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

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

When I was in my early 20’s I was in a beauty pageant – or scholarship program, if you will. My platform was promoting self-esteem in today’s youth. When it was time for the Q&A portion of the pageant, they asked me a question that, at the time, I believed was irrelevant. “When do you think that a child should start listening to music?”

My answer: “Um, the womb?”

To be honest, after spending 20 minutes in the room with the people that came up with that question. I truly believe that the questions’ purpose was about how music can contribute to a child’s self esteem, and it got me thinking. For every friend who has had a baby, I truly believe that a child comes into the world with a personality. So, maybe it’s not too far fetched to believe that while they are developing they are learning, maybe? Now before I spark a debate about what a baby learns in utero, here is the second part of my interview with Deborah Carlisle Solomon the author of the book Baby Knows Best: Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child, the RIE® Way,and the Executive Director of RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers). If you missed it, you can find part one here.


EKM: Now, for someone who has never heard of RIE or hasn’t read your book, could you explain a little bit about what RIE is all about?

DCS: Magda Gerber’s Educaring® Approach gives us practical tools to create a respectful relationship with a baby from the beginning of life. How do we pick up a baby and diaper her respectfully, set limits respectfully, etc? The Educaring Approach shows us how to slow down and observe our baby, and this helps to increase the possibility that we will respond to her accurately rather than quickly assume that we know what she needs or wants.

EKM: How does RIE parenting contribute to raising a confident and resourceful child?

DCS: Since we come from the point of view that even a very young baby is not utterly helpless, we invite the baby to participate in his care. A diaper change, for example, is something that we do with the baby rather than to the baby. We may invite a newborn to lift his bottom on the changing table. At first, we will need to lift his bottom but over time and with repetition, he will learn what those words mean and respond by lifting his bottom for us. As he develops, the exchanges will grow; he may pull open the tab of his diaper or hold the new diaper until it’s time to put it on.

During play, we give the baby or toddler time to problem solve on her own. This can be a challenge for parents who believe that it’s loving to hand a toy that’s just out of reach to their not-yet-crawling baby or nest the cups for their toddler who hasn’t figured out how to do it on her own. But those responses assume that the baby or toddler will become frustrated if she can’t accomplish those tasks, yet we see over and over again that this is not true. Most adults are goal-oriented so we assume that if a baby is reaching for the toy, we should hand it to her. But the baby is engaged with the process and when given time to try and try again, she will experiment and accept that struggle is a necessary part of that process. If she can’t quite reach the toy, and if an adult has not been in the habit of problem-solving for her, she will turn her attention to something else. When we give a baby the opportunity to try and try again, we support the growth of her tenacity and resourcefulness.


EKM: Take me back to the beginning of your journey when you first discovered the RIE way.

DCS: I discovered Magda Gerber’s book, Your Self Confident Baby, when my son was one; he’s 15 now. My husband and I found our way to RIE Parent-Infant Guidance™ classes and I breathed a sigh of relief. I realized that I had been working so hard to keep my son happy all the time that I sometimes neglected to really take him in. RIE gave me the tools to learn how to observe and understand him better, and to relax. The Educaring Approach is the antidote to helicopter parenting.

EKM: What are some differences that you noticed in your son and yourself after you starting applying RIE?

DCS: My life as a parent became easier because RIE gave me a foundation from which to make all sorts of parenting decisions. I learned to slow down and give my son time. Our life together felt a lot more calm and peaceful. My confidence grew and I was more relaxed. Parenting became more enjoyable and more fun. Before RIE, as soon as my son cried I thought the goal was to help him stop crying, so I’d quickly pick him up to nurse him. He’d stop crying but I know there must have been times when I nursed him when he wasn’t hungry but was tired or uncomfortable instead. I learned to slow down when he cried, to take a few moments to try to understand why he was crying so that I could respond to him more accurately.

EKM: Now that he’s a teenager how do you continue to use the RIE approach in your everyday life?

DCS: I still rely on RIE principles to consider how to respond to my son in a way that respects our sometimes two different points of view. RIE principles don’t just apply to people between birth and two years of age. They can inform all relationships.


