RIE-SPECT: Mama Can You Hear Me? Part I

originally posted on www.WhattheFlicka.com by Erin K. Moffat

I’ve been raising a lot of eyebrows lately. Why, you ask? For the past few weeks I’ve been carrying a book under my arm: Baby Knows Best: Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child, the RIE® Way. I don’t have kids so why would I be reading a parenting book? No, I’m not pregnant, but after reading the book if I end up having a child I will be running to a RIE (pronounced “wry”) class immediately. Hashtag Word To The Mother (#Word2DaMotha).

Now, if you’ve heard about RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) parenting you might have seen some of the headlines calling it a Hollywood Hype. Luckily, I had the opportunity to go straight to the source; Deborah Carlisle Solomon, the Executive Director of RIE and the author of the book. She not only answered all of my questions but cleared a few things up.


EKM: There are several articles about RIE parenting out there. Like is it “Crazy or crazy smart?” Others are calling it a ‘Kooky Hollywood Trend.’ What sets it apart and what would you say to the critics and naysayers?

DCS: RIE is not a new trend and it’s certainly not crazy. It was founded in 1978 by infant specialist and educator Magda Gerber and pediatric neurologist Tom Forrest, M.D. When parents take the time to really learn about RIE, most find that it makes a lot of sense and gives them the tools to understand their babies better and respond to them more sensitively and accurately. It can also help to make life as a parent easier and more enjoyable. I don’t think there’s anything “kooky” about all that. RIE is headquartered in L.A. where many actors live and some of those actors have babies and attend classes, but of the thousands of parents who have participated in classes, only a few have been celebrities.

EKM:  Lets talk more specifically about the Vanity Fair article; Childhood’s End: Out with the sippy cups, bouncers, and pacifiers! L.A., which loves any new parenting trend, has latched onto RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) and its message of respect for a baby’s true nature. Some scoff, but—funny thing—it seems to work.

DCS:  Out of context and without understanding the “why’s” and “why not’s,” lots of ideas can seem strange. But there’s nothing strange about caring for a baby respectfully. At RIE, we don’t see babies as fragile and utterly helpless; young babies have certain innate capabilities that develop as they grow.

Sippy cups are useful when you’re out and about but at home, very young children who are not nursed or bottle-fed can learn to drink from a glass. We suggest a small Duralex glass because it’s sturdy. About pacifiers: some newborn and very young babies can benefit from a pacifier but it should be used judiciously and dispensed with as soon as the baby rejects it. Parents should not assume that their baby needs a pacifier. The cry is the baby’s first language, after all, so we want to listen and try to understand why the baby is crying. We don’t want to pop in a pacifier and send the message to a baby to “please stop because I don’t want to listen to you cry.” Instead, we can say to a crying baby something like, “You’re crying really hard. I wonder what you need. I just fed and diapered you, and you only woke from your nap a short while ago. You’re upset about something so I’ll hold you for a little while. Maybe that will help you to settle.”

Babies love to move and enjoy freedom of movement. Bouncers and other devices restrict free movement and are often used to keep the baby safe while the adult is out of the room. One of the RIE principles is to have an environment for the child that is physically safe. For a very young baby who is not yet rolling over to his side, this can be his crib or bassinet; an older baby or toddler will need a gated off area where he can move and play freely, without any risk of injury. When there is a safe space for the baby or toddler, there is no need to use a bouncer or other piece of equipment as a holding pen.


EKM: What is a safe play space?

DCS: Magda defined a safe space as one that if you got locked out of the house and your baby was left alone all day, she would be hungry, upset, and in need of a new diaper when you returned, but she would be unharmed.

EKM: Your book stresses the importance of uninterrupted play, but what would you say to people who feel like they need to put on a show for their kids?

DCS: Babies are not just fooling around with their toys during playtime. They’re learning a lot; about cause and effect, problem-solving, and what interests them, to name just a few things. They are also naturally curious and don’t need us to teach them how to play. It’s our job to set up the environment by putting out a few toys and then it’s up to the baby to choose what object to play with, how to play with it, and for how long. The parent can sit quietly nearby and enjoy observing the baby as he plays, and if he engages with the parent, there’s an interaction. If an older baby or toddler engages with a parent, we let the child take the lead. This is very different than when a parent looks upon the child’s playtime as a time when the child must be entertained and the parent is the playmate. In this case, the parent can become the author or director of the play, or the entertainer. Playtime devolves from a time for the child to explore, investigate and discover, to a time to be entertained, with the child being reliant on the adult. When a baby has an opportunity for uninterrupted playtime each day, it is wonderful to see how engaged he can be with the simplest of play objects and how much pleasure he can derive from self-initiated play.


EKM: The book talks a lot about reading babies cues, for instance they almost mirror our behavior? How does a baby read our cues?

DCS: Babies are like sponges; they take in the positive behavior we model and the not-so-positive behavior too. They mirror ourselves back to us. If we are anxious and irritable, it’s likely that our baby will be out of sorts too. If we are in the habit of yelling, our child will learn to yell too. In significant ways, our children can be a reflection of our deepest selves. But I don’t think this is something to be feared. Rather, it is an opportunity for personal growth and betterment.

EKM: Great point! Never even thought of that! What about being able to understand different types of cries for different reasons?

DCS: The cry is the baby’s first language and how she communicates. It can take a while to understand what the different cries mean, and parents should be kind to themselves if they don’t always understand why their baby is crying. Sometimes you just don’t know. But asking aloud about the basic needs can be helpful. “Are you hungry?” “Tired?” “Do you need a new diaper?” If the answer to all these is “no,” perhaps your baby wants to be held. We do our best to respond accurately, knowing that sometimes a baby’s upset will be mysterious to us; in which case, we can provide comfort until the baby is at ease.


EKM: I want to talk to you a little bit about moving slowly. What is your advice in this distracted living era, where we have gadgets, and are such a technological driven society where we are over stimulated on a daily basis? How do you slow down to be more attuned to your baby?

DCS: Electronic devices can be a sort of addiction, can’t they? My suggestion is that if you’re coming home from work, check your texts before you come into the house or apartment and then turn off your phone. If you can’t leave your phone off all evening or on the weekend, identify some regular times that you can turn it off so that you can be fully present with your baby, without interruption. Turn off your computer too, so that you won’t hear the ding of an incoming email. Have you ever been out to dinner with someone who leaves their cell phone on the table? It’s as if the person is saying to you, “We may be interrupted at any moment.” I imagine a baby or young child might feel the same way if her parent chooses to give attention to a text or email every time it sounds, rather than staying present with whatever they were doing together before they were interrupted. Magda Gerber said that it’s better to give full attention part of the time then fractured attention all day long.

EKM: Oh, how true that is!

I had such an amazing time speaking with Deborah, and there was so much valuable information that I learned, that I couldn’t fit our entire interview into just one article. Please be on the look out for Part II of Mama Can You Hear Me: RIE-SPECT.

“Every baby moves with more ease and efficiency if allowed to do it at his own time and in his own way, without our trying to teach him.”-Magda Gerber


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