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.