RIE parenting essentials

The concept of RIE parenting often gets a bad rap – its principles are seen by non-believers as too earnestly liberal, lacking in the kind of routines and boundaries that young children need to feel secure. RIE parents, opponents argue, are giving small babies choices, imbuing them with independence and a level of cognitive awareness that simply doesn’t exist in those so young.

At 100 Toys we don’t fastidiously follow or promote any parenting style, as we believe every parent knows their child best. But we do like to stay informed, and explore as many different points of view as we can. We think that even if you don’t sign up for the full deal, there’s plenty of wisdom to take from RIE parenting, even for the die-hard traditionalist.

Here’s our at-a-glance guide to RIE parenting:

  • RIE stands for Resources for Infant Educarers. It was devised in Los Angeles in 1973 by infant-development expert Magda Gerber, who believed in giving babies more independence and respect.
  • RIE parenting suggests showing a greater awareness of our babies, acknowledging them as separate people with their own needs and ideas, rather than ‘blobs’ to be moulded by adults, or as screens on to which we project our own thoughts. Parents should watch and listen to their children, giving them space to communicate their needs. For example, instead of assuming a baby is hungry or tired when they cry, we might stop to think more deeply about what else could be bothering them. We should try to learn their language.
  • RIE parents question their own habits – do we automatically bounce them up and down, turn on the TV or give them a toy every time they grumble? Are we creating needs and dependencies where there were none? RIE believes that by examining our behaviour, we will find the answers to theirs.
  • Bouncers, sippy-cups, pacifiers and pretty much anything that encourages your baby to zone-out are discouraged, on the basis that they are designed to override their true emotions (Gerber even called prams and buggies ‘mobile prisons’). Silencing babies, goes the theory, leads to repressed young people and adults.
  • RIE parents revere infants’ intellect, and assume they have deep emotions and sensibilities. They communicate with their children in adult voices. They ask them questions what would you like to do? and talk to their children about what is happening in the moment, without dumbing-down: ‘I am leaving the room to get your drink because you have told me you are thirsty.’
  • RIE parents never use time-out or any other kind of shaming as punishment. They don’t even try to distract a child who is having a tantrum. They openly accept and acknowledge all of the child’s emotions as valid.
  • They don’t over-praise, either, believing instead that children need to develop an inner-directedness, so they can play and choose activities based on their own needs, rather than projecting our interests on to them. This leads to a child who self-directs their own play and is confident in their choices.
  • RIE parents let their children play for as long as they seem to want to, filling their environment with the kind of open-ended toys that invite curiosity and investigation (rather than imposing ideas) such as boxes, balls and blocks.
  • RIE parents don’t intervene in their children’s disagreements, believing it is better for them to find solutions by themselves. This can sometimes be difficult for non-RIE parents to buy-in to, but the idea is that in the long-run you raise a child who is able to handle and resolve conflict.

Going full RIE, with few tools at your disposal to distract a crying baby or soothe a toddler’s tantrum, is a difficult commitment for a parent to make, especially those of us who work from home or have busy families with more than one child to consider at any given time. It can also make play dates and time spent with other, non-RIE families, challenging, since they might see a lack of parental intervention as misdirected, at best.

For most of us, it simply isn’t possible to stick so rigidly to a set of rules that asks us to be so completely switched on to our baby’s needs at all times. But if you like the idea of RIE parenting and feel, like we do, that there are some great principles underpinning this movement, there’s no reason why you can’t take the spirit of RIE, and incorporate it into your own parenting style. After all, at its heart lies the idea that by tuning in to, and respecting, our babies, everyone will be happier and more secure. And that’s surely an aim we can all get behind.