RIE is probably the closest to my instinctual parenting style. I came across a blog about it quite by accident, then I read a couple books about it – one by the founder of the method, Magda Gerber. Here are some guidelines RIE teaches:
- Every child should have a safe environment where he/she can play and explore
- Babies need time to play on their own and with other babies
- Childcare activities (diaper changing, baths, feeding, etc.) should make the child an active participant and warrant your undivided attention
- Weaning should take place at one year old if you can't manage any sooner
- You shouldn't use pacifiers
- Sleep-training is strongly encouraged
- Anything your child is to learn should be learned independently, as much as is possible. This includes talking, potty training, rolling over, crawling, walking, etc.
This parenting style gets a lot of flack because people think it expects your child to be too adult. I don't see how this is true, as every child longs to be like an adult, and children spend all their time imitating what they see. Here are the points fleshed out and my comments on them.
Although our home is childproof, Gerber recommends something a little different: a marked off space for your child to play in for most of the day. If you can manage it, he or she should have an entire room to play in. It should be childproofed to the point that if you leave for several hours and come back, your baby will need a diaper change and be grumpy but otherwise unhurt (though leaving your baby alone for that amount of time is certainly not recommended). This is meant to create an independent child who can easily entertain his or herself. Our daughter is pretty independent, and though we haven't blocked off an area or room for her, she has her own corner and shelf which hold only things she can play with. She spend much of the day occupied in her space, and I hardly ever need to find other methods of entertainment.
RIE actually puts together special baby groups with a maximum of six children who meet every week. They essentially grow up together, learning new things. A big reason Gerber recommends this is because it is a way to teach social skills. Parents do not play with the children – they sit back and watch them, only interfering if someone is about to get hurt. Even if children are fighting over a toy, it is recommended to let them handle conflict on their own so long as they do not try to hit one another. Although there is no such group in my area, I practice the same hands-off approach when my daughter is with other children. I have found she handles conflict easily on her own, and if she wants me to help, she asks for help. I once saw her approach another toddler and offer him a toy. He pushed her over, and she cried, coming to me for comfort, ignoring him the rest of the time he was around.
Baby Participation – Parental Attention
This was an area where I needed some work. I found myself rushing through diaper changes while my baby screamed the whole time, and I couldn't seem to convince her it would end soon enough. RIE encourages you to slow down such “menial” tasks, involving your child, and making sure your attention is unwavering. I started to take my time with diaper changes, asking my daughter to help with certain things. “Can you lift your bottom? Time to put your legs down!” The first few times, she was confused, but now she is engaged in what is happening and far less stressed.
I also try not to rush eating, bathing, and dressing. I follow her cues and let her participate as much as she wants to, and it makes for a much easier and enjoyable time for both of us.
Weaning as Early as Possible
Here, I have a big problem. The RIE approach encourages independence, and Gerber seems to think that nursing does not foster this. I disagree. Nursing is not only necessary nutritionally, it is highly beneficial. Studies have shown that breastfeeding even past two years old can be medically advantageous. Personally, I'm letting my babies decide on their own when they want to stop feeding. I think Gerber's idea that it is unhealthy to nurse any longer than you absolutely must shows a lack of knowledge on the subject.
I read this in a lot of parenting approaches, and I know it makes sense for a lot of people, but it didn't for my family. I didn't plan on giving my baby a pacifier. For two months we tried to show her how to suck her thumb, but she refused. After her tongue-tie surgery, when I would let her suck on my finger to re-teach her to suck properly, she would suck for hours, and she was so content – something she hadn't been up to that point. I asked my lactation consultant if she thought we should try pacifiers, as she clearly needed to suck for comfort but refused to suck her thumb. My LC said that was an excellent reason to introduce one, so I did, and I had a much happier baby for it. I don't know if I'll need one for all my babies, but my daughter had a need, so I provided.
I don't think I need to explain my thoughts on this again. You can see my own practice in this post.
This, I think, is where I am most inline with Gerber's method. She encourages parents to allow children to achieve milestones on their own, and this begins by making sure you don't put your baby in a position he can't get into on his own. You always put him on his back, on the floor, because that is the most naturally position. In the baby's own time, he will learn to roll over, lift up his head, crawl, walk, climb, and everything else. If you allow a baby to learn in this way, he is more confident, his body creates strength in natural ways, and he is more aware of his limits (see this excellent example). This means you don't attempt to teach your baby words, walk them around, or sit them upright if they can't do those things on their own. Every baby will achieve these things at times unique to them. We trust them to know what to do. My daughter started walking at 13 months old with zero help from us, and we heard many remarks at how well she did it - with beautiful posture and poise. We believe that's because we didn't try to help.
Gerber takes this to some extremes, like saying you shouldn't use a high chair. She actually recommends that a child have his own little table and chair apart from everyone else, saying this is more respectful. I think being with family and the interactions that take place at mealtimes supersede this particular recommendation, but I can see her point – little people prefer things their size.
Obviously, I don't completely agree with Gerber on every issue, but I think her ultimate goal – an independent, self-aware child – is admirable. I hope that by practicing those recommendations which fit best into my family, my daughter will know her body and limits well. Already, I can see that she is more aware of herself than many children, and I look forward to seeing her grow even more. Since I didn't know much about this method until she was crawling, I look forward to seeing how her future siblings will handle things differently as I handle them differently.