Wednesday, November 10, 2010

RIE in the news

Recently the NY Times magazine published this article about RIE. RIE, or Resources for Infant Educarers, (although unfortunately named), has given me so much as a new parent that I hate to see it written up as a celebrity trend or compared to a cult. The fact is that the founder of RIE, Magda Gerber, came to Los Angeles and set up teaching here, and so yes, many celebrities who live here have found RIE. And many people can understandably feel a little questioning about even the notion of a parenting philosophy- aren't we just supposed to know what to do- instinctively? Hmm, well, when you're raised in a less than perfect culture, you're bound to emulate some pretty weird stuff I think unless you put a lot of thought and consideration into what you're doing. In other words, sure I have positive and nurturing instincts but toddlers fighting over a toy? Help? Right?

So what is RIE? When I expressed interest in RIE to a TV director I was working with who had a daughter who had been through RIE, his reaction was to nod and smile and say "oh you're a hippy too."

RIE, as I remember reading in one of Gerber's books, has the motto "do less, enjoy more" - not "do less observe more" (although observation is a huge part of RIE) and that's really it. Enjoy more. For me, I can remember the first few RIE classes I went to with Akiva, and the beginning of the class was just simply observing another baby. And as my eyes wandered back to Akiva, it felt like it was some of the first moments where I really saw him. I wasn't hurrying through something, or catching my breath, or planning a feeding or a nap or looking for a burp cloth, or answering the phone or any number of things that filled my day as a frazzled new mom. I was given the opportunity to see him, and see that what he was up to- even as a very young baby-was some pretty serious and beautiful work of learning and experiencing and teaching himself in his own amazing little way. I didn't need to do anything. I needed to stay out of his way! He was busy. That made such a huge impact on me.

RIE basically encourages parents to provide simple toys that invite active interaction (not battery powered plastic passive interaction toys), to treat your baby with respect the same way you would a grown up (tell your baby what you are going to do to him before you do it, don't pick up a child roughly when you can do it gently, don't pick them up at all when you can ask them to move, and wait for an appropriate moment to step in and interrupt play) and encourage your children to do as much for themselves as they are able which helps them develop self esteem and authentic behavior.

One of the things people seem to think is strange about RIE is that I don't force sharing on Akiva and I don't run to him when he's fallen and swoop him up and tell him he's OK. It is hard to be at a playground and do things differently than most of the moms around you. I feel terrible in front of other parents sometimes when Akiva has a toy and another child comes along and grabs it and a struggle ensues and I don't demand that Akiva give the toy over.

I feel there is an unfair expectation that our children must be little extensions of ourselves and what our behavior would be. I'd like to think that if the child's mom came along and said to me "Hi, I like your shovel, can I use it?" That I'd hand it over knowing that it feels good to share things and make friends. But Akiva is not me, and he doesn't feel this way yet. He could not possibly grasp those reasons for "sharing", and he can learn those things when he is developmentally ready.

At his age- he's not even 2-, little scuffles over toys often solve themselves, and through that, children learn to deal with each other and have self reliance in social situations. If the scuffle escalates, the RIE thing to do, I think, would be to just say what you see going on. If some physical altercation seems inevitable, I'd gently put a hand between the children as I talked to them. If someone is left crying, those feelings are valid feelings about the situation and I always let Akiva know I see that he's crying and I am right there if he decides he needs me to hold him for comfort.

Its similar if he falls. If Akiva has a tumble and cries and I walk towards him, I tell him I saw what happened and wait to see what he needs. I never tell him "you're okay" because how do I know? Even if he has no physical harm he might feel scared or embarrassed, and thats not being okay. Who am I to say he is or he isn't?

Also, it can be hard in front of other adults sometimes because I don't tell Akiva what to say. RIE philosophy believes that children learn through observing and imitating what they see. (For good and bad right?) I never tell Akiva to say bye bye or to hug or kiss anybody. I say bye in front of him, I kiss people I feel like kissing, and hug to say hello and goodbye. He sees me do this all the time. Sometimes he feels like kissing and hugging our friends and relatives and it's so amazingly wonderful to know that he feels like doing it! The first time I sneezed in the car and Akiva said "bless you" from his car seat in the back is one of my all time favorite moments of being a mama.

So yes, I can see other people might think what I'm doing looks weird and that can be tough. We are all doing what we think is best. So I hope the next time you hear or read about RIE or see someone like me and Akiva in the sandbox, that some of these ideas make sense to you, too.


  1. I agree with the bulk of what you say except that I violently disagree with:

    " I always let Akiva know I see that he's crying and I am right there if he decides he needs me to hold him for comfort."

    I don't let adults cry without comforting them. It may not be more than a quick hug with an "if you need me" which you usually winds up an extended talk or hug. I can't imagine letting a small child making the decision that they need someone to hold them unconditionally. I did it with my kids and their friends if they cried. I never regretted it or felt unwanted and as they grew up, they all to a greater or lesser extent felt they could come to me if they had to just talk. I was never so convinced that comforting was the best thing to do for a kid as when years later the parent of one middle school kid for whom I was a crossing guard came up to me and told me that I had made a big impact on his son.

    If Akiva cries. Hold him. You don't have to tell him anything whether it's not a valid feeling or that it's going to be all right or even a word. The simple human contact that someone cares is enough

  2. I agree with you, but Akiva can communicate with me whether he needs me to pick him up for a hug or not. He sometimes runs to me to be in my arms, and sometimes stays where he is.
    I hope that, like in your example with adults, Akiva knows that if he needs me, we can have a hug- its not quite at extended talk yet! But I am a stay at home mom for the most part, and when I am working, my husband takes care of Akiva. Often we are both around all day, and this makes it easy for Akiva to know that my consistent presence is one of "if he needs me". I do think it is important that I take Akiva's communication about what he needs into consideration when I act. Sometimes a bump needs a 2 second wail, and usually I have been near by, and I respond by acknowledging that I saw what happened- I'll tell Akiva I saw his head hit the side of the table, or whatever, and come close if I have any concerns while I display as much understanding and sympathy and calmness for what has gone on as I can. Sometimes he climbs into my arms and cries, and sometimes he will stop crying to tell me more details about what happened, or repeat what I've said and point to where the accident occured. I think its comforting him to know that I understood what went on. I think sometime she's not sure of what happened and appreciates knowing why his forehead smarts and he's on the floor! I try to leave room for *him to help himself* when appropriate- for him to come towards me- the confidence one gains from knowing they can participate in their own needs is immense, I think. And leaving room for Akiva to authentically respond to small accidents also helps him respond authentically in other situations, too. I sometimes see children who cry more because their caregiver way over reacts to a situation, and then the child feels they must react in the same way. Alternately, I see kids told not to cry when their caregiver downplays something that's happened. Both are a shame because the message is "I don't care what you really feel or what you really need"
    But yes, I agree hugging is usually welcomed no matter what amongst most people. I just like to give Akiva the lead.

  3. Ah. OK. Absolutely agree with not pre-emptively responding to what would have been an ouchie if one had just acknowledged the situation and moved on. I think I mentally went in the direction of "serious" crying and not testing one's limits crying.