(And, for those of you who are new to RIE, it rhymes with ‘why’…)
My good friend Sarah pointed out to me recently that I don’t yet have a post up on why we practice Resources for Infant Educarers, abbreviated to RIE and also known as Respectful Parenting. She moved to Missouri when Carys was a week old so she hasn’t seen much RIE in action; she was in town a few weeks ago and came over for dinner.
We had recently decided to transform our guest bedroom into a play room (more on that in the near future!); we had sold the queen bed and had just bought a day bed for the rare occasions when people do sleep over. Carys was sitting on it with me and seemed to be a bit afraid of getting down, even though it’s probably lower than our sofa, which she slides off unassisted on a regular basis. She kept peering over the edge and clearly wanted to get down; I showed her the step stool we had put close by to help her, and suggested she slide off backwards like she does with our sofa. She gave up for a few minutes, then looked over again and indicated clearly that she wanted to get down. I continued to talk her through her options and she did eventually turn around and go off feet first, and she was mighty pleased with herself too.
Sarah watched the whole thing but didn’t say much about it, but when we chatted over the holiday she reminded me of the episode, and said she’d been talking with a cousin who has friends who have always done everything for their kids. Now their kids are getting beyond toddlerhood they no longer want to do do anything for themselves, because they don’t know how.
I think a lot of parents do things for their kids as a way of showing their kids how much they love them. But in my mind, love by itself is a necessary but insufficient component of parenting. Plenty of people do really crappy things to each other in the name of love, but who ever did something crappy to someone else in the name of respect?
“RIE helps adults raise children who are competent, confident, curious, attentive, exploring, cooperative, secure, peaceful, focused, self-initiating, resourceful, involved, inner-directed, aware and interested”. (Really, if I had to come up with my own list of qualities I could hope for Carys to have, I’m not sure I could do much better than this.)
But RIE is not really about making our kid into the kind of kid we want her to be; it’s about helping her to be the kind of kid she wants to be using the framework of respect as a guide. For us, interacting respectfully means:
- Allowing her to do as much for herself as she is physically capable of doing and wants to do. She loves to take her shirt off over her head when she’s getting ready for bath time, and once her diaper is off and rolled up she likes to carry it to the trash can, lift the lid, and throw in the diaper. She is currently fascinated by the buckles on her high chair and car seat, and if I line them up for her she can clip them together.
- Providing options from which she can select when appropriate, and explaining why something needs to be done when options are not available. When she has a dirty diaper she gets to choose where she wants it changed (usually on the floor these days), but the change itself is not an option. She decides how long she wants to stay in the bath, but standing up is a signal that bath time is over. She can choose to climb stairs or have us carry her, depending on how she feels on a particular day.
- We speak to her as respectfully as we would speak to an adult. If we can’t allow her to do something, we explain why. We don’t quiz her (in other words, we don’t ask her any question to which we already know the answer). And we explain what’s going to happen before it does, such as when visitors are coming, or when she needs to get shots. [Note: many critics of RIE mock the “long, adult conversations” that parents are supposed to have with babies, which does indeed sound a bit ridiculous – instead, the intent is to speak with the same level of respect as you would to an adult, not to ask the baby her opinions on the plot development in Anna Karenina.]
- We model, rather than teach. Neuroscientists say that toddlers don’t have the mental processes in place to understand sharing, and empathy comes very late to the game. Not knowing exactly when the transition will be made, we model the qualities we would like to see in Carys so she adopts these rather than us having to ‘teach’ her. So we don’t force her to share her toys (or others to share with her); we say ‘thank you’ to each other and to her all the time but never ask her to say it, and we model graciousness by helping her with tasks (such as cleaning up her toys) and asking for her help with ours (swiffering the floors – her new favorite!).
- We allow her to fall, and fail. When she was younger it was easier to see the falls coming – she would roll too close to the edge of the sofa and we’d know she was about to go over. We would warn her that she was close to the edge (which did prevent a lot of accidents) but when she did go over we would break the fall so as to avoid injury but not prevent the fall itself. And when she does hurt herself – more often now we don’t see it happen because she moves so fast! – we comfort her and allow her to experience her hurt without attempting to ‘cheer her up’ (much as I couldn’t imagine Alvin responding to me stubbing my toe by saying “Jen, look at this bright shiny thing!”). She has recently started to ‘tell’ us what happened by pointing to the thing that hurt her, and when she’s ready she resumes her play. People who meet her are often quite surprised by how confidently she moves around and by how much I trust her to safely navigate things like stairs.
So this is why (and how) we RIE – because it gives us the tools we need to guide Carys as she discovers the world, and have a respect-based relationship with her at the same time.