084: The Science of RIE

“Is RIE backed by scientific research?”

It’s a question that comes up every once in a while among parents who use the Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) approach to raising their children, and then they all (virtually) look at each other kind of uneasily because no study has ever shown that children raised using RIE methods have any better outcomes than children who aren’t.

Given how much I focus on scientific research, you would think that I would have determined my overall approach to parenting through extensive reading of the literature – but actually I discovered RIE even before I started looking at research and I latched onto it because parenting in a respectful way just felt right.  I knew that love was necessary but not the only tool I would to discipline (used in its original sense, meaning “to teach”) my daughter about how to live in our family.  I knew immediately that respect was the tool I sought.

But it always niggled at me (and these other parents): Is RIE backed in any way by science?  Naturally, I could find no expert who could speak to this.  So I recruited the assistance of a fellow RIE-practicing parent to help us think through RIE’s basic principles, and whether (or not!) the research backs these up.

If you’re new to RIE, you might want to listen to this introductory episode on What is RIE first, so you’ll have the background you need.  I actually recorded this Science of RIE episode first so it does have a very brief introduction to RIE, but then I realized it really wasn’t sufficient so I recorded the extra episode.

Have questions about RIE?  Want to continue the conversation?  Come on over to the Your Parenting Mojo Facebook group and ask away, or join the Toasted RIE group which I help to moderate!

