RIE, which stands for Resources for Infant Educarers, is a parenting philosophy created by Magda Gerber that has gained a lot of attention in recent years. Yet, there are still some common misconceptions many parents have about this approach.
Here to shed some light on the teachings of RIE is the founder of Beech Street Parenting, Courtney Dern.
If you are pregnant or a new parent, you won’t want to miss hearing why you actually need way less stuff than you may think, strategies for setting your child up with independent open-ended play opportunities from the start (plus why this is beneficial for their development), and the importance of slowing down to support your baby’s natural curiosity and exploration of the world around them.
There’s no one right way to use a silicone muffin cup outside of the kitchen. And so when a parent sits back and watches their baby play with it, there’s less of this urge to step up and teach. Right? Having it be open-ended I think is freeing for the adult. So they don’t have to be like, Oh no, no, no, you put the ball in the hole.
Dr. Sarah (00:25):
RIE or Resources for Infant Educarers is a parenting philosophy that was created by Magda Gerber in the 1970s. You may have heard me talk about RIE in passing on the podcast, or perhaps you listen to one of my very first podcast episode interviews with my own RIE mentor, Deborah Carlisle Solomon. And if you haven’t listened to that one yet, definitely check it out once you finish this. There’s so much good stuff in there. But in my work with parents, I’ve found that many people really are not familiar with RIE and often those that have a few common misconceptions about this approach. So joining me today to talk about RIE and bust some of those myths is Courtney Dern. Courtney holds a master’s degree in education and a graduate certificate in infant and toddler mental health. She’s trained in the RIE foundations and is the founder of Beech Street Parenting in Portland, Oregon. This episode is not about telling you how to parent what to say or how to do things, it’s simply about helping you discover as I did, how to take what works, leave what doesn’t, and create your own unique parenting roadmap that fits best for you and your own family.
Hi, I’m Dr. Sarah Bren, a clinical psychologist and mom of two. In this podcast, I’ve taken all of my clinical experience, current research on brain science and child psychology and the insights I’ve gained on my own parenting journey and distilled everything down into easy to understand and actionable parenting insights. So you can tune out the noise and tune into your own authentic parenting voice with confidence and calm. This is Securely Attached.
Hi Courtney. It is such a pleasure to have you on the podcast today. Thank you so much for coming on.
I’m so glad to be here.
Dr. Sarah (02:16):
Yeah, so you and I connected through Instagram and we have some stuff in common from our backgrounds cause we both got really into RIE and you’ve taken it even much further than I ever did. But I love the work that you’re doing and I was really excited that you agreed to come on the show because I found RIE to be so informative and influential in my parenting, in my clinical work. And I really wanted to do an episode where I brought someone on who is in the process of becoming a RIE Associate and can talk to their experience of moving into this world and what it’s like. And as a parent too, because you are also a mom.
Yeah, I’m a mom, which is really, really cool. It’s so awesome to have a personal connection to the professional work that I’ve been doing for over a decade.
Dr. Sarah (03:13):
Yeah, and we were talking a little bit about some of your teaching experience before and it’s really interesting because you’ve had a really a wide range of different types of educational experiences and influences that that don’t all look very similar.
Right? Yeah, I definitely program hopped for the first years of my professional life like I think most millennials, right. So after college I did a Fulbright in Norway and I was teaching there. I was teaching middle school and then also kind of TAing for a US history class. But because I love babies, I weezled my way into gig at an outdoor preschool where I could at least volunteer there as well. So I wanted to go to Norway in part because of this interest in work family balance, cuz that’s obviously something that the Scandinavian countries do a lot better than the us. So I spent a year in Norway teaching and then after that I came back to Washington DC and I worked in DC at a program called KIPP, which stands for Knowledge is Power Program. It’s kinda like one of these high stakes, high achievement charter schools. And I’m really grateful for that experience. I learned a lot about classroom management and what it looked like to be a pretty crisp and empowered educator, I think. But then I moved to the west coast and did Teach for America. And in Teach for America. I was working with preschoolers and kindergartners and I taught at kindergarten at KIPP as well. And then I moved to Google after my Teach for America experience and at Google where I was working in their childcare center is where I found RIE. Long story, long.
