What is RIE anyway? And, what does it look like in practice?


(Photo courtesy of Philippe Put, Flickr Creative Commons)

Happy New Year, amig@s!

As I was brainstorming for the first blog post of the new year, I realized that, although I’ve written a lot on certain aspects and parts of RIE parenting I have never taken the time to explain its core tenets.

So, I thought why not kick off 2017 with an overview of what RIE is (the eight principles below come from the RIE website) and what it looks like in the day-to-day life of our family?

Before continuing, let me be clear that RIE is not the only respectful philosophy of childcare that exists, nor is my family practicing it “perfectly” (whatever that means anyway). Rather, RIE is an approach to caring for young children that deeply resonates with our family and which has brought us immense joy, freedom, and personal growth.

Be encouraged, friends.

(1) Respect is the basis of the Educaring® Approach.“We not only respect babies, we demonstrate our respect every time we interact with them. Respecting a child means treating even the youngest infant as a unique human being, not as an object.”

People sometimes confuse this principle to mean that we should treat infants and young children as if they were adults. No. It means that we should treat children with the same level of respect we afford adults.

What does this look like?


(2) Our goal: an authentic child. An authentic child is one who feels secure, autonomous, competent, and connected. When we help a child to feel secure, feel appreciated, feel that ‘somebody is deeply, truly interested in me,’ by the way we just look, the way we just listen, we influence that child’s whole personality, the way that child sees life.”

What does this look like?

  • When I spend time in E.’s “yes” space, I leave my phone behind. I don’t multitask, but rather give her my full, undivided attention as she plays.
  • I validate, and accept, all emotions, including the hard ones. “Wow! You’re really angry with me. I can see that.” Or, “You didn’t like it one bit that I left to go cook dinner. You were frustrated and crying really hard.”


(Photo courtesy of Caitlin Regan, Flickr Creative Commons)

(3) Trust in the infant’s competence. We have basic trust in the infant to be an initiator, to be an explorer eager to learn what he is ready for. Because of this trust, we provide the infant with only enough help necessary to allow the child to enjoy mastery of her own actions.”

What does this look like?

  • I trust J.’s process to learn about his body, and I trust that he will learn how to roll over, crawl, sit up, and walk on his own timeline. So, I don’t force him into positions that he is unable to find on his own.
  • I don’t need to “teach” J. how to play; he’s born with an innate desire and ability to engage in his world.
  • When J. can’t reach a toy in his “yes” space, I don’t rush over to put it in his hand. Rather, I wait and observe. I give him time to try to figure out a way to get it back.
  • As I watch E. navigate an encounter with new toddler friends, I recognize my own childhood baggage associated with memories from school of feeling rejected by peers. I refrain from projecting those feelings on to her, and instead I step back, trusting in her ability to interact and form new relationships on her own (and, with my support if she asks for it).


(4) Sensitive observation. Our method, guided by respect for the infant’s competence, is observation. We observe carefully to understand the infant’s communications and his needs. The more we observe, the more we understand and appreciate the enormous amount and speed of learning that happens during the first two or three years of life. We become more humble, we teach less, and we provide an environment for learning instead.”

What does this look like?


(5) Caregiving times: involving the child. During care activities (diapering, feeding, bathing, dressing, etc.), we encourage even the tiniest infant to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient of the activities. Parents create opportunities for interaction, cooperation, intimacy and mutual enjoyment by being wholeheartedly with the infant during the time they spend together anyway. ‘Refueled’ by such unhurried, pleasurable caring experiences, infants are ready to explore their environment with only minimal intervention by adults.”

What does this look like?


(6) A safe, challenging, predictable environment. “Our role is to create an environment in which the child can best do all the things that the child would do naturally. The more predictable an environment is, the easier it is for babies to learn. As infants become more mobile, they need safe, appropriate space in which to move. Their natural, inborn desire to move should not be handicapped by the environment.”

What does this look like?


(Photo courtesy of Donnie Ray Jones, Flickr Creative Commons)

(7) Time for uninterrupted play and freedom to explore. “We give the infant plenty of time for uninterrupted play. Instead of trying to teach babies new skills, we appreciate and admire what babies are actually doing.”

What does this look like?

  • Instead of enrolling J. in music or gym classes because I think that those are the only ways he’ll learn, I give him a safe space with open-ended, age-appropriate toys and ample time to explore his world. And, instead of worrying, “when will he learn X?” or, “When will he do Y?”, I sit back and revel at his curiosity, patience, and abilities.

(8) Consistency. “We establish clearly defined limits and communicate our expectations to develop discipline.”

What does this look like?

  • Instead of relying on punishment to help my children develop discipline, I provide them with clear limits and boundaries surrounding appropriate behavior. “I can’t let you hit your friend. I’m going to put my hand in between you two to keep you both safe.” Or, “I see you’re throwing food on the ground. Thank you for telling me your done eating. Let me help you clean up.”


Do I “succeed” at all of these RIE principles all of the time? Good gosh, no! Parenting is a learning journey, and it is first and foremost about us, parents, and where we need to grow and change. I am thankful for the wisdom of Magda Gerber (and her mentor, Hungarian pediatrician Emmi Pikler.) Through studying her approach to infant and toddler care, I have started to make changes in how I view and treat my children, small baby steps in a new, more respectful, direction.

6 thoughts on “What is RIE anyway? And, what does it look like in practice?

  1. Pingback: From “agenda” to “relationship”: an update to my bilingual parenting journey | Españolita...¡sobre la marcha!

  2. Hi there. Just wanted to say I accidentally found your blog a few days ago and I’m LOVING it! I think you do an exceptional job of presenting concepts and backing them up with real life example. Thank you!


  3. Pingback: How to select toys for a child’s play (“yes”) space | Españolita...¡sobre la marcha!

  4. Pingback: Naming the struggles: transition to life with a new baby | Españolita...¡sobre la marcha!

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