Read Full Transcript

Jen: 00:00:38 Hello and welcome to today’s episode of the Your Parenting Mojo podcast. Today, we are going to do something we have never done before in more than 60 episodes of the show. Someone else is going to interview me and what are we going to talk about? We’re going to talk about a concept that has been absolutely foundational to my parenting. It’s an approach to caring for children called Resources for Infant Educarers, which is abbreviated to RIE and pronounced rye. This episode has been a really long time in coming. I had actually thought of doing it when I first started the show, but I figured it would probably be a fairly new concept for a lot of people and I didn’t want you all to think that I was some kind of crazy-granola-eating-Californian with really weird ideas about child rearing before you’d probably gotten to know me, but we’re at 60 episodes into the show now and I feel like I’ve mentioned RIE enough times that it is starting to get silly that we actually haven’t done an episode on it.
Jen: 00:01:29 So when I thought about who I could interview on this topic, I considered all the usual suspects that those of you who are somewhat familiar with who I might have considered, but I quickly realized that probably nobody was going to be able to talk about exactly the aspect of it that I wanted to discuss, which is how does RIE aligned with what science tells us about raising children? Because quite frankly, I’ve never seen anyone discussed this at all and given that we use scientific research a lot on this show, even though we’re not slaves to the research, I couldn’t think of anyone other than me to be interviewed on it, but I didn’t want to just sit here for an hour and try and convince you about how great RIE is, because when people first learned about it, they tend to have a lot of questions, so I posted in one of the RIE Facebook groups that I’m in and I said, hey, would anyone like to interview me?
Jen: 00:02:12 You’d need to be familiar with the basic principles, but really nothing beyond that and you should be interested in learning about it and not openly hostile towards it and you have to be willing to push back if what I’m saying doesn’t make sense. So, I’d like to introduce you to our interviewer today. Silvana Naguib, who says that she knows a little bit about RIE that she’s gleaned from blog posts and Facebook groups, but she’s never read a book about it and she’s a lawyer and so she certainly going to push back if what I’m saying doesn’t make sense. Welcome Silvana.
Silvana: 00:02:40 Hi Jen.
Jen: 00:02:41 Thanks so much for joining us today. I think you’re joining us from Los Angeles, which funnily enough is actually the home of RIE. So can you tell us a bit about your family and yourself as well, please?
Silvana: 00:02:50 Yeah, so I’m actually a recent transplant to Los Angeles. I’m originally from Cairo, Egypt, which is where I grew up and I’ve been living in the US for about almost 20 years now.
Silvana: 00:03:00 And I’m a lawyer by trade and I am married with my husband Ben and we have a daughter, Carolina who is almost three years old. She’ll be three this summer and we live here in LA and I’m one of those crunchy-granola-eating social justice lawyer types. I’m actually about to start a new job representing people who are homeless. And so my whole thing in life is I try to help people and make the world suck a little bit less so.
Jen: 00:03:32 All right, well thanks for that.
Silvana: 00:03:33 That was part of my interest in RIE. I was trying to figure out how to do that for my kid.
Jen: 00:03:36 Ah, okay. So how did you first learn about RIE?
Silvana: 00:03:39 Well, it actually was on Facebook. A friend of mine had posted a link to a blog post by Janet Lansbury who is a blogger that writes a lot about RIE and she’s, I think, well known and I started reading a lot of stuff on her website and thinking, wow, this is a totally different approach to parenting than pretty much everything I’ve read and how most of the people I know deal with their kids.
Jen: 00:04:03 And it struck a chord?
Silvana: 00:04:04 It did. And I sort of started poking around if there are any Facebook groups talking about this and reading some other blogs out there. But it’s been a pretty superficial exploration. Mostly limited to reading blogs, talking about it on Facebook.
Jen: 00:04:19 So, that’s kind of the level we’re coming at this. So if you don’t know a lot about RIE then this is going to be just the interview for you. We’re going to go into a lot of the basics and we’re going to keep it more relevant to the toddler years. RIE is traditionally and typically used in the zero to two years group, but because my listeners are people who have preschoolers and possibly a little bit even older than that, we’re definitely going to focus on the older years and how to apply those principles there as well. So.
Silvana: 00:04:48 Well that’s perfect for me since I have almost 3-year-old.
Jen: 00:04:51 Excellent. Great. Yeah. So we’re out of that official period but it’s still relevant to us. So this is your interview. What do you want to know about first?
Silvana: 00:04:57 Well, I would love to start with some background and just find out where did RIE come from and is it derived from any research, psychological or any other kind of research about child development?
Jen: 00:05:09 Okay. So it’s actually kind of a strange story about where RIE comes from. There was a pediatrician in Hungary called Emmi Pikler and she had developed this approach to raising children based on respect for them as people and respect for their individual physical developmental processes. And it was in about the middle of the last century and she first tried it on her own children and then after the Second World War, the government asked her to open an orphanage because there were a lot of children that didn’t have parents who had been killed in the war, had died after the war. And so she did that and she continued to refine her approach at the orphanage and she did publish some research papers on it, but unfortunately I haven’t read many of them because most of them are published in either Hungarian or French. And I read French possibly, but not really a scientific paper level.
Jen: 00:05:57 So Magda Gerber, who is the name, who is more traditionally associated with RIE, met Emmi Pikler and this random meeting, Pikler’s daughter and Gerber’s daughter were classmates. And one day Magda Gerber’s daughter got sick and their regular pediatrician was out of town. And her daughter said, why don’t you call my friend’s mom, she is a pediatrician. And so Emmi Pikler came over and Magda Gerber started to tell Pikler about her daughter’s symptoms. And Pikler just motioned to her to please be quiet and she started talking to Gerber’s daughter and asked her about her symptoms and how she was feeling and had a very respectful dialogue with her. And Magda Gerber was just blown away and so she ended up getting a Master’s in Early Childhood Education in Budapest and started working in the orphanage as well and she works alongside Pikler for a number of years and then after the Hungarian Revolution in the 50s, they moved to Austria and then onto the US and she held a variety of jobs there and eventually moved to Los Angeles where she worked with children who had cerebral palsy and later autism and then in the early 70s, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Stanford asked her to help him co-direct a program that supported parents in interacting with their children and this guy Forrest and she co-founded the nonprofit Resources for Infant Educarers in Los Angeles.
Jen: 00:07:19 But it’s actually really unclear in the literature what happened to Forrest after that point. So, he seems to have disappeared off the face of the RIE planet. Hopefully, he didn’t disappear entirely. So, she started these parent-infant classes and she also taught development classes at universities around the LA area. So, I guess when I first heard about this background, it was pretty surprising to me that an approach to raising children that was founded in an orphanage in Hungary, something that could even be appropriate for children in a family setting in the US and other places in the world. And I think it’s also really interesting how diametrically opposed it is to the traditional Western way of parenting. But we’re going to talk a lot more about this and so that’s basically where it came from and it’s surprising to me that it’s relevant, but at the same time I’m so grateful that I found it.
Silvana: 00:08:16 Okay. So, the name of this organization, which is now sort of symbolizing this whole movement, RIE has this term educarer in it. What is that? Is it a term they made up?
Jen: 00:08:28 Yes, it is actually. And she did that, I always assume it’s because she didn’t have access to branding experts who are to come up with a lot catchier, but it combines educator and carer and she gives the definition as being one who educates children in a caring manner and that it’s not a caregiver or caretaker because a care neither gives nor takes. A care that puts love into action and the way you care for a child is how she experiences your love. So an educarer is showing that love for a child through everyday activities like feeding and diapering, and the idea is that these aren’t just chores, these are interactions that deepen your relationship with your child and babies learn so much from these interactions and so if we step back and allow that learning to happen rather than explicitly trying to teach them things all the time, they actually ended up learning a lot.
Silvana: 00:09:19 So, do you think that branding it that way was a way to sort of make it seem less about, oh, I’m always doing things for my child and more like I’m just sort of being and experiencing them?
