24 RIE™-Inspired Tenets For
Raising Kids Respectfully
This is NOT an official list. It is my take on the major principles of RIE after five years of classes, reading Magda’s books, practicing her approach and talking about her ideas at length with other parents. Most principles will apply in some way to kids of all ages. I want this list to be as accurate as possible, so please e-mail me your comments.
1. ONE PRIMARY CAREGIVER: An infant needs an intimate, stable relationship with one constant person with whom they “attach.” This is necessary for the healthy psychological and physical development of the infant and a pre-requisite for the child’s ability form secure relationships later in life. Secondary caregivers—another parent, grandparent, nanny or carer—are important but too many can be destabilizing.
2. NARRATE AND ENCOURAGE PARTICPATION: Tell your child what you are going to do to or with him before you do it—”I’m going to pick you now. Are you ready?”— then wait for a response. (A clear response may be hard to detect from a newborn but soon you’ll be able to read his face and then surprisingly quickly you’ll notice that he’ll begin to lift his arms.) This allows babies—who are extraordinarily vulnerable—to relax because they know you’re not going to just move their bodies without fair warning. Also, engaging your child makes him feel respected and builds initiative and competence.
3. CONNECT DURING CAREGIVING TIMES: Dressing, changing, feeding and bathing your child are ideal times to slow way down and really connect. These are your opportunities to fill up your child’s emotional gas tanks so she can have the love and connection she needs to go off to explore and play with confidence.
4. SELF-INITIATED PLAY: From the earliest age, give your baby plenty of uninterrupted time on the floor (on a blanket or mat) to move as she wants and to discover her surroundings. A child’s attention should not be drawn to a toy by placing it in his hand, pointing to it or dangling it overhead. Instead, your child should explore and investigateer h of their own choosing—be it a toy, a shadow or the sound her foot makes banging the floor—for as long as she finds it compelling. This is at once self-satisfying and builds her attention span.
5. SENSITIVE OBSERVATION: The best way to get to know your child is by observing him. This means just hanging out in his play area (ideally, every day) for twenty minutes (but five will do!). Be present, available and totally focused on what he is doing, without telling him what to do, how to do it or interrupt his play in any way. Through observation, you’ll intimately get to know his needs, interests, abilities, frustrations, duration of attention span and more.
6. PASSIVE TOYS MAKE ACTIVE BABIES: Provide your child with simple toys that can be used in a variety of ways to encourage her imagination, creativity, attention span, competence and understanding of properties like gravity, weight, size, shape, malleability, balance etc. (This means no toys with songs, bells, whistles, sirens and certainly no television.)
6. LET YOUR CHILD DEVELOP IN HER OWN TIME: Allow your child to roll over, sit up, stand up and walk only when her muscles and bones are ready to. The negative consequences of rushing development are incalculable.
7. SAFE PLAY SPACE: Create a safe space where he can play and never have to hear “No, don’t touch that.” This way you can relax, and your child won’t need to unnecessarily feel like he’s done something wrong.
8. ESTABLISH A ROUTINE: If your child’s days are consistent and predictable, she’ll start to anticipate what will come next. When what she thinks will come next actually does, her sense of security is reinforced.
9. OUTDOOR TIME: Children need time outdoors—even newborns. You can bundle them up or strip them down as the weather dictates. Being surrounded by nature—leaves rustling, wind blowing, clouds moving, sun shining and ants crawling—is at once soothing and intriguing.
10. AVOID CONTRAPTIONS AND LIMIT TIME IN CAR SEATS AND STROLLERS: While certainly car seats are necessary and strollers are helpful up to a point, putting a baby into play centers, exersaucers, walkers, swings and bouncy seats restricts a baby’s freedom to move and develop in a natural way. Also, overusing infant seats and strollers for “convenience” deprives babies of the human touch they need for optimal brain development. And finally, using swings and seats that vibrate to help soothe or induce sleep can create a dependency that can be challenging to break.
11. TIME WITH OTHER BABIES: Infants learn a great deal from each other, even at an early age. Allow interactions and explorations between babies to unfold without rushing in to sweep the babies away from one another. You can monitor them to make sure they are safe, but allowing contact is healthy.
12. TRUST YOUR CHILD’S INTERNAL REGULATOR. Give your child less food so she’ll ask for more. If your child indicates she isn’t hungry, believe her. Never ask her to take one more bite.
