After becoming a mom, I realized that I didn’t naturally know the best way to parent my children. I was raised in a dysfunctional environment that I did not want to replicate so I’ve had to learn healthy parenting skills as I go.
I want my children to feel secure, loved, and free to be whoever they want to be. I don’t want them to be held back by anxiety or low self-esteem. Though I know that I can’t control how their lives turn out, I do believe that a strong foundation will set them up for success. But how could I set up that foundation when my own was built on shaky ground?
By doing what I always do – research and read! There is tons of information about parenting written by experts in many different fields. There are SO many different parenting methods to choose from. Only you can decide what method is right for your family.
When I was looking for a parenting method that matched my family’s values I had two serious requirements.
- No spanking, swatting, hitting or any kind of physical punishment
- No yelling, screaming, shaming or name calling
My desire to have a peaceful, loving environment for my children led me to look for parenting methods that supported my goals.
The parenting method I found to best fit my family’s goals and values is called RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers). This method is also referred to as respectful parenting. If you’re interested in peaceful, conflict-free, respectful parenting then this method may be right for your family too.
What is RIE parenting?
RIE parenting was created by infant development expert Magda Gerber in 1973.
This method is a peaceful approach to parenting that removes the power struggle by letting you view your child as a fully capable, already formed human being. The method encourages respect and trust in your child.
Janet Lansbury is another supporter of RIE. She has written two informative and short books about the subject, No Bad Kids and Elevating Child Care. She also hosts a podcast where she answers questions from parents called Unruffled.
The goal of RIE parenting is to help raise an authentic child. RIE defines an authentic child as “who feels secure, autonomous, competent, and connected.” Our interaction with our child shows them that they are important and worthy of our full attention. Our attention is the greatest gift we can give our kids, especially in our technology-filled world.
Basics of RIE parenting
The basic principles of RIE parenting center around the idea that you trust your child to learn in their time and respect their process. Here are the main things you provide for your child:
- A safe, challenging, emotionally nurturing environment
This means that you have your house baby-proofed so that your child can explore without being told “no” and constantly re-routed or distracted. If the whole house isn’t doable, you could have one area in your home where the child can explore without limitations.
- Uninterrupted play time
You give your child time to play without stopping them to change diapers or wipe noses. You wait for a natural break in the action to do the unessential things. You also don’t hover or try to control the game or playing. You let the child be the decision maker during playtime.
- Freedom to explore and interact with other children
You develop relationships with other parents of children so that your children can interact with peers. You give the children space to freely play without too much parental involvement.
- Involvement and engagement in all care activities
This means that you talk to your child during care activities and help them become an active participant. This differs from the usual advice of distracting your child while doing things like nail clipping, diaper changing, tooth brushing, and bathing. Instead, you use this time to connect with your child and give them your full attention.
- Observation to understand their needs
This is considered sensitive observation because you are tuned into your child’s cues and signals to determine their needs. You follow their lead and watch them to figure out what they need. You don’t jump to conclusions and immediately “fix” all problems for your children.
- Consistency and clearly defined limits
Once you set a limit, you don’t back down regardless of your child’s reaction. You offer consistency through a normal routine (meals, bedtime, play). Children appreciate and need limits to feel safe and confident.
- Normal conversation and communication
This means that you inform your baby when you’re going to do something that involves him or her and explain what’s going on. You use normal language and voice tone from birth onward. You speak to your child as you would speak to any other person.
You can read more about the basic principles of RIE parenting here.
Positives of RIE parenting
One of the main things I like about RIE is the focus on respect and empathy for your children. When I discovered RIE, I found that I had already been doing a lot of what they recommended as my default parenting style.
Here are some things I like about the method:
- Talking to your children normally from birth
RIE encourages talking to children with normal speech, just a bit slower for them to understand, and proper language. Even before discovering RIE, I was always narrating what we were doing to my daughter. I feel that her excellent grasp of language has to do a lot with reading to her from an early age and talking to her a lot.
- Letting your child problem solve
RIE suggests that you give your child space to make sense of the world around him or her. This can be as simple as letting your baby figure out how the Tupperware stacks together or it can be more complicated like letting your older child sort out an argument over sharing a toy. Parents often jump in too soon and try to fix small issues which can undermine the child’s confidence.
To do this, you trust that your child can problem solve age-appropriate situations. The key here is age appropriate. Your children still need your guidance on things that are beyond their comprehension level.
- Allowing your child to work through their emotions
RIE promotes the idea of giving your child time and space to work things through. Often that looks like hugging a child, or sitting quietly while they cry, rage, or express excitement.
One of the things I tell my daughter is that sometimes you just need to cry it out. I sit with her through her emotions and don’t try to rush her or talk her out of expressing her feelings. I was often told to “suck it up” or “stop crying unless you want something to cry about” as a child and I feel that those reactions put a wall between me and my feelings. I want my children to feel comfortable expressing any emotion they need to without judgment or shame.