Jen: 00:09:30 Yeah, I think so. And it’s sort of a weird word and I think it would have been better if it was a word that was a bit more approachable, but yeah, the idea is you don’t have to do things, buy things for, take on all these responsibilities about bettering your child and educating your child that your child has an inbuilt drive to learn and that if you step back and support that drive, then amazing things will happen.
Silvana: 00:09:59 Okay. So, I’m listening to your podcast and you talk a lot about research and what the science supports. So, we want to try to look at RIE through the lens of what the science and what the research says. We don’t want to cherry pick, so maybe we should talk about the eight tenets of RIE and whether there’s evidence support either of them. So, I guess one of the things that is most associated with RIE in the limited stuff that I read is this idea of respect. And they put that as their first principle. The RIE website says, “Respect is the basis of the RIE philosophy. 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. At RIE, we show respect, for example, by not picking up an infant without telling him beforehand, by talking directly to him and not over him, and by waiting for a child’s response.” Is there any evidence to support this idea of respect for even the youngest infants?
Jen: 00:11:01 This is actually kind of a strange place for us to start, even though it is the first principle and it is the most important one for us. From a scientific perspective, I would say there is not a ton of evidence for this, particularly on the very young child and I imagine that’s more because nobody thinks to study it than people have studied it and found that it is irrelevant or not useful. So, I wanted to quote something that I found in a book of Theories on Early Childhood Education and it describes how Gerber moved to the US and it says “After devoting a good deal of time to becoming grounded and comfortable in her understanding of mainstream American family culture, she set out to find a way to support parents in childcare providers in her new homeland, in rearing confident, competent and authentic children.” And then she said about proposing a method of rearing children that actually goes against mainstream American family culture.
Jen: 00:11:53 As an example of that, I was interviewed recently on another podcast and the host of the show ended up being a fairly mainstream parent and I actually hadn’t realized that to quite the extent before I started the interview. And halfway through the interview I started talking about my respect-based approach to parenting. And she said, “Respect? I gave birth to them. They should respect me.” And I had to pick myself up off the floor a little bit. And so yeah, I do think that this idea is very strange to a lot of people, I mean in the quote that you mentioned from the RIE website, we don’t pick up a baby without first, at least telling him if not asking him about it. And so I didn’t do that when my daughter was very young. I discovered RIE when she was about 4 months old and now mostly defunct blog.
Jen: 00:12:44 I have a series of pictures of me doing non-respectful things to her. But at that time I’m standing her up while she’s standing on the table, she’s a month old at the time. She clearly can’t stand by herself and so RIE would say that that’s not very respectful. And so yeah, we have this approach that is very, very opposed to traditional American parenting. So, to answer the question specifically, no, we don’t have any research on being respectful to babies, but I think the closest thing that we have is a book that I love. It’s by Alfie Kohn, who’s a well-known author in this field and he wrote a book called Unconditional Parenting and it really does a deep dive into the research on tools like withholding love when a child does something that the parent doesn’t like or punishes them or rewards them. He finds those tools which really are not based in respect do damage our relationships with our children and he cites a ton of research on that topic and we actually discussed that book at length in an episode we did a while back called How Do I Get My Child To Do What I Want Them To Do, which was the title that I picked on purpose to pique people’s interest.
Jen: 00:13:53 So I would say overall, if we want to raise children who are respectful of others and compassionate and self-motivated and empathetic, which I think is the goal that a lot of parents have for their children, then we need to model those qualities and treat children with respect rather than just saying, you will be respectful and not having that respect-based relationship.
Silvana: 00:14:17 I have a question about that because I actually also read Alfie Kohn’s book and I really read it as more applying to sort of older children. I mean that was definitely his lens and when people get to that stage, preschoolers and young school-aged kids where they’re trying to get their kids to do or not do this or that and they use punishment and rewards to try to get their children to behave a certain way and I wonder sometimes if thinking about this respect with very young infants is almost like when you talk about modeling, is it this idea maybe that we just want to start from the very beginning so that we’re going to carry that all the way through without necessarily knowing whether it matters to a 2-month-old. If you say, I’m going to pick you up now.
Jen: 00:14:58 Yeah. I think that really is it and I can’t remember where I read this, but somebody once asked the question. So if you don’t start by being respectful, when do you start?
Silvana: 00:15:07 That’s a really good point.
Jen: 00:15:09 Yeah. Well, when the child can talk. Why is it that point? Is it just because they can answer back and tell you that they don’t like it? Well, presumably they’ve been not liking what you’ve been doing for a long time now and so I think it goes along with the idea that RIE has the children are competent individuals from birth and I’ve actually seen very young babies, a few weeks old if you have said to them from birth, I’m going to pick you up now before you pick them up, they will actually stiffen their neck because they know what you’re about to do and they in a way are cooperating with you and helping you through that process.
Jen: 00:15:46 And so to me it’s mind boggling and that is supported by neurological research. We understand so much more now about children, very young children and what they’re capable of. It seems like every time we test younger children’s cognitive abilities, we discovered they were capable of some kind of reasoning we didn’t know they could do before. And so yeah, it’s the idea that, well, if we don’t start now, when will we start? When is this child deserving of our respect? Do they have to earn it? Then we might have to wait awhile. So yeah. So the idea is let’s start from birth because why not?
Silvana: 00:16:21 Right. Okay. So the second principle in the eight RIE principles is our goal in authentic child and it says “An authentic child is one that feels secure, autonomous and competent.” What’s going on here?
Jen: 00:16:37 Yeah, this one’s actually a much easier one in terms of the research to support it. There’s a theory called Self-Determination Theory and it was put forward by Edward Deci. I hope I’m saying that right, and Richard Ryan, and it’s probably been a solid 20 or 30 years now and it’s been supported by decades of research and basically it looks at how people motivate themselves or others to act. And so there are three components of Self-Determination Theory and those are experiencing relatedness, competence and autonomy. And if you experienced those things, then it fosters the desire to do and to strive for things and achieve high performance and persistence and creativity. And so just to touch on the first one of those things now, because I think we’ll probably get to some of the others as we talk about other aspects of RIE, if we think about security, which is what you said is the goal of RIE, an authentic child who feels secure then that fits pretty directly with the Self-Determination Theory component of relatedness.
Jen: 00:17:38 When we think about that, what we’re thinking about is attachment. And so attachment we know is really critical to the development of relationships between the child and the parent in Western cultures although I think that it’s less clear that that’s the case in some other cultures. And I’m not gonna open that can of worms right now. But let’s just say that the can is there. And I think that there is a temptation for people who are kind of invested in this attachment parenting idea and they sort of look at RIE and think that RIE in some way promotes excessive crying because it says that you shouldn’t always necessarily go to your child as soon as your child, well, you should go to your child, but you shouldn’t necessarily feel as though stopping the crying is the end goal and should be accomplished no matter what.
Jen: 00:18:27 And Dr. William Sears, who is the main proponent of Attachment Parenting, says that “This excessive crying really is harmful.” But the studies he uses to back this up looks at rats and primates and sort of colic levels of crying rather than normal amounts of crying in otherwise normal children. And so he would see RIE as something that does not promote attachment because it allows too much crying. Because as a RIE practitioner, we would go to our child and we would fix any problem that we are aware that they have. If they’re hungry, we feed them. If they need a diaper change, we change the diaper. If they obviously have gas, we burp them. But there are times when babies cry and we don’t know why they’re crying and so the goal at that point is not to stop the baby crying at all costs, but to say, I don’t understand why you’re crying.