EKM: What are the RIE principles?

DCS: There are many but here are three things that parents can practice that can make a big difference to everybody’s sense of well-being:

1. Slow Down: when you are with your baby. Pick him up slowly, carrying him slowly to his crib, and slowly enter the room where he is present. Moving slowly helps to create a sense of calm and peacefulness.

2. Tell your baby what you’re going to do before you do it. “I’m going to pick you up now.” “I’m going to the other room.” “I’m going to take off your diaper.” It is respectful to tell your baby what’s about to happen and he can relax, knowing there will be no surprises.

3. Tarry time: After you’ve told your baby what is about to happen, wait a few moments for him to process what you’ve said. Since babies take longer to process verbal communication than adults do, it’s respectful to wait for your baby to let you know that he’s ready. He may squirm with delighted anticipation of being picked up or let you know in his own unique way that he understands what you have said.


EKM: How did you become the Executive Director of RIE?

DCS: RIE made such a positive impact on my life that I wanted to do what I could to help it to endure and prosper. I became RIE Executive Director in 2006 and am committed to bringing Magda’s message of respectful care for babies and young children to more families and caregivers.

EKM: What made you decide to write the book?

DCS: I wrote Baby Knows Best as a guidebook, particularly for people who might not be able to attend a class in person. It is not just theoretical, but gives specific examples of how to implement the Educaring Approach. It also has wonderful stories from parents who practice this approach with their children and these stories, I think, help to bring the approach to life.


EKM: In a section of the book you mention showing parents not only the importance of communicating and observing, but also what it feels like to be a baby. Even swaddling them!  Have you ever been swaddled?

DCS: Yes, I was swaddled in a class, as part of an exercise to experience things from a baby’s point of view. I immediately said, “Take this off!” I felt confined, constricted, and claustrophobic. We shouldn’t assume that a baby needs a swaddle. We first observe to see how he manages on his own. During sleep, a newborn baby may shudder and his limbs may twitch, but he may be able to settle back down to sleep. (There is a lovely video of just this scenario in the Kindle version of Baby Knows Best.) If parents choose to use some sort of device, I would recommend a sleep sack because it allows the hands to be free so that the baby can access them to self-soothe. It is also loose around the hips and legs, which is important because we never want tight swaddling around the hip area as this risks developmental hip dysplasia.

EKM: I don’t think that I’d like to be constricted like that either.


EKM: What does focusing on and talking milestones do to a baby?

DCS: All babies develop according to their own individual timetable. Until a child is developmentally ready, she won’t be able to roll over, crawl, sit, stand, and take her first step. Pay attention to what your baby is doing, take pleasure in it, and try not to compare her to another baby. As Magda Gerber said, “Babies are not racehorses” and there is wisdom in practicing something slowly to understand it completely before moving on to the next thing. Of course, your pediatrician will be there to guide you, so try to relax and appreciate how your baby is moving and developing new skills.


EKM: What about potty training? You hear a lot of people worried that their child isn’t potty trained yet. They bribe them with candy; which always makes me wonder if they’re going to have to run to the snack machine every time they use the bathroom as adults.

DCS:  It’s all about readiness. When a child is ready to use the toilet, he can learn to do so quite successfully and without too many mishaps. It is up to the parent to know what the readiness cues are and to look for them. It’s unwise to use bribery or call in a brass band when a child is successful, either of which can create tension around a natural bodily function.


EKM: What happens when you start to grow your family, and have more than one child?

DCS: Sometimes things go smoothly when the second (or third or fourth) baby is born but most often, there is a period of adjustment during which the first born may show regressive behavior, act out by being aggressive, or ask the parent to send the baby back from whence he came! It’s important to give everybody time to adjust to the newest member of the family and all that that means.


EKM: Lastly, why does baby know best?

DCS: Magda Gerber said, “Nobody knows better about what a baby needs than that baby.” To me, this points to the fact that nature has a plan for a baby to grow and develop. Magda’s quote was the inspiration for the title of my book. Nature has a plan. We need to be respectful of that.

To Learn More about RIE® and Magda Gerber’s Educaring® Approach, please visit www.rie.org.


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