Dr. Sarah (05:03):
So let’s talk a little bit about RIE. You talk a little bit about what rye is, what it stands for, what it’s about.
Sure. Okay. So RIE stands for resources for infant educarers and that’s an acronym that I didn’t always love. I used to think that that “educarers” was a bit of a mouthful. Nut I’ve come to love it. It was created by a woman named Magda Gerber, who is one of the founders of RIE. And the educarer word itself I think combines education and caregiving. And the reason that I love it now is that they are so in inextricably linked. You cannot learn if you don’t feel safe. So the caregiving element of early childhood and in fact all childhood and all human hood is so important and so vital for the learning. So I used to not like that word and now I’ve really come to own it educaring.
Dr. Sarah (06:08):
Yes, I have the same, every time I tell people what RIE, first of all, I live in New York and I live in Westchester and there’s a city out here called Rye. And so whenever I talk about RIE, people are like, Do you mean Rye New York? And I’m like, No, I mean RIE, the parenting philosophy. And then I explain the acronym and it’s such a mouthful and I actually think I too, if you know what it stands for when you really know what the mindset of Magda Gerber, when she created the word educarer was, it’s so beautiful. But when you’ve never heard this term before, and I think this has something to do with some of the ways that people don’t understand RIE, is that it can sound a little like, okay, I don’t understand what this is. I can’t relate to this weird acronym and this weird terms and now it feels, I feel disconnected to it. It feels a little elitist or an inside thing that’s hard to understand. And I think there are some real misconceptions about RIE in the world. And some of them are very contradictory. I feel like for some people it’s too rigid and too prescriptive and too elitist. And for others it’s like RIE is too permissive, it’s not strict enough. And so it’s sometimes the misconceptions even contradict themselves. But I’m curious in your work RIE in that world, studying about it, practicing it, are you finding misconceptions out there about it to be common?
Absolutely. I think there’s been some high profile articles, some misconceptions in it recently. And those have been really interesting for me to read as a practitioner because RIE is so near and dear to me and I feel that I have a really deep understanding of it at this point after so much training and practicing it personally and professionally that those articles are really helpful cuz then I can see a little bit outside of maybe what somebody looking in would see. And it helps me a little empathize with perhaps these misconceptions that you’re talking about. And I think to begin, I think RIE is a philosophy of caregiving based on respect and individuality. So respect for the parent and respect for the child. And in an acknowledgement that both of those people are humans with unique needs and dynamic moods. So I think that if you’re understanding that it comes from a place of recognizing human hood, it makes it a little bit less prescriptive.
And I think you’re totally right that it can feel, especially if you are just learning about it, a list of rules that don’t make a ton of sense. So for example, in RIE there’s not true rye wouldn’t promote the use of a highchair. And so some people hear this, right? And they’re like, What now you’re telling me I can’t use a highchair, of course I’m gonna use a high chair. And so I think it’s an interesting, really, really small point to dissect. So it’s like, okay, let’s talk about the high chair. The thinking behind not using a high chair I think is really, really sound. So the idea is that you know, would sit with your baby on your lap at the table, at the dinner table perhaps when they’re less sturdy to hold themselves up and you would invite them into the meal once they’re ready.
And then as soon as they are able to get themselves to a seated position, it’s a really great time to enable them to sit at a table on the floor. So the idea behind not having a high chair is that you would have them at your table in your lap and then you would have them on the floor. And it’s a little bit more perhaps developmentally appropriate because you realize that the child’s gonna be there while they’re eating. But Magda Gerber says the child is ready to eat but they’re not ready to dine. And so the high chair thing is one of many examples in RIE where you’re trying to take the child’s perspective. So you’re trying to meet them where they are. And that empathy building piece I think could be really empowering for the child and for the parent. And I think the alternative is potentially propping them up in a high chair before they’re ready, securing them down so that they can’t move and having that feel a bit more convenient for the parent.
And I should say that I use a high chair, I’m a ride practitioner and I use a high chair and I think I can do it pretty respectfully cuz I tell my child when I’m about to put her in the high chair and then when she asks to leave, not through words but through actions and through her body communication, then I can give her those words like, Oh you really wanna get down? I think you’re done eating. Yeah, I’ll help you get down now. So it’s not a place, it’s not a dumping ground, but it is something that I try to use intentionally.