Jen: 00:19:17 I wish I understood. I wish I could help you. Maybe go through a checklist of things that it could be in your mind and if you can’t think of a reason why they’re crying, then just be there with the child and don’t feel as though you have to fix that crying and that that does not damage your attachment relationship with your child. And so I think there has been some research on this but not very much, but I did find a Master’s thesis which found that while RIE doesn’t explicitly promote attachment as an end goal, it does achieve its end goals of respect of relatedness in part through promoting attachment. And that attachment doesn’t just come through touch and through rocking the baby, holding the baby, trying to get the baby to stop crying. But also through understanding the child’s real needs and acknowledging that sometimes you just cannot meet those needs.
Silvana: 00:20:07 I think this part of the conversation is really interesting because I’ve been a bit mystified by this supposed dichotomy between RIE and attachment parenting. I guess maybe I’m just missing something about what attachment parenting is about, but do you think, I mean maybe this is opening a bigger can of worms, but do you think there is a real battle there? It seems to me like being responsive to your child and sort of listening to them and observing and we’ll get to sense of observation later, it seems like that would foster attachment.
Jen: 00:20:39 Yeah, and I think part of the reason there is this so called discrepancy or fight is maybe too strong of a word, but between attachment parenting proponents and RIE proponents is the use of this word attachment and I’m actually trying to find an expert on attachment who is willing to talk with us and I think it comes down to what is attachment theory and what is attachment parenting and those are actually two very different things. Attachment theory is around the idea that a child and a parent needs to have this very close relationship, this attached relationship and attachment parenting sort of builds on that in a different way, but really takes it to a whole different level in terms of how you achieve that attachment and so I think that’s the main difference between the two is how you achieve it. Do you achieve it by wearing your baby, by keeping your baby close to you at all times? Yes, we know touch is important, but RIE would say touch is not the only aspect of a relationship. And so to some extent I think the contrast is overblown and that both are trying to promote an attachment-based relationship with your child and is basically about how do you believe that that attachment occurs.
Silvana: 00:21:54 Right. Okay, so let’s move on to the next principle which is trust the infant’s competence and we talked about competence a little bit already. So, the principle says we have basic trust in the infant to be the initiator, to be an explorer, eager to learn what he’s 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. I would say it seems to me like this is maybe the most controversial RIE principle.
Jen: 00:22:23 Yeah.
Silvana: 00:22:24 When I look at Facebook groups and blog discussions and people have this reactions like how does an infant know what they want or how can they be the explorer if we don’t “expose” them to different things. Do we have to show them different things so that they know what they want and then we can listen. But we can’t just wait for them to initiate because they’re kind of almost like they’re like an empty box and we have to kind of show them different activities or different parts of the world. So what does the research say about this?
Jen: 00:22:54 Well, in terms of what the research does say, this idea I think is very closely linked to the idea of competence in Self-Determination Theory and because there is so much support for competence in that theory that we can say that it is important and there is research to support it. The real question is from when the baby is how old and so I think that there’s a fair amount of agreement among scientists at this point that there is this kind of idea of fourth trimester that when the baby comes out they still have a lot of development to go through and so just from having been a parent myself as well, I really struggled with the idea that some of these RIE principles could be applicable from the very earliest days. And of course it’s basically impossible to test because it’s really hard to test how much parents trust their children’s competence.
Jen: 00:23:46 And so we have to try and get at it in other ways. So one way that we can get at it is looking at the ages at which babies achieved certain milestones. And Emmi Pikler actually published a study in English that I was able to find and read and she compared the age in weeks that seven different authors expected certain physical developmental milestones to occur. And so the take home message from that, it was sort of a table that listed out these weeks by author of each milestone that was achieved and the variation between when different researchers expect to see these characteristics is incredible. So just a few examples, a baby can turn from there back to their side. One author says that babies should be able to do this by 18 weeks, another says 28 weeks. Turning from supine to prone position, one says 18 weeks, another says 32 weeks. And the rest vary in between. Starts walking varies between 49 weeks and 70 weeks.
Jen: 00:24:47 So on average there’s a 30% to 40% variation in when these different authors expect to see these milestones occurring in a person. And people who use RIE actually won’t sit there baby up. They will lie their baby on the floor and when the baby starts to sit is when the baby can push themselves into that sitting position. And so the majority of researchers expect to see this sitting milestone where the parent pops the child on the floor and waits to see how long the child will talk before the child topples over. And so that milestone tends to be missed entirely by people who use RIE. And so I think the point to make here is that all normally developing children do meet these milestones in their own time and it doesn’t really matter too much what the parent does. They can sit the baby, they cannot sit the baby. The baby is going to learn to sit by themselves either way. Yes, they might learn some more things about themselves and how to explore their own environment if you don’t sit the baby and they learn to get into that position by themselves. But they have this innate competence to do these things, to learn these things.
Silvana: 00:25:56 Yeah. The sitting thing is interesting just from my personal experience because I actually didn’t sit my baby up either, but not because of RIE. It was really because of laziness. I thought, hey, she’s happy lying on the floor. We don’t have a problem. I’m just going to let her do her thing. And she was a typically developing baby, so I had no reason to worry. But I think what’s interesting about this is that I was encouraged by many people, you have to sit her up, is she sitting yet, why isn’t she sitting, and there’s this idea that we have to do things for children in order to create the drive in them to do it on their own. And I feel like that’s one major disconnect between RIE and sort of mainstream parenting.
Jen: 00:26:43 Yeah, I totally agree. And it’s possible that your child met that sits independently milestone later than some other children, but firstly, does that matter? No, it does not. And secondly, as long as it’s a normally developing child and secondly, she probably learned so much more about how to move her body around and how to achieve that position by herself. Does that translate into anything down the line? Honestly, we don’t know for sure. We don’t know that allowing your child to have this exploration by themselves really translate into anything else. The best we can say is we think that it helps that having this trust in your child to explore their environment if you start doing it early. Again, when do you start doing it? If you don’t start doing at the beginning that they will keep doing this kind of thing for themselves, and so the evidence that we do have comes from much later in the development of preschoolers and toddlers and one study that I was particularly interested about came from Elizabeth Bonawitz who is at University of California, Berkeley and her colleagues and she created this new toy that no child has ever seen before and it had five or six different functions.
Jen: 00:27:53 If you press this button, the light comes up. If you pull that thing, then it makes a noise and she would show this to children and if she demonstrated one or two of the functions of that toy, the children were much less likely to explore the toy and find other functions themselves because they figured if there were more functions, the adult would have told me about them. Whereas if you just present the child with a toy and say like, hey, here’s a cool toy. Do you want to check it out? Then they start pulling things and pushing on things and they explore things for themselves and so yes, that’s very much later in the process, but I think it’s relevant because it does speak to that idea of if you trust the child to explore their environment and to believe in their own competency, then they will learn about their environment more than they would have if you had showed it to them.
Jen: 00:28:41 And so for that reason, RIE practitioners really use very simple toys that children can use their own competence to bring meaning and they can control and create their own play and so Gerber’s actual… her ideal for a toy is a napkin. It’s not some fancy mobile or teach your baby to read kind of thing. It’s a napkin and she picks it up and she pinches it in the middle, picks it up and places it so that it kind of forms a tent which provides a focal interest for the baby and the baby can find it and she want it and pull it and do all kinds of things with this napkin and they get to initiate that themselves. And so that I think it’s not a lot of evidence, but it’s the best evidence that we have.
