust. Early twentieth-century psychologist Erik Erikson believed that humans form their orientation toward the world during infancy and that trust, in particular, forges the foundation of an infant's healthy emotional development. The first step in the long road to social-emotional health comes when an Infant begins to see the world (and themselves) as trustworthy or untrustworthy (Erikson, 1963).
Trust grows from respectful care accounting for individual needs rather than simple "demonstrations of love" (Erikson, 1963). Mindful care offered by a calm, consistent caregiver allows the infant to manage their emotions . Erikson believed that an infant's first expression of trust is the ease with which an infant eats, sleeps, and eliminates waste (Erikson, 1963).
Trust cultivates a child's sense of identity, security, and their own ability to be trustworthy (Erikson, 1963). The adult's view of the infant shapes their image of themselves. Their trust in their own parenting figure forms the blueprint for their worldview. A trustworthy caregiver becomes the model for a trustworthy world.
A defining feature of this foundational trust is a shared belief between parent and child in the importance of parent's "prohibitions and permissions" (Erikson, 1963). Erikson believed that parents "must be able to represent to the child a deep, an almost somatic conviction that there is a meaning to what they are doing" (Erikson, 1963). This conviction in their choices is critical to the growing child, as is the explanation. Explaining the reasoning behind limits made on their actions nurtures a child's trust. The informed child understands why a boundary is necessary, making it easier to accept limitations (Erikson, 1963).
The development of trust allows the infant to grow self-efficiency, worth, and esteem in years to come. Erikson believed that the mastery of these "crises" as he called them, builds on each other. Healthy development in one stage creates a solid foundation for the next stage.
An infant who realizes that their needs will be met trusts this will happen in the future. This knowledge secures the belief that the world is fundamentally a trustworthy place. Trust births hope (Erikson, 1963).
The RIE Approach cultivates the development of this foundational trust. RIE principles echo Erikson’s understanding of early childhood development. RIE caregivers trust the infant’s innate competency and capabilities, and invite the infant’s involvement in their own care. RIE's practices of designing safe spaces for exploration, considering an infant’s stage in development, and allowing self-initiated movement and self-directed play foster both the caregiver’s trust in the infant and the infant’s trust in themself.
Erikson, E. H. 1. (1963). Childhood and society. 2d ed., rev. New York, Norton.
How Can We Prepare for the Birth of the Second Child?
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 Kronick is a RIE Associate facilitating classes at the RIE Center Hollywood.
Originally appeared in the FORM newsletter
How to Handle Biting
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?
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
How We Love
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 of Loving 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.
EDUCARING® DEAR MAGDA/DEAR PARENT - How We Love
Volume VI, Number 1, Winter 1985
I Know When I’m Ready
One of my RIE® Parent-Infant groups that had been with me since the babies were newborns (therefore these parents had been learning and practicing the Educaring™ Approach since their baby’s birth) suddenly became nervous when I introduced the Pikler® ladder to the babies’ play environment. This happened after about 10-12 months that the babies had been freely exploring the environment, the play equipment and free movement. Upon seeing this new structure, however, the parents suddenly began to imagine and worry that their babies would hurt themselves while trying to climb up and over what seemed to them to be a very tall ladder. To their surprise, on the first day, all the babies either gave a quick glance or completely ignored the new climbing structure. It took several weeks before one of the babies actually became curious and went over and touched it. Most continued to ignore it. Only after about 2-3 months, did the babies begin to pull up on the ladder and some even tested climbing up on one rung. The second rung was attempted some months later. These babies that had been trusted to know their own capabilities, attempted only what they felt comfortable with. There was no ‘teaching’ or ‘showing’ the infants how to use the new climbing structure. We trusted in the infant’s competence to do what they could do in their own time and in their own way!
Is RIE Permissive?
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 child herself 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 is expected 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.
Note: for more ideas on discipline, please read pages 103-106 in the manual, Resources for Infant Educarers, edited by Magda Gerber.
DEAR MAGDA/DEAR PARENT - Is RIE® Permissive
Educaring® Volume III, Number 3, Summer 1982
Jean Piaget’s Way of Seeing and RIE
"Every time one teaches a child something, one keeps him from inventing it himself."Jean Piaget
Few people revered the way children think with such devotion as the Swiss researcher Jean Piaget. His captivation with how children constructed knowledge led to one of the first theories on the subject. It is known as the Constructionist Theory. RIE and Piaget hold deep respect for the competency of young children and the way they create knowledge. Piaget believed that children are born to learn; an idea shared by RIE. He saw infancy as the "threshold of intelligence" (Piaget & Inhelder, 1972).
Piaget studied the way children construct knowledge from infancy through adolescence. The first two years of life consist of what he referred to as the “sensorimotor” stage. This stage begins with the innate reflexes of the newborn and through repetition and experience, the infant develops meaningful and purposeful actions (Piaget & Inhelder, 1972). Infants and toddlers construct their knowledge through the full range of their senses. Tasting, mouthing, grasping, banging, and dropping all support their quest for information.
Piaget believed frameworks, or “schemas,” are developed to organize and interpret information as it is acquired. Schemas are the building blocks of thinking. Schemas start specifically and then expand and modify through the joined processes of assimilation and accommodation (Piaget & Inhelder, 1972). Piaget saw intelligence beginning when physical reflexes move from unconscious to purposeful (Mooney, 2013).
