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RIE, raising independent babies

RIE is a philosophy on raising independent babies. However… I carry that over to raising all children. It’s pronounced like rye bread, but it’s actually an acronym for Resources for Infant Educarers.

I could go on all day about the history, the science, the studies behind where RIE came from and proving its place on the table…but because you’re probably scanning this at nap time , I won’t. [If you become interested and want to read more, I recommend the book Your Self Confident Baby, by Magna Gerber. ]Instead, I’ll walk you through my journey to RIE and end with how to implement it into your parenting style and explain WHY YOU WANT TO!

rie, independent baby

My Personal Journey to RIE

When I was 21, I thought I knew all I could possibly know about baby care. My mom took in dozens of foster babies as I was growing up. And by this time I had worked as a nanny, a newborn care specialist and at a daycare in the 0-18 months room. I was on my last internship of my Early Childhood Education degree, and my teacher proposed a “special” child care center to me. This infant room was based on the principles of RIE. I walked in and was shellshocked.

The first couple days the center seemed cruel and cold. I couldn’t understand why these babies were laid down to fall asleep by themselves with no rocking or pacifier. I couldn’t understand why we couldn’t hold or play with the infants while they were awake. I couldn’t understand why the bigger babies were being fed on laps instead of in a high chair…in fact there WERE no high chairs. Or bouncy seats, or exersaucers, or props or containers of any type. It was unlike any infant environment I had ever been in.

Nevertheless, I wasn’t there to judge, I was there to learn. So I observed, and I listened, and I read. And…I fell in love. I noticed the “ignored” babies were happy. I noticed babies sitting independently sooner than the babies I’ve worked with before. I noticed that the children in the older classrooms were patient, kind and respectful with one another. Like literally anything when it comes to parenting, I didn’t take 100% of it with me. But almost ten years later, the more I observe, experience…and read, the more confident I am that RIE can really change the game when it comes to parenting babies!

Okay so what is RIE?

It’s a lot. A lot of little things. But for the sake of a blog and not a novel I’ll focus on the ones that stand out as important to me.

Respect:

This is EVERYTHING when it comes to RIE. It’s the foundation of the entire thing. You treat babies like humans, and not objects. You act like they are capable. You believe in their ability. And you respect their space. [more on this later]

From day one when you go to pick them up you say, “I’m going to pick you up now.” Ideally you watch and wait for a response- likely eye contact or a body movement, and then pick them up and continue to the next step. Diaper changes may take 15 minutes, because you are talking them through the process and inviting them to become active participants in their life.

This transitions beautifully because babies understand language before most parents realize! So saying, “We’re going to grandma’s house!” to an 8 month old may elicit big grins if they have associated that word with a loving cuddly family member.

Parents of multiple children are now laughing at me. Okay random internet lady- that’s fine if you’re a stay at home parent for one kid, but what about when everyone needs attention? I can’t be doing ten minute diaper changes!…I urge you to remember where I originally learned this style. In a daycare. With 3 teachers, and 10-12 babies. That is 4 babies to one caregiver. And it was the smoothest run infant room I’ve ever seen. Which leads me to my next point…

On/OFF

This isn’t a RIE term. But from talking to multiple parents it’s the easiest way to explain why RIE can be very practical and easy and set you up for an easy toddler and an easy kid!

On:

The caregivers are “on” 100% during caregiving tasks. Feeding, diapering, changing, bathing, naptime routine etc. If I’m feeding a baby a bottle I am making eye contact, singing songs, snuggling them close and engaging them in conversation. If I am bathing a baby we are going to touch all the body parts, count our toes, talk about the water temperature.

Off:

The caregivers are “off” all other times unless the baby asks them. In a traditional RIE setting, the caregiver is quiet, attentive, available, but hands off. Sitting and waiting in the background, observing the infant or child. However, for parenting, I implement it a bit differently.

Example: 1 month old. Dad intentionally feeds the baby, snuggles the baby, holds her upright while she burps and digests for a moment…then lays her on her play gym and walks away. He does laundry. She looks at things for 20 minutes, then she starts whimpering. Dad listens and comes into the room within her sight but doesn’t “save her”. He works on some emails on the other side of the room for another ten minutes. She starts to grunt and fuss. He moves over close to her. He doesn’t shake a rattle in her face. He doesn’t swoop her up. He’s just there. She looks over at him and yawns. He is aware that she’s been awake almost an hour, and he respects her sleepy cue. He says, “You look tired, lets get some rest. I’m going to put you to bed now.” And they head to the bedroom for naptime.