Silvana: 00:29:23 I have one more question about this competence principle, the idea that our principle should be trusting your child’s competence seems to me like it has implicitly within it the contention that our children are competent. And so my question is how do we know how competent babies are? When we’re talking about infants under one, they are not able to talk or mostly walk and we have to sort of believe that they are competent. How do we know that they’re competent at knowing what they want and need and conveying that to us such that we can then give it to them?
Jen: 00:29:59 Yeah. That’s a great question. So yeah, I think part of the most difficult to understand about this is when babies are really young because they are competent about knowing some of the things they need. They know when they need food, they will often cry when they need a diaper change or when they’re tired. My daughter would actually cry as soon as she peed before the indicator stripe had even turned color, she would cry and we would look at the stripe and say, you’re not wet. And then we’d look again 10 seconds later and we’d say you’re wet. So I think the thing is we’re not always that good at reading their signals and we get better at it over the time. And they also get better at giving us signals as well. They will have a certain kind of cry to indicate certain kinds of discomfort, but sometimes you’re right.
Jen: 00:30:42 They may know that they’re uncomfortable but they might not know why. And so we sort of do this dance where we think to ourselves, I believe that you’re trying to tell me something and maybe you know what it is or maybe it’s just this general discomfort and I’m trying so hard to figure out what it is so I can help you. And together we get better at doing this. And so there really isn’t any research specifically related to RIE that says your baby is competent from X age and if you only had these skills and abilities, you would be able to respond to them. But going back to something I briefly mentioned earlier, Alison Gopnik, a professor again at UC Berkeley actually, she’s done a ton of research on very young babies and what they can achieve and she generally does it by putting them in strange situations and things that don’t make sense and timing how long the baby looks at things that don’t make sense versus do make sense.
Jen: 00:31:38 And so she believes that babies understand so much about things that you would think impossible, like forming hypotheses and experimenting and engaging in mathematical reasoning. And I’m serious here, I’m not making this up. So how do we know what they understand? Well, we don’t know for sure, but we can probably assume they understand more than we believe. And I don’t believe that when a child can talk, should be when we start listening to them. I mean we did baby sign language not to give our daughter some kind of amazing skillset, but just to communicate with her before she could talk. And of course, as soon as she can make a sign, she starts asking for things that she wants because the limitation of being able to speak goes away. The cognitive abilities are there so much earlier. And so when do those cognitive abilities appear? We don’t know, but why not assume that it’s at the beginning until we know otherwise.
Silvan: 00:32:32 The other thing too, just a little comment, I had never heard of RIE or any of this when my daughter was under a year. I think it was around a year that I discovered it, but when I look back, I do remember those moments of like my daughter just seeming like she was having a very deep thoughts. You look at an infant and it’s like, what are they thinking about? So I dunno, I guess maybe Gopnik is onto something. Okay. So, my next question is about the fourth principle of RIE, sensitive observation. So what they say is this, “We observed 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.” I think we’ve talked about this a little bit already, but I would love to hear what your insights are based on what you know and what you’ve read.
Jen: 00:33:27 Yeah. I think in the very early days it goes back to the idea of stopping a child from crying and instead of just trying to make the crying stop, which frankly was what I did. We had a lot of crying in our early days. We had a lot of gas in our early days which led to a lot of crying and you just want the crying to stop. You will do whatever it takes, and so I think the key is to first seek to understand why the child is crying rather than just making it stopped and it can be so hard when it’s going on, but that step will help you in the longer run to understand what’s going on with your baby and respond appropriately, and it’s really that appropriate responsiveness that promotes attachment. It’s not just about responding but responding to the child’s needs. And so it begs the question, how can we understand a child’s needs when the child’s only language really is crying and moving their body around if we don’t observe them?
Jen: 00:34:24 And I think the big fear that parents have is if they’re crying, that means they’re unhappy, and so if I stop the crying, they will be happy. So crying is bad. I must stop the crying and if they’re crying, they’re struggling with something and we don’t want our children to struggle. We don’t want the child to feel abandoned. If they’re crying, then maybe they feel abandoned. So if they’re not crying, then they must not feel abandoned. And I must be promoting this attachment relationship. So, fast forward to college age, we’re starting to realize now the results of not allowing children to struggle and so Julie Lythcott-Haims got a book about children at Stanford who were completely unable to make decisions for themselves I think is incredibly relevant here and this is an elite institution and the kids are calling the parents to find out what classes they should take and the parents are calling the professors when the kid doesn’t get an A to negotiate a better grade.
Jen: 00:35:20 And so we are now understanding what the impacts are of never allowing a child to struggle. And again, we’re not talking about making a child’s life more difficult for the sake of getting them to struggle, so they experienced this. But just understanding what they need and being okay with, sometimes acknowledging I’m sorry, I don’t know what it is you need. If I knew I would help you. So, when we think about what evidence there is for this, the best evidence I have found is from a program called Watch, Wait and Wonder. And it’s a program that is use in a clinical sample, so it is patients who have some kind of attachment issue, their mothers and babies who have not been able to bond successfully. And so the program encourages mothers to sensitively observe and play with their babies and it has had some success at improving that attachment security and also reducing parental stress. So again, this is in sort of nontypical sample of babies and mothers, but the idea here is that, you know, yes, it can also have value in a nonclinical sample at not only promoting that attachment but also less stress in the parent. And I know I felt less stress as a parent when I started to take on some of these RIE principles.
Silvana: 00:36:40 The interesting thing about that is I wonder what we could glean from looking at toddlers when we think about this idea of stopping a child crying because if you go to any parenting Facebook group, and I’m a member of a number of them, you’ll see posts all the time from parents like my toddler is having a tantrum and I tried to comfort him or her and she just gets more upset and whatever I do seem to make him or her more mad. And so I wonder like maybe that’s true for babies too. Maybe the babies are like what you’re doing isn’t working. I don’t want to be tickled. I don’t have issues. Now I’m more mad than I was before. You know what, why don’t we think about if that’s clearly true for a lot of toddlers, at least some of the time and that does just magically start at age one or…
Jen: 00:37:21 Probably not. Yeah, and I think the key with a toddler aspect is, again, our instinct is to stop the crying and we assume that if the crying stops, then the hurt goes away. And I don’t think that those two things are necessarily correlated. And sometimes you just need to cry. If you hurt yourself, if you stub your toe really badly or something, maybe your first instinct is to swear because now you have that tool. You don’t have it when you’re younger, but if you hurt yourself badly, you’re crying. Do you want someone to come to you and say, hey there, it’s okay, you’ll be fine, it’s not hurting that much. Do you want to come play outside?
Jen: 00:37:58 Yes, you might be temporarily distracted, but is that really helping? It’s really just kind of invalidating the child’s experience. No, I’m hurting right now. I want to cry. I want to express this hurt and so crying is a valuable thing and I don’t think we need to stop it immediately at any age. We should certainly go to the child. We should comfort the child. We should maybe even without asking a question, just give them a hug and try and intuit if there’s anything they need. Other than that, do they need a Band-Aid or just a brush off or however serious it was, but just allow them to express that emotion.
Silvana: 00:38:34 Okay, so the next principle of RIE that we’re going to talk about is involving the child in caregiving. I said the other one was the most controversial, but maybe this is more. RIE advocates, encourage even the tiniest infant to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient of the activities. The parent focuses 100% attention on the child rather than raising through activities perceived as chores. So before we talk about the research, what does this look like when you’re talking about tiny babies?
