I was pregnant at the time I first heard about RIE at a conference given by you and Dr. Pikler. I know it was the best possible preparation for my baby and myself. And now, when I compare Rachel (at 15 months) to other children, she is so much more peaceful than they are and she plays happily for hours by herself. Yet, sometimes, I have doubts. All around me I see parents taking their babies to classes and teaching them at home and I wonder if we might be missing something. There are so many programs and so many people pressuring me to do this or that with Rachel. I look at her and I can see that RIE is right. But why is it so hard for me to explain to others what I believe? Or, why can't they hear me? Confused Parent
To start where your letter ends, how well I understand your problem. All my classes, lectures, articles, movies, every Educaring keeps trying to explain what RIE is all about. So many parents and professionals have asked for more guidelines on how to put the RIE method into practice and how to explain it to others, I would like to present them again here.
What an infant needs - what every human being wants - is to experience the full undivided attention of a parent or other significant person. But nobody can pay attention all of the time. What makes parenting so difficult - so much of a grind - is the ongoingness of it. To be always needed, always available, can drain any parent's energies.
The natural time to be wholeheartedly with your child is the time you do spend together anyway - the time while you care for your baby. Think of that time as special; take the telephone off the hook before you intend to feed, bathe, or even diaper your baby, and tell your child, "I'm going to take the phone off the hook so nobody will disturb us!" This will create intimacy. After such intimate moments your baby will be pleased to explore by herself if you have prepared the proper environment.
Every infant needs an absolutely safe environment, one in which he can move freely according to his gross-motor abilities. A crib is all right for the first two and one half months, a playpen until about five months. At that young age infants are not locomotive - cannot move far away from where we put them - so they do not find these small places restrictive. On the contrary, it is their familiar place with their familiar objects in it. Ideally, the crib and the playpen are in the child's own room. The room should be within hearing distance from where the mother is (kitchen, bathroom, etc.).
At about five to six months, the child can spend increasingly more time on the floor of her room. As the rest of the house is usually not as safe, it helps to have a gate. If a whole room is not available, a part of a room should be safely partitioned. Interestingly, parents often feel sorry for a baby who is allowed to freely move about, can manipulate and explore in his or her own room, while they do not feel sorry for a baby trapped in an infant seat which is placed on the kitchen table!
Ideally children should have a duplicate crib and a playpen out-of-doors to spend many hours napping and playing safely outside without the parents having to watch them every minute. These safe environments not only allow the child to spend uninterrupted time exploring and learning, but it also allows the parents to pursue their own projects. When the time comes to provide care again, both infant and parent can enjoy it fully without pressure.
The quality of your interactions will also improve if you learn how to observe and understand the personality of your child. To peacefully sit in the room while your child is doing her own thing, without wanting to play with her, teach her, or care for her - just be available to her - will make you much more sensitive to your child's needs, her tempo and style. Try to observe what interests her, how she handles frustration, solves little problems. Allow your child to learn about you. Be genuine and honest in your interactions. You do not need to put on a sweet smile when you are awakened in the middle of the night. You are sleepy, so act sleepy.
Accept the feelings of your baby, positive as well as negative. Do not try to stop the crying with a pacifier. Do not tickle a sad baby. You may save your grown-up child many dollars spent on therapies where they have to relearn how to cry and how to show feelings. And trust your baby. Trust her initiations, her choices, her motivation and innate desire to learn. Why teach anything to a child that she would learn all by herself? Why cram her head with knowledge unrelated to her interests and readiness?
What makes parenting difficult is the conflict of needs (father wants to leave, baby clings and cries; mother wants to sleep, baby wakes and cries). Parents are torn between contradictory advice. Some advise, "You, the parent, have the right to live your own life and the baby has to adjust to it." This usually means that parents take the infants wherever they go - shopping, visiting, movies. The babies' biological timetables are messed up, they become appendages of their parents' lives. According to other advice, the mother should give up everything just to serve the baby. Seldom are guidelines given for mutual adaptation. The RIE guidelines can help you to be sensitive to both your baby's and your own needs.
© Magda Gerber (First published in Winter 1983 Educaring)