13. CHILD-INITIATED EATING: When a child can sit up, eating on a stool that is easy to climb on and off at a child-sized table promotes independence. This way the child can come to the table when hungry and simply crawl or walk away to play when full. If he chooses to play, he cannot take his food. This process teaches making choices.
14. EXPECTATIONS SHOULD BE DEVELOPMENTALLY APPROPRIATE: Don’t expect her to have self-control when her brain is too immature to have developed self-control. Don’t expect him to empathize before he is old enough to have developed empathy. This only sets them up for failure.
15. BE SUPER CONSISTENT: Choose your no’s carefully and then mean them. Nothing creates a neurotic kid faster than saying, “No you can’t have that,” and then ten minutes of crying later, caving in.
16. ALLOW YOUR CHILD TO EXPRESS HER FEELINGS: If your child is angry, let them be angry. Don’t try to solve his problem, distract him or make him happy. If the anger isn’t released from his body, it creates stress. Trying to fix things for him will give him the message that not all feelings are okay. Children, like everyone, need to feel heard and understood. Sometimes they need you to empathize. Sometimes they want to be held. Other times they need space. Waiting and observing helps you respond helpfully. Also, naming feelings (i.e. “You seem angry.” or “You seem frustrated.”) not only gives a helpful vocabulary to identify their feelings, it shows that you’re tuned in.
17. REFLECT RATHER THAN PRAISE: Reflecting or acknowledging “achievements” (and I use that word reluctantly) is more helpful than praising. “Yes, you jumped off the rock!” instead of “Good job!” allows you to share in your child’s excitement, but in a way that mirrors how they feel, not how you judge it.
18. PLAN FOR TARRY TIME: Children operate on slower timetables than adults. If you know it takes your kid twenty minutes to walk to the car because she likes to stop and admire the flowers or count the steps or trace the hubcap with her finger, then head out to the car long before you would if you were alone. This way, your child won’t feel rushed or pressured and you can prevent the meltdowns that make things take even longer. Certainly, you can’t always do this—but the more often you do, the more likely she’ll cooperate when you are in a rush.
19. VALUE STRUGGLE / SELECTIVE INTERVENTION: When possible, trust that your baby can solve his own problems. If he can’t get the blocks on his tower to balance the way he wants to, you can come close and offer support while seeing if he can figure it out on his own. This builds perseverance, self-reliance, ingenuity and fosters pride in oneself. Similarly, if two babies/toddlers are struggling over a toy, come close, keep them safe and state the problem: “I see you both want the truck.” This lets them know you understand what they are dealing with and also prevents creating a victim-aggressor dynamic. (An aggressive response only reinforces aggressive behavior and too much fussing over the “victim” becomes enjoyable for that person.) Surprisingly often, the children are able resolve their conflict and move on without assistance.
20. DON’T OVERREACT: Not every fall needs a level ten response. You want your kids to know you are concerned and are there if they need you, but that they can also handle minor snafus on their own. Your upset can scare a child and amplify her response. Come close to the child and empathize, but let the child choose if she wants to be held. This response helps a child be more authentic.
21. DON’T HUMILIATE: Don’t talk about your child in the third person in front of them, “You wouldn’t believe what Derek did…”). Don’t chastise him loudly in front of others. (If he does something you don’t like while playing in a group, kneel down and whisper in his ear, “I don’t like it when…”). Don’t mock him or roll your eyes at him when he’s talking.
22. DON’T ASK YOUR CHILD TO PERFORM: Don’t ask your child to perform for you or for family, or for friends. This includes things as seemingly harmless as saying “Can you tell me what color this is?” or asking your child to sing a song. Children should not be expected to be sources of on-demand entertainment. Likewise, don’t make or even encourage them to kiss or hug you or anyone else as in “Can you give Grandma a kiss?” Physical expressions of love should come from a genuine place.
23. BE HONEST: If you are upset with your child, don’t try to act like you aren’t. If she senses one thing (anger and annoyance) but hears another (“sweetheart”) it’s confusing and makes it hard for her to both trust her instincts and you. (If you are upset, try to model how to deal with your frustration and anger, remembering that little eyes are always watching and learning.)
24. DON’T LABEL: Labeling your child anything—be it “shy” “energetic” or “a little monster” (even in jest)— gives them scripts that they then live up to.