Jen: 00:39:07 Yeah, there’s actually a video on it and I don’t remember the name of it, but I’ll put it in the references. It’s diapering and then the baby’s name and I forget what the baby’s name was. Non-RIE practitioners who go and look at this and this is their first exposure to RIE, they’re going to roll their eyes because the diaper change probably takes 15 minutes and the baby is involved at every step of the way and the mom says, here is the diaper and doesn’t it smell interesting and I’m going to unstrap the old diaper now and lift your bum. And so I never did diaper changes like that. I don’t think a diaper change ever probably took me more than four or five minutes even in the period when my daughter was actively refusing them. So that’s definitely sort of a very extreme way of doing a diaper change.
Jen: 00:39:51 But I think a quote from Anna Tardos probably is a good illuminating idea here, and she’s actually Emmi Pikler’s daughter and she now runs the orphanage in Budapest that her mother used to run and she says, “Hands constitute the infants first connection with the world. Hands pick her up, lay her down, wash her and dress her, and even feed her. What a different picture of the world an infant receives when quiet, patient, careful yet secure and resolute hands take care of her and how the world seems when these hands are impatient, rough or hasty, unquiet and nervous. In the beginning, hands are everything for an infant, the hands of the person, the world. And so in a way it sort of feels intuitive when you think about it that yes, if I touch my baby in a certain way, then they’re going to take one kind of message from it.
Jen: 00:40:40 If we believe they’re competent, of course. If we don’t believe they’re competent to receive those messages, then maybe we don’t. But again, it’s not something you really think about until someone suggests it to you. Until I had heard about RIE, I did diaper changes as fast as I could and my husband, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned this before on the show, my husband wore surgical gloves for the first month of diaper changes, which tells you something about how he felt about diaper changes. So I’m pretty sure he wasn’t saying it as a bonding experience. He was definitely trying to get through it as fast as humanly possible. And so what kind of message was that sending to our daughter? Is it something that she’s never going to recover from and it negatively impacted our relationship? Maybe not, but would it have been better if we had used that as a moment of connection?
Jen: 00:41:32 Maybe. So I think the best evidence that we have for this is around the concept of shared attention and we know that at least in Western countries, again, a lot of language development does come from these sensitive conversations between parents and child and the idea that we are concentrating on one thing together and we’re talking about that thing. And again, we don’t know when the baby starts to be able to share attention. RIE practitioners would probably say it’s a lot younger than a lot of researchers think and Alison Gopnik would probably agree with them and I will say that in other cultures, shared attention is not necessarily the be all and end all that it is here where people can tend to pay attention to multiple things at the same time rather than in Western cultures, the parent and the child was sort of share attention on one thing and then move to something else. So this is not necessarily a cross cultural thing, but again, the idea of when do you start? Why not start at the beginning?
Silvana: 00:42:36 Yeah. The diaper change thing is interesting because I’m glad you brought that up because that was actually my first, like RIE thing that I tried to do because like I said, it was around my daughter was one when I first started reading these blogs and there was like a blog post about doing a diaper change and I was like, well, I might as well give this a try because diaper changes completely suck right now.
Jen: 00:42:55 Yeah. They do around that age, don’t they?
Silvana: 00:42:57 She is fighting me. She’s rolling over. She’s mad. She doesn’t want you to wipe. It’s just like horrible and I feel like someone should do a study about this because it really was revolutionary and so I started telling all my friends about it. Like, this is what you should do with your kids if they’re fighting a diaper change and because it really is, I think one of the best ways to show that RIE “works” and that children really do respond better to kind of slowing down like, okay, now I’m going to do this thing now. I would get so granular about it just because it was still difficult. I would say like, now I’m going to unfasten the right tab, now I’m going to unbutton the left tab. And it was like my daughter went from being annoyed to being kind of amused. Like, oh, what is mommy talking about now. Researchers are listening maybe this would be a good study.
Jen: 00:43:48 And also in a way I think you’re starting to give the child some control over the experience and I think that’s probably what they’re resisting when they start resisting, they’re in the middle of something. They don’t want to get pulled away from whatever it is and have to sit out and get their diaper changed, get their bum a little cold and I wouldn’t want to do it either, but when you use these more respectful principles and you involve the child in it, then you’re saying, you know what, we’re in this together. You have some agency over this, you can help me if you want to. And that agency I think is really critical. It goes back to Self-Determination Theory. Autonomy is a key principle there. If you can make a child feel autonomous and genuinely they are autonomous and that they have some say, are we going to do the diaper change now or in five minutes? Then you invite them to cooperate with you.
Silvana: 00:44:34 Okay, so the next principle is that parents should provide a safe, challenging, predictable environment that is easy for babies to learn and safe for them to move around. I feel like not a lot of people would disagree with this. So what’s sort of special about what RIE advocates in this thing?
Jen: 00:44:53 Yeah, in terms of what the science says about this, there is a decent amount of research on what routines provide for children and the benefits of them can include stability, cohesion, comfort, security. They may be able to help provide a buffer for adverse life events and possibly there’s less evidence for this predict family satisfaction, child academic and social competence and some of the reasons for this are that it helps children to organize their thoughts and to remember them better, which fosters cognitive recall and helps with school related issues, challenges. And so I think the idea is that routines are not going to be a unique predictor of a good outcome for a child. It’s not like if you start having a dinnertime routine or you start celebrating a holiday in a certain way, then your child is suddenly going to have better life outcomes than they would have done before, but it’s rather that families choose the routines that make sense for them and the routines help the families to find success and meaning in their lives.
Jen: 00:45:55 So, it’s not the specific routine that matters, but the emotional bonds that are created and maintained through doing routines like family dinner, like holiday rituals. So there is some evidence on that front. On the safe and challenging issue, that varies such a lot by culture. I was watching a PBS Show on trains a few days ago actually in India. Different trains as they are used in different places around the country of India and at one point it showed a train going through a slum and the walls of the houses are literally three feet away from this train going past and at one point the camera gets a close up of this toddler sticking their head out of the front door. And so I think any Western parent would probably have a heart attack if that happened, but that’s just a normal way of life there. Some parents will cover every electrical outlet with a little plastic cover and put bars across their windows, but I think in Europe those things are much less common, particularly where people live in apartment buildings that are a couple of hundred years old and they don’t have bars over the windows and nobody’s gonna put bars over the windows and the child just learns don’t fall out the window.
Jen: 00:47:04 So, those things do have a lot of cultural variation. One idea that I found particularly useful in RIE related to this is what I think Magda Gerber didn’t come up with this term, but perhaps some other RIE practitioners did, is the idea of a yes space and it’s a space where you don’t ever have to say no to a child. There’s nothing in that space that they can use in an unsafe way. And you can put the child in that space and be absolutely sure they’re going to be safe unattended while you did something like take a shower or if you happen to get locked out of your house or your apartment for some period of time before you could get back in again, if your child was in that space, you can feel confident that they would still be safe. And so I think that that has a lot of usefulness in terms of helping parents to restore some balance in their lives as well. Because if you know your child’s in a safe space and playing independently, which is another RIE principle, then you’re more able to focus on yourself. And that’s one thing I love most about RIE actually is that it acknowledges the parents’ needs as well as just the child’s.
Silvana: 00:48:09 It’s interesting we talked about at the beginning that this is coming from Emmi Pikler in Hungary and it’s like adaptive for Western parents. It seems to me like maybe this is one of the most Western things about RIE in that people are sort of atomized, raising children by themselves, whereas a lot of other cultures you just got like a lot of people around, aunts, uncles and grandmas and so it would be very unusual for a parent and a child to be completely alone in the home as such the parent will be able to go take a shower without worrying about their kids getting hurt.