- Setting clear boundaries that work for you and make it easier to be a kind parent
RIE encourages setting limits often and early. Limits = rules. What do you want your child to do? What will bother you if they don’t do it? Children like structure and rules though you will initially see some resistance if you haven’t set a limit before.
If I know that I need my daughter to get dressed before a certain time or we’ll be late for school, I must set the limit to make things go smoothly before I get aggravated. Doing this would involve saying something like “It’s time to get your clothes on so I can take you to school.”
I’ve done well with setting certain limits and not so great with others. For example, I recently started teaching my daughter that she is responsible for cleaning up the messes she makes. Prior to this I would often pick up the mess from one activity, such as Play Dough on the counter, and let her move on to doing something else. When I first set the limit and told her she would not be doing another activity until she cleaned up the first activity, we had a two-hour standoff. She cried, threw things, hit me, ran outside, ran upstairs, and tried to hide in various places around the house. Each time, I calmly took her back to the scene, acknowledged that she didn’t want to clean up and was upset, and said “It’s time to clean up.” Eventually, she cleaned up and was extremely happy and proud of herself afterward. This experience showed me that I had not done a great job holding the limit in the past about cleaning up.
Wherever you find resistance to something, it’s a reminder that you need to stick with the limit.
- Communicating directly, clearly, and briefly
Direct communication involves telling your child that they need to do something e.g. “I need you to put your shoes on so I can put you in the car.” You do not say “We need to wear shoes” or “Shoes need to go on feet” because those ways of communicating can be confusing. Children can think “Shoes need to go on hands too” or “You may need to wear shoes in the car, but I don’t.” It’s easier for your child to figure out what you want them to do when you’re clear about it. Kids can’t follow a long explanation about why something needs to be done, they just need to know the rules (limits).
- Being a confident and empathetic leader of the household
RIE encourages you to a be a role model for your child in many ways. One of the ways is by being a confident and empathetic leader. This means you set limits and hold them, but you are kind and understanding of your child’s feelings. You acknowledge when your child is having a hard time and you tell them that you see their emotions and they are OK to feel and express.
Your child is looking for a leader. If you aren’t a leader for your child, they will find someone else to follow as they get older, for better or worse.
When I’m struggling with being the leader, I picture myself as a superhero. I have a bathrobe cape and a piping hot cup of coffee and I go by the name Supermama. My kids can throw everything they have at me (hitting, screaming, crying, mean words) and I will keep standing firm and offer to help them. Superheros don’t throw a tantrum or retaliate, they calmly lead others to safety.
- Modeling behavior is powerful
Whatever qualities you want to teach your child, show them instead. If you want your child to be kind to others, they need to see you being kind. If you want to teach patience, be patient. To teach love, be loving. Our children are learning from everything we say and everything we do.
The most important part of this whole parenting thing is how you handle yourself. You are the only person you can control; you can’t control your children or anyone else. What you can do is show them how to be a good person and hope they will model your behavior. We’ve all had a moment of bad behavior that our children have repeated. The same thing happens with positive behavior.
Negatives of RIE parenting
There are some aspects of RIE parenting that I don’t like. Like anything in parenting, I use the parts I agree with and leave the other parts behind. Since the 70s, child development has advanced and some of the RIE recommendations are now outdated.
Some of the things that don’t work for me and my family:
- No formal baby toys, play centers, or carrying devices
RIE does not recommend toys specifically for babies or any baby entertainment device. Instead, they suggest that you allow babies to have access to safe items that they can play with like spoons, cups, and things in nature.
We have lots of toys for babies and children including noise making ones. I want my child to be exposed to bright colors, different textures, and shapes. I allow and encourage my children to play with toys. I do limit screen time and try not to expose my children to it before two years old.
As I’ve mentioned before, I would not have been able to get anything done without my infant carrier so I don’t agree with the idea that you should only hold your child with your arms.
- Limiting holding babies and letting babies cry
RIE recommends allowing babies to cry to teach them to self-soothe. Although I do sleep training with some crying (The SleepEasy Solution), I don’t let my kids cry for more than a few minutes before comforting them.
We have more information on how parents holding their children helps babies learn to self soothe than Gerber did at the time of this recommendation. Having two children with different temperaments has shown me that while my daughter didn’t need to be held as much and didn’t cry unless she needed something, my son expresses his emotions through crying and likes to be held while doing so. As my son has grown out of his colic and reflux, he has gotten more interested in independent play.
If you want to hold your baby more while he or she is crying, that is up to you. I chose more of an attachment parenting model for the first six months of my children’s lives and wore them/held them most of the day.
As with other lifestyle choices, some people following RIE parenting are very strict. You may find other people who practice RIE to be more extreme, but I am not one of those people. I combine the components of numerous parenting styles to find something that works for me and my family.
RIE parenting makes the most sense to me during this season of babies and preschoolers, but should I find something else that works better as my children get older, I would be completely open to trying it.
If you’re interested in learning more about RIE parenting, please see the following resources:
**This post contains affiliate links.