My first post on Me and Baby E was my views on parenting philosophies. I don’t subscribe to any one in particular, I believe that they all offer great advice and methods, some more than others, for raising and teaching young children. So with that in mind, I wanted to share some of my experiences with RIE, or Resources for Infant Educarers, founded by Magda Gerber in 1978.
You can read more about RIE here, but the basic premise is that infants and children are to be treated as equals in the parent/educator and child relationship, and given nurturing, peaceful and cognitively engaging environments. First off, I strongly support the premise that children should be viewed as “tiny humans” (and so equal with us big humans), with innate skills as well as likes, dislikes, personalities, strengths and weaknesses, rather than passive blank slates to be filled with what we see fit to fill them with. I think it’s clear from previous posts that I also agree with the concept that infants and children should be in a nurturing and stimulating environment from day one, whether that’s at home or in a child care setting.
The part of RIE that sets it apart from many other child centered education and parenting philosophies, and what I want to share today, is a focus on making infants and children active participants in daily events, like diaper changes and meal times, among other things, as opposed to passive recipients. This combined with a respectful environment for little ones results in young children with high self esteem, good self care skills and a more positive relationship between care giver and child.
So what would this practice of “active participant in a respectful environment” look like in real life for infant care?
Diaper changes: If you have or have had a baby in your care you are well aware of what a diaper change entails. You notice the unmistakable odor, “Oh, you are stinky! Let’s get you changed.” Baby is scooped up, quickly changed and placed back where they were. Done and simple. And yes, in a way this is a simple daily routine, but there is a lot more going on here when you scratch the surface.
First off, if you farted in public I’m sure you wouldn’t want it commented on. Clearly a 6 month old might not really care, but getting into the habit of commenting on the “stink” your little one has made can be embarrassing for a young child, so getting out of the habit in the beginning is a good idea. Secondly, play is hard work for babies and children alike. Respect that they are engaged with a toy and wait till there’s a break in the play to offer a diaper change. Involve them in the process “Are you ready to change your dirty diaper? OK, let’s go.” With older babies, look for the hands up cue. If they’re still engaged and playing, give them a few more minutes.
Thirdly, a diaper change with an actively participating baby takes some time. Think of it as a teachable moment that happens many times throughout the day. Once on the table, take away the toys or mobiles for distractions, and involve baby in the process, talking about what you’re doing:
“Lets take off your pants, lift your bum! One foot, two feet! Onto the onesie, pull your arm down, one hand out, two hands out! Let’s take off your diaper and put a new one on, feet in the air! OK, diaper off, now for a wipe and a new diaper. Keep those feet up!” You’ll feel like a crazy person talking to your infant about your every diaper changing move in the beginning, but you’ll find that not only do diaper changes become a time of bonding rather than a chore for you, but that if you keep your verbal cues consistent, i.e. “legs up”, “push your arm through” your baby will begin to listen for your verbal cues and respond with lifted legs and will help putting their clothes on. When they reach the toddler years, and teaching self care routines begins, this will become a priceless foundational skill you have taught your child.
Meal times with baby can and will be messy, and it is far too tempting to quickly spoon food into their mouths with little time between bites to just get it done with as little flying food as possible. Although this may be beneficial for you, it doesn’t allow for baby to listen to her body’s cues for fullness or to learn how she is, and will be in the future, involved in the feeding process.
Firstly, slow down and focus on baby’s cues. We know when we’re full or still hungry, and so does your baby. When they turn their head away, purse their mouth shut, or really slow down their eating, they are telling you they are full. If they lean towards the spoon, mouth open, or grab for the spoon, they’re telling you they’re still hungry. Clearly not rocket science, but these are so often ignored in order to avoid messes or to get all that good food in their bellies. We might think they need more or less, but they know when they are full and satisfied. Respect their cues and in the long run meal times will be far more pleasant for you and your little one.
If baby reaches for the spoon, let them have it and experiment. They’re insatiably curious and want to know more about this object that keeps going in and out of their mouth with yummy stuff on it. Wouldn’t you? As a less messy option, offer a bowl with a small amount of food and their own spoon so they can play and experiment in between bites, as opposed to having them grabbing at the full bowl and food covered spoon.
OK, so this is all well and good, but why is it so important? Why take more time out of an already crazy busy day with baby(ies) and children for care routines?
Well for one thing, people don’t want to be manhandled. How would it be to have someone come to you and with no warning, interrupt what you were doing and lead you somewhere? We also don’t want to be forced to eat or not be given enough, and in both these situations, neither does a baby. Rather than assuming baby is a passive recipient of our care, the RIE approach respects the child and makes them an active participant, one who has a say in when they get their diaper changed, and when and how much or little they eat. Clearly this can be applied to every aspect of child care, but these are just two examples.
Respecting babies’ innate knowledge, wants and needs will lead to a more positive relationship between parent and child and ultimately to easier transitions from infancy to toddler, toddler to preschooler, and on. Take a few extra minutes at diaper changes and meal times to start. I’d love to hear your thoughts on implementing RIE in your child’s daily routine!