Jen: 00:48:43 Yeah. And in some ways that environment might be much less predictable because you don’t know which auntie is going to be around today, but the parents’ needs get met and the child’s needs get met in a different way. And so perhaps yes, this is an interesting one from a Western perspective, but if you think about the institutional environment that it came from in a way that’s sort of critical to helping a child function. Yeah, the environment has to be predictable. Otherwise things don’t get done. So that’s probably where that came from, I would think.
Silvana: 00:49:10 Right. Because you have a smaller number of adults taking care of the children.
Jen: 00:49:14 Exactly. Yeah. Taking care of a lot of children. Yeah.
Silvana: 00:49:16 Okay. So, the next principle is time for interrupted play and freedom to explore. So instead of trying to teach babies new things, we appreciate and admire what they’re actually doing. So what’s up with this one?
Jen: 00:49:27 Yeah. And sorry, it’s just a small correction. It’s actually uninterrupted play.
Silvana: 00:49:31 What did I say?
Jen: 00:49:32 Interrupted play. Yes. You can interrupt their play if you want. So RIE has this thing and again I’m not sure if this is a Gerber thing or it was certainly her idea and maybe somebody else put this name on it, but it’s called Wants Nothing Quality Time. And so Wants Something Quality Time is quality time that you spend while you’re diapering, while you’re feeding. Those are still opportunities for quality interactions with your child, but Wants Nothing Quality Time is time when a parent can just kind of sit and sensitively observe the child and play with the child. But with the child directing the play rather than the parents saying, look at this thing I’m going to dangle in front of your face, or if the child is older, let’s play this game and instead the child gets to say what the game is played and how it is played.
Jen: 00:50:19 And so a study that had absolutely nothing to do with RIE, but I stumbled on this in the course of my Masters in Psychology found that if mothers engaged in child directed play, so where the child gets to set the rules, the children were more likely to comply with a subsequent request from the mother to help clean up toys. I just found that absolutely fascinating and I guess I don’t want to encourage parents to start this so that they can get their child to clean up more, but really the idea is to build a relationship that invites cooperation in other aspects of your life. So your child is probably going to feel as though you spend a lot of time telling them what to do and what not to do and that if they get this time when they can direct their own play and explore in their own way and involve you to the extent that they want to, then a sort of cup will be restored, refilled, and they’ll be more willing to cooperate with you at a later time.
Silvana: 00:51:17 One issue that I see with RIE in the first year is there being so many different child temperaments. When you look at different infants, you know, I had a kid, I was lucky, I had a kid who absolutely loved laying on the floor and rolling around and that’s what I let her do even though I’d never heard about RIE. But a lot of babies aren’t like that and really want to be held or worn in a carrier. And it seems to me like, shouldn’t we be responding to the child’s temperament rather than saying, they need to have freedom to do this uninterrupted play and kind of explore the house or their yes space?
Jen: 00:51:50 Yeah. I think that goes down to some practitioners of RIE today, kind of get on this bent of being very true to the original principles and uninterrupted time to play is one of those principles and it’s actually interesting to read Magda Gerber’s own words on this and she has a book called Dear Parent and it has a little letter in it from somebody who I guess had been in touch with her and had submitted this little anecdote to be in the book and it says, “With tears crying, the only thing that seemed to help but not always and most of the time, not completely was holding her. My limited understanding of RIE led me to feel I was failing the philosophy because I needed to hold her so much and my frantic phone call to Magda, I asked her what to do with a baby who only wants to be held. Magda’s answer stunned me, hold her she said. I almost dropped the phone. Was this the same woman who advocated respect for baby’s autonomy and independence?”
Jen: 00:52:49 She continued, “Do you think that RIE is that inflexible?” So perhaps there’s this tendency to kind of be more hardcore and say RIE advocates for independent play because technically the philosophy does advocate for that, but you’re right, not all babies want this or respond to this or even interested in doing it and so to adhere so strongly to a principle just for the sake of it being part of a philosophy in my mind is a little misguided and if you go back to Magda Gerber’s original words and you find that she said she is very flexible about what to do. She’s very flexible about the idea that RIE is not going to be a fit for all infants and certain aspects of it might not be a fit for some infants and so you should feel free to pick from it, the parts that work for you and leave the parts that don’t work for you. So yeah, with your first child, RIE was a great fit, for a child that wants to be worn all the time. There are probably other aspects of RIE that can still be a good fit, but you shouldn’t feel pressured to feel as though you need to 100% comply with this random philosophy.
Silvana: 00:53:58 So, maybe then parents don’t need to really worry if their kids actually don’t like to play independently. Because I see parents being like, how do I get my child to play independently? And part of that is probably being interested in RIE, but also part of that is yeah, it’s better for me if my kid plays independently.
Jen: 00:54:13 Right. Yeah. And so that’s you start to have a bit of a struggle is where the parents’ needs are different from the child’s needs. And then you got some negotiation to do and at that point it might be appropriate to put your child in their yes space while you take a shower, if that’s what you need to feel human again, then you need to take that shower and your child may cry and that that’s okay. And your child will get over a 10-minute separation while you take a shower. If you don’t feel like it is an enormous pressure and a burden to wear your child all the time, I actually don’t like the term baby wearing, but to hold or carry your child all the time, then you should feel free to do that. So it’s really a more flexible approach that I think a lot of people imply.
Silvana: 00:54:59 Okay. So the last principle that we’ve got is this idea of consistency. And what it says is we establish clearly defined limits and communicate our expectations to develop discipline. What does this mean?
Jen: 00:55:15 Yeah. I think this one’s a great one for older children and parents of older children because you don’t really need to have limits for very young children because all they’re doing is kind of lying on the floor. And this starts to become much more relevant when the child can move around. So, I think the perception in mainstream culture is that if we don’t “discipline” our children, then we’re letting them run wild and we need to be on them and to tell them yes you can do this; no, you can’t do this or they’re just not going to respect us. And so RIE’s approach that we have used actually very successfully is to set a few very clearly defined limits and then stick to them. And so the limits that we mostly have at our house are around respect for people and respect for things.
Jen: 00:56:00 So, if my daughter’s screaming on the sofa jumping up and down the sofa while I’m trying to eat dinner, that’s disrespectful to me and that’s not okay. And so a limit is set and I have no problem sticking to that. If she’s drawing on the walls or in other way some kind of property destruction is going on, that’s not okay. And so what that allows me to do is to be crystal clear in my mind about why I’m setting the limit. And then that makes it super, super easy to hold the line because children really struggle when you set a limit and then you realize, oh, this is not a hill I want to die on, but I don’t want to give in because then they’re going to know I’m weak and they can walk all over me. And so if you sort of go into these interactions with the idea that yes is your default answer, unless there’s a really good reason to say no, then it helps to frame this idea of discipline as an idea of a way that helps the child learn something rather than a punishment for some kind of infraction.
Jen: 00:57:02 And so what research do we have on this? Well, I was interested to find, it was a small study for sure and it was actually done by Richard Ryan, one of the Self-Determination Theory authors was a co-author on this. So they asked three different groups of children to do some painting. And some of the children were asked to paint only on a small sheet of paper. And there was a big sheet of paper underneath that was a border and they said you have to keep the border clean and you have to wipe the brush before you change the paint colors. And one of the groups was told this in a way that emphasized keeping the materials nice for the next child. So there was in my mind, a legitimate reason for that. And the other group was presented the information as these are the rules and you must follow them.