Example: A 15 month old. Mom gives the baby his breakfast. He can sit and stand independently so he sits in a child sized chair at a child sized table and feeds himself while she sits with him and they engage in conversation about taste and textures. She cleans him up slowly while warning him first about what area she is going to wipe before she just swoops in with a rough cloth. Then she brings him over to his “yes space” [more on this later] and she sits on the other side of the room and reads her book. He plays with his quiet, open ended toys for about a half hour. Then he comes over to her with his book and climbs into her lap. She reads it to him, and he stays in her lap for a cuddle and then crawls back over to his toys. He gets very involved in his blocks for almost 45 minutes but his tower keeps falling and he’s frustrated and crying. Mom notices and comes and sits near him. When he looks up at her she says, “Wow that is frustrating! You tried so hard!” He puts one hand on her leg while he tries again, and fails. He throws himself on the floor while mom narrates what is happening. She doesn’t save him. She doesn’t scold him. She doesn’t do it for him. He calms down. Looks at her and hands her a block and signs the word “help.” They build blocks together for the rest of playtime.

Physical Component

This is a weird one for some. RIE recommends not putting babies into positions that they cannot get themselves into. [I highly recommend the article Don’t Stand me up  by Janet Lansbury]. This means do not sit your baby up surrounded by pillows or put them in a bumbo chair until they are able to get themselves into that position. Do not put babies in a jumparoo or exersaucer before they are standing on their own.

I went to school for Occupational Therapy once upon a time and was surprised to find how much data supported this. Babies need to strengthen their core first and the only way to do that correctly is floor time. Back and belly moving around on their own. Yes, they get frustrated. But that frustration is motivation. If you sit them up or hold them every time they whimper there is a term for that…learned helplessness. [Doesn’t sound great does it?]

Children raised with RIE tend to sit crawl and walk earlier…and later on their quality of movement is noticeably different from their peers.

Yes Space and types of toys

If you take anything from this way of parenting- take the yes space! All parenting styles benefit from this. In an ideal yes space you could be dealing with an emergency in a different area of the house for 6 hours and know that your child is safe. Now, you are not going to do that. But knowing you can take a shower or even just have a BM with your baby/toddler being safe is a gamechanger.

A yes space can be a big pack n play, it can be a gated bedroom, or a designated gated off playroom or area of the living room. You need to think of ALL potential hazards. Pets, outlets, blinds, small toys of older children etc. With multiple children I recommend the yes space is safe for the youngest party involved, and the older children’s toys can be stored in their bedrooms or in pull out bins/containers that are stored outside of the yes space.

TOYS

RIE toys follow a Waldorf/Montessori type theme. Not busy. Not loud. Not interactive. A common Montessori phrase is “Active toys make passive babies, passive toys make active babies.” If you give a baby a ball they will roll it, chase it, throw it- endlessly. If you give a baby a ball that rolls around and makes silly noises they will watch it, maybe chase it for a moment, but soon lose interest and wait for the next thing to come entertain them.

We love toys from lovevery. It’s great that they include guides on how to prompt your baby too!

RIE Takeaways

Remember, with RIE we have faith that children are capable. They are capable of entertaining themselves.

Babies that are raised with RIE become toddlers that aren’t clingy and can confidently run off on the playground.

They become children that don’t whine “I’m bored” at relatives houses, or ask for screens every time they are in the car.

Babies that can be independent during the day end up being better SLEEPERS. Yes you heard that right. RIE combines so beautifully with our Eat Play Sleep, Three hour schedule HERE and our How the Heck Do I Play With A Baby Blog HERE. If you listen to your baby when they wake in the night, observe them and respect their actual needs- you’re less likely to respond to every cough and whimper. Babies that are allowed to learn to sleep on their own do so within the first 3-4 months and don’t need to be sleep trained or CIO later in life! Win-win-win.

A happy confident self assured baby that sleeps? Sign me up

Karina McCarthy

A Rhode Island native who has babies in her blood. A mom to a beautiful daughter and a lover of yoga and long naps.