Piaget used the newborn suckling reflex to explain how understanding is built through a process of assimilation and accommodation in his book Origins of Intelligence. The sucking reflex compels the infant to search for the nipple and latch. Each feeding provides the opportunity to take in – or “assimilate” – new information: how to move the head, how much pressure to use, speed, etc. A more sophisticated feeding pattern develops through repetition, experience, and motor recognition. Over time the infant begins to utilize this skill for more than feeding. A desire to learn initiates additional exploration (Piaget, 1952).
For example, the drive to discover may soon result in an infant finding their hand. They begin to suck on this rather than a nipple creating an accommodation of their previous knowledge – “I can suck on this too. A nipple is not the only thing I can suck on.” – (Piaget, 1952). This process of using new information to adapt one’s understanding of what is already known is called “accommodation” (Bringuier, 1980).
Both RIE and Piaget believe that even the youngest children are scientists compelled to investigate the world around them. Thus, both RIE and Piaget see the role of the educator as supporting the innate drive children possess to create and innovate new ideas (Gerber 1998; Geneser, 2022). RIE and Piaget advocate for an enriching (and safe) environment where adults allow free exploration and can come to trust their child's abilities and intrinsic appetite for insight. (Gerber 1998; Geneser, 2022). When that is the case, we understand the role of the adult is to support and appreciate the young child’s natural ability to initiate their learning. This is one of the hallmarks of the RIE approach and is a practical application of Piaget’s theories.
"Are we forming children who are only capable of learning what is already known? Or should we try to develop creative and innovative minds capable of discovery?" -- Elkind, 1989
Bringuier, Jean-Claude (1960). Conversations with Jean Piaget, University of Chicago Press.
Elkind, David (1989) Piaget’s Developmental Theory: An Overview [Film].
Geneser, V. L. (Ed.). (2022). Scholarly Snapshots : The importance of child play as a human right. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
Gerber, M. (1998b). Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect (J. Weaver, Ed.). Resources for Infant Educarers.
Mooney, Carol Garhart (2013) Theories of Childhood: An Introduction to Dewey, Montessori, Erikson, Piaget & Vygotsky, Redleaf Professional Library.
Piaget, Jean (1952) The Origins of Intelligence in Children, International Universities Press.
Piaget, J., & Wolff , P. H. (1972). Some Aspects of Operations. In M. W. Piers (Ed.), Play and development: A symposium with contributions by Jean Piaget (pp. 15–27). essay, W. W. Norton & Company.
Piaget, J. & Inhelder, B. (1972). The Psychology of the Child. Basic Books.
Language as a Problem-Solving Tool
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
Learning Story: Appreciating Your Focus & Intent
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!
Learning Story: Responding to Our Communication
You are barely 3 months old and already you are responding to your mother’s encouragement toward learning what words and non-verbal communication movements and gestures mean. Your mother told me a story about you, when you were responding to her conversation with you.
You were resting on your back in the supine position on your changing table. Your mother was ready to put socks on your feet. She looked into your eyes and said to you, “Levi, I want to put your sock on one of your feet. Can you stretch your leg out so I can put the sock on?” YOU FOLLOWED HER REQUEST! You stretched out your leg for her to apply the sock to your feet and toes. Then, when she asked, you stretched out the other leg and foot for the other sock to be put on.
This was quite a special moment for your mother. Since you were born, she has been talking to you about what she is doing with you and for you. She would say to you, “I am going to pick you up, now” or “I am going to wash your face.” She would even tell you when she was going to leave you in your safe place for a few minutes while she did a household chore or something personal. She trusted that you were listening and that one day you would try to respond in some way. This happened today when you responded to her request by participating in the putting on of your socks by stretching out your legs and feet. You are so young still, yet, at this moment you demonstrated that you had grasped the understanding of the event and showed the desired response.
In the RIE philosophy, it is claimed that parents who talk to their children regularly, even their youngest infants, are establishing the “groundwork” for future communication. Also, when an alert, aware adult shows a child respect by thoroughly explaining the events of the environment and the events that directly relate to the child, respect is being shown the child and the child will reciprocate. This reciprocal respect may be shown through cooperative actions from the child and predictions from the child about what is to come and what is expected. In the situation discussed in this story, Levi, you showed your mother that her respectful conversations with you gained your respect for her caregiving actions with you. As you stretched out one leg and foot, you probably predicted that there would be a need to stretch the second leg and foot in her direction and this is just what you did.
Another principle of the RIE philosophy suggests that adults will be most successful in their parenting practices if they engage their children in what is really important to them. As you are only beginning this life, you are already realizing that putting on clothing and taking off clothing occurs for you many times per day and is of great interest to you. The textures of the fabric that touch your skin are many. Some fabrics are soft and comfy. Others are rough or scratchy. The pulling and pushing of your body to get the clothing on and off is a regular occurrence for you. Your mother is making these happenings so interesting and more comfortable for you when she tells you about your clothes and how she is going to move you around to put them on and take them off. This must be why you responded to having soft, warm socks placed on your feet. You were interested and ready for what was to happen to your legs and feet.
I know that your mother will be telling me of other events that are RIE-like moments between the two of you. I will be waiting to hear about them.
Smiles from your friend and your mother’s friend,