Dr. Sarah (11:24):
And I think that’s a thing. Another misconception about RIE is that you have to follow every rule in order to be truly RIE. And I think RIE is actually more of a mindset and a way of, it’s a guiding compass rather than a set of rules one must follow. I too used a high chair. I also started off not using a high chair and I fed my kids sitting on my lap and I did get a little lap tray table that I’d sit on the floor and I would sit on the floor and my child would sit across from me on the table. And that’s how we started. And then I also realized this takes a lot of physical effort on my part. It takes a lot of time and sometimes it’s just easier to put my kid at a high chair and sit with them there.
And I did all of it. I did all three of those things and I’d move between them back and forth and it’s okay. You’re allowed to find the way that works for you and your kid, but that’s the point. It’s not what you do, it’s how you do it. I loved your point about trying to look at things through the perspective of the child. Where are they developmentally at? Can they sit up on their own or would sitting in a high chair mean that their body is slumped over and they’re sort of stuck in this upright position that they can’t really get into or out of on their own? So I moved into the high chair once, my child was very capable of sitting by themselves, but a lot of times people begin food before a kid can actually sit, which cuz developmentally when we start food and when we can sit aren’t always lined up.
Definitely. Yeah, I think you’re spot on. I think that teach these parenting preparation classes and at the beginning I try to give this preamble, which is we’re about to spend six hours talking about babies together. I’m gonna tell you a lot of stuff, A lot of it is, and I want you to take what makes sense for your family away from this and I want you to feel really willing to reject what doesn’t make sense to you. And either way, I think that’s confidence in doing inducing right because you’re doing it intentionally. So you’re saying, oh okay, now I’ve like I’ve considered rather than just buying a high chair because it’s what everyone does. I’ve made the choice to buy a high chair because I think that actually makes sense. I want them to be at my eye level, I want them to be part of the table. And I think that’s what I try to do and that’s what I think rye has done is just given you a glimpse into the child’s perspective so that you as the parent can make more informed choices, more informed choices that aren’t based on Google listicles that you might otherwise come across if you’re a new parent and try to figure out.
Dr. Sarah (14:20):
Yeah. Oh that was one of the best things about knowing about RIE is I bought so much less stuff. I feel like the toys and I by toys, I really mean play objects because you actually end up buying a heck of a lot less toys like capital T toys and a more the peaked napkin or the metal bowl. And my kids had tons of fun with that stuff and I didn’t actually buy anything. Not that I didn’t buy anything, I definitely bought stuff but I bought significantly less than I probably otherwise would have.
I think even talking about the toys or the play objects like you mentioned and RIE is a kind of a helpful way to get at understanding the approach as well. So in RIE, in the RIE approach, Magda advocated for simple, safe, infinitely manipulatable, open-ended objects. And so that can be the peaked napkin as a first toy. It can be a silicone muffin tin or any safe thing that you would find in your kitchen. And I think it stands in contrast to perhaps the other major infant pedagogy out there, Montessori, which is a bit more prescriptive in its sequence of introducing babies to really particular objects. So even the Montessori mobile progression, it moves from the Munari Mobile, which is the black and white one into more tactile mobiles and it’s it’s pretty hands-on for the parent of you know, introduce this, then you introduce this and then you know, get this subscription box that then tells you then you need to do the object permanence box at a point and you need to do this at this exact point.
And I love a lot about Montessori. But in RIE one of the main tenets is trust. You put trust in the child. Yes, you curate the environment and you set out a safe play space for them, but you trust that the child will play with what they need to play with depending on whatever skill they’re developing at that time. And it’s been pretty cool because the materials that I have in my daughters, yes space in her room are largely open-ended and my son still plays with them and he’s four so he can go into that space and he plays with the open-ended materials but just in a really different way. So it’s like yeah now instead of just manipulating the silicone muffin tin and exploring its properties, now it’s a trough for a cow or something. Something a little bit more symbolic or imaginative. And I think the power of those open ended materials.