Jen: 00:57:45 And the instructions for that group actually concluded in general, I want you to be a good boy or girl and don’t make a mess with the paints. And then a third group had no instructions about how to use the paints. And so all the children had 10 minutes to paint and then they were allowed to paint freely for longer if they liked. And their paintings were rated and they were also timed just in terms of how long they chose to paint at the end of the 10-minute period. And so the children who were given the controlling instructions chose to paint for less time. And they also had paintings that were judged partially by experts, partially by lay people as technically inferior to the other two groups. So, I think the point here is not the setting limits is bad because setting limits is not bad, but that how you set the limits is just as important as the limit you set.
Silvana: 00:58:35 All right. So, when I was reading about these principles and preparing for this interview, you know, do you think about setting a limit when you’re telling a child that they have to do something that they don’t want to do, like have their diaper change or it’s a medical procedure or you’ve got to clip their nails or give them a bath or whatever. And this idea about distracting children. A lot of RIE sometimes about how you shouldn’t distract children in order to get their cooperation. You should just sort of let them experience this unpleasantness. Is there any information in the research about that?
Jen: 00:59:08 There is but it’s not very helpful. So a number of studies have found that parental distraction is actually a very effective way to reduce a child’s perception of pain during a medical procedure like an injection or something like that. But when you dig into the actual methodology that they use, you find it’s sort of a well duh moment because the parents who use the distraction method are basically talking about something unrelated to the injection and the parents who are not, “distracting” are helping the child to focus on their pain. And so the parents saying, yes, I know it hurts. I know it’s uncomfortable. So yes, it’s important to empathize, but apparent wouldn’t just say yes, I know it hurts, I know it’s uncomfortable without using some other tools I think. So, using that as sort of non-distraction condition to me is setting up a false dichotomy because I think what we wanted to do is to gain our child’s cooperation in a really authentic way.
Jen: 01:00:11 And so if we look for us at an inauthentic way, I think that would be, your child is holding your cell phone and you want it back and you dangle some keys in front of them and you say, look at my shiny keys, don’t you want my shiny keys? And they reach for the keys and you reach for the phone and you do this exchange without the child really even knowing that it’s happening. So that would be an inauthentic way. And so a more authentic way would be, I guess in the phone example would be, I need my phone now please, and I’m going to count to three. And if you don’t give me the phone by then I’m going to need to take it please. So that would be sort of an everyday kind of an example. And with an injection you could say, this might hurt, I’m sorry that it’s probably going to hurt, but let’s think about something else.
Jen: 01:00:56 Let us think about going on vacation with grandma and grandpa or something else that they had done recently. That is technically a distraction, but it’s not an inauthentic distraction, and so I think what we want to do is to encourage children to cooperate with us for these authentic reasons rather than a reason that doesn’t give them any control over it. And I think that this is linked to the idea of praise and Alfie Kohn, who we mentioned before has written a lot about this and one of his ideas that I haven’t seen repeated elsewhere as much as I would like is the idea that praise is essentially on the same continuum as punishment. It’s about controlling behavior. And so another thing you might do if your child is going through something unpleasant is to say, if you do this or if you let me do this, you can have a reward at the other end.
Silvana: 01:01:48 You can get a sticker if you go to a doctor’s appointment.
Jen: 01:01:51 Well, you should give the kid the sticker beforehand and then they can play with the sticker while they get the injection. So it is not a reward at that point. It is just something that goes along with going to the doctor. And so taking medicine is something that a lot of children have to do at some point or other in their lives. They often don’t like the taste of medicine and so I think the disrespectful way of going about that is if you take the medicine, you can have some chocolate. Whereas the approach that I try and use and have used with success is, you know what, this medicine sucks. It tastes nasty. I know you don’t like it. It’s going to make you feel better. We have to take it. I’m going to put a piece of chocolate right here on the sink and as soon as you’re done taking the medicine, you can take the syringe out of your mouth, put chocolate in your mouth, and then all you’ll taste is the chocolate. And so that to me feels like a much more authentic way of getting the medicine down, which is the ultimate goal, but it gives the child autonomy and choice in terms of how they do that.
Silvana: 01:02:49 I have one more question for you about this idea that we try to say yes whenever possible and we only set limits when we really, really need to. And it seems like a lot of the things that some of the blog posts and stuff that I’ve read is we really sort of limit it to kind of health and safety or something that’s going to be destructive, right? Like don’t draw on the wall, whatever. But part of me and I think a lot of people feel this way is like when kids go to school or in the real world, they’re going to have to do a lot of things that they don’t want to do. And so don’t we need to kind of “train” them to sort of go along with the program even though everything in the program is not essential for health and safety and the protection of people and property.
Jen: 01:03:32 Yeah. I think Alfie Kohn has probably written about this as well and I think his argument was something along the lines of life is going to suck so we might as well start training you for that now. It is what we’re essentially saying. And so yes, there are parts of life that are going to suck, but what we want to do is to support our children in developing the motivation to, I guess comply is probably not the right word, but to go along with to do these things because they want to do them and that regular listeners of the show will know that I struggle with school for a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons is that you don’t get to choose what you learn, that other people choose those things for you for really no good reason other than somebody who’s more powerful than you says that you must learn it.
Jen: 01:04:20 But I think that by supporting our children in learning how to make these decisions for themselves, what we’re doing is we’re setting them up with skills like executive function skills that really are critical to their school success because it turns out in the early years of school, what’s really important is the ability to sit down and pay attention to the teacher and not get mad at Johnny when he pokes you with a pencil and that those kinds of skills do go along with some of the skills that we are helping our child to develop at home through giving them control, giving them choices, and so yes, I acknowledge I am uneasy with this concept and it’s frankly a reason that we’re going to homeschool our daughter, but yes, there are going to be aspects of life that are going to suck and sometimes you just got to get through them and hopefully there will be a reward or something that is intrinsically valuable to you on the other side that will be the thing that gets you through it even if the experience itself is going to suck.
Silvana: 01:05:19 Right.
Jen: 01:05:20 We’re going to end on a sucky note.
Silvana: 01:05:24 But it’s going to be great because our children are going to have intrinsic motivators.
Jen: 01:05:27 Yes, we hope.
Silvana: 01:05:29 We hope.
Jen: 01:05:30 Well, thank you so much for taking the time to work through that with us. You’ve been so game about poking the areas that don’t necessarily make sense to you and making me come up with ways to support these ideas, so I’m very grateful to you for taking the time and the mental space to do that.
Silvana: 01:05:45 Thank you so much, Jen. It’s really been a pleasure.
Jen: 01:05:47 And so listeners can find all of the references for the studies that I’ve talked about in today’s show at YourParentingMojo.com/RIE.

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About the author, Jen

Jen Lumanlan (M.S., M.Ed.) hosts the Your Parenting Mojo podcast (www.YourParentingMojo.com), which examines scientific research related to child development through the lens of respectful parenting.

Her Finding Your Parenting Mojo membership group supports parents in putting the research into action in their real lives, with their real families. Find more info at www.YourParentingMojo.com/Membership

She also launched the most comprehensive course available to help parents decide whether homeschooling could be right for their family. Find out more about it – and take a free seven-question quiz to get a personalized assessment of your own homeschooling readiness at www.YourHomeschoolingMojo.com

And for parents who are committed to public school but recognize the limitations in that system, she has a course to help support children's learning in school at https://jenlumanlan.teachable.com/p/school


  1. Saba katib on April 10, 2019 at 1:55 AM

    I’m a grand mother who loves and finds Rie a make sence way to bring up a human being. I help my daughter with her 2 girls (third on her way ) I live in Dubai, would like to meet parents or grand parents who live in Dubai and follow RIE. Thank you

    • Jen Lumanlan on April 11, 2019 at 5:53 PM

      Thanks, Saba – you might want to join the Your Parenting Mojo and/or Toasted RIE Facebook groups to find people who live near you…

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