I came across Respectful Parenting or Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) when I was pregnant. Back then, I was reading everything I could get my hands on about parenting. I was sceptical at first, just because Magda Gerber, who formulated the RIE philosophy in the 40s, did not have any children of her own. (You can read more about Gerber’s method here.) Her basic principals are based on the trust in the baby, who is a whole individual and needs to be treated with respect, just like an adult, so he can become a confident self-learner. The baby is encouraged to explore and play without being interrupted, in a safe and emotionally nurturing environment.
Some of Magda’s suggestions, who are also adopted by Janet Lansbury (an amazing mother and RIE parenting teacher) are:
- Always speak in the first person. Don’t say: Mummy is coming. Say: I am coming!
- Don’t scoop up a baby. Before you pick him up wait for eye contact and tell him what you are going to do.
- Do things with the baby, not for the baby.
- Acknowledge feelings.
- Allow the child to experience conflict and work it out for himself.
- Set clear rules and expectations and don’t react to bad behaviour. Keep a neutral tone and stop your child from doing something inappropriate when you need to. (You could hold his hands when he wants to hit, for instance, and say “I see you want to hit. I won’t let you.”).
- Be the leader your child needs you to be and don’t be afraid of his reactions.
Magda also advises parents to observe and listen closely to their baby before any response. That translates into letting them cry for a while before deciding they can’t fall asleep on their own.
Another specific characteristic for RIE babies is that they don’t have any imposed tummy time. They lie on their backs until they can turn on their own. Also, babies are not carried in an upward position (or worn in a carrier) because that is not yet their natural position.
I am more of an Attachment Parent and a big fan of baby wearing (I still use my moby carrier with my 20-month-old) but one of the many things I have taken from the Respectful Parenting and put into practice has been the way I prepare my son for change/transitions. Breastfed baby, he’s never been a good sleeper and the most important, he had never gone to bed without me until recently. As soon as I knew that day was coming, I thought about how to prepare him (and me). We have tried it before but it was a disaster. I never knew a child could cry that hard and be so stressed and upset. He fell asleep sobbing and was waking up every 10 minutes crying and calling me. He could not rest until I went to him. For some people, this would not be a problem but whoever knows me can tell you how I feel about this kind of episodes.
I didn’t want him to stress and suffer because I was not next to him ONE NIGHT when he went to bed. I wished I could make him accept to peacefully go to bed with daddy until I came. So, what to do? What to do?
Prepare. Days before my important meeting (the reason I wasn’t going to be home for a couple of hours at bedtime), I started talking to my sweet child about what was going to happen. I told him exactly what I was going to do and I described in detail everything he was going to do in my absence. I said I knew it was something different he was not used to and that it was okay if he felt sad, and daddy was going to be there for him. I also told him that he might wake up and I won’t be there but I will come soon.
We repeated this conversation quite a few times that week.
Act with Confidence. After preparing LO, I was still not sure how this was going to play but I did not want him to feel my insecurity. When the time came for me to leave, I said goodbye, gave him a kiss and left immediately. I didn’t pity him, I didn’t linger, I was not hesitant at all. I chose to trust him and act with confidence so he could do the same.
Respect feelings and don’t try to fix them. (This part was done by my husband.) Our son started crying after I left. His dad allowed him to express his feelings and to cry for as long as he needed to. He acknowledged his feelings and didn’t try to end his “suffering”. Letting him decide when/if he wants to be comforted and not trying to distract him with some toy, helped our son accept the new plan in less than 5 minutes. They read a book together and went to bed with no fuss! When I came back he was still asleep. He usually wakes up every two hours. That night, for the first time in 20 months he slept passed midnight!
This was just an exercise that made me try more RIE techniques. The next one was night weaning, and I will talk about it in a future post.