Dr. Sarah (17:11):
Absolutely. I find that too. I mean I feel like the toys or objects that I kind of curated for my daughter, cuz it’s interesting, I knew about RIE when my son was born. He’s also four, he is almost five. And I did my best to do it on my own. And when my daughter was born was when I finally had time to take, cuz I did it when I was on my maternity leave. She was two months old when I did my RIE Foundations training. I remember pumping in between session lesson breaks, and going home and being, watching it all unfold with her in her infancy and it was so cool. So I got a little bit more intentional with the objects that I was providing for her to play with when she was an infant. And those are the toys that my son now plays with the, they’re just the things that are still exist in our home. And I have a three and almost five year old. And that’s the nice thing too about the open ended play materials is blocks and silicone muffin tins and pompoms and things like that. They’re forever usable.
Dr. Sarah (18:25):
They don’t stop with a certain age. So you’d also just, I think accumulate a lot less stuff because the things you have your child changes them to evolve to meet their needs versus having to constantly renew and get more toys. Every couple, every leap.
Right? Yeah, there’s so much to say about toys and play objects and I think it’s really interesting to think about why we even have toys. Toys kind of mimic what children used to play with in nature. And so when you think about kids forever have played with sticks and rocks and those loose parts out in nature and the open, open-ended materials that you provide are more similar to those that they’re able to be child’s a bit more able to be creative in their use with them. And then the other thing benefit, I think of open-ended materials that perhaps people don’t think about that often is there’s no one right way to, We keep coming back to the silicon muffin, but there’s no one right way to use a silicone muffin cup outside of the kitchen. And so when a parent sits back and watches their baby play with it, there’s less of this urge to step up and teach of like, no, no, no, you’re supposed to do this.
If the baby wants to put it on their head, if they wanna put it in their mouth, if they like the way that it feels when they pound it into the ground there’s a number of ways that a baby would experience that object. And having it be open-ended I think is freeing for the adult. So they don’t have to be like, Oh no, no, no, you put the hole in the box, you put the hole or the, I’m sorry, the ball in the hole. You put the ball in the hole, you put the bow on the hole teaching it. Teaching and feeling like that’s their job. And a lot is demanded of parents, but teaching your baby how to play isn’t one of them. And I think that when parents realize that it can feel really freeing for the baby who isn’t manipulated and taught and coerced how to play in a certain way. And it can feel really freeing for the parent to realize, wow, they know a lot already and I can sit back and I can enjoy them and I can learn about them for what they’re choosing to do already. And that’s what we do in the playgroup is sit back and watch the babies play and notice what they’re able to do, notice what they’re interested in. That’s really lovely.
Dr. Sarah (20:56):
Yeah. Can you talk a little bit about parent infant playgroups? And I know the one that you lead is RIE inspired and these are of born out of Magda Gerber’s original like, this is what she did. She had a little house in California where she would teach these infant classes. And really can we talk a little bit about what those look like and what the work you do looks like? So parents who may be interested in learning more about this could imagine what it would look like to do a parenting class if you were going to dig into RIE.
Sure. Yeah. So my job as a facilitator is to set up a playscape that’s developmentally appropriate for the baby. So for our pre-mobile group, I will set out mats and then a nice clean, solid color blanket and I set it out so it’s firm enough cuz these babies are working on moving their bodies and soft enough that it doesn’t feel painful if they slip and pop their head. And then I put up those, these objects that we’re talking about. So I try to do a variety of textures, materials, some wood, some metal, some plastic, some silicone, and some fabrics. So I put out those peaked scarves. And then the idea is that the parent puts the child on their back where they have the most freedom of movement close to the objects, but they don’t put the objects in their hand because they trust that the baby will reach out and grab them if and when they’re ready.
So a lot of the babies in this pre-mobile group are still organizing their bodies. So we give them plenty of space to stretch their limbs, to move their head side to side. And we don’t necessarily try to force them by dangling an object above their head to engage with something. We mostly just trust that when they’re able and ready and interested, they’ll reach out and grab objects. And if they’re not doing that yet, it’s because they don’t need to still babies discover their hands around two month, two months of age. And I think parents sometimes unintentionally put a rattle in their hand and the kid is just figuring out that their hands are attached to them. And if you don’t do that and you let your kid just trip out over the discovery that their hands are connected to their bodies, man, that’s a cool thing to watch.
And why would you ever rush that? It’s a really important skill to know how your body works and how you can control it. So they’re very slow. I guess that, to answer your question, they’re very slow paced. They’re based in observation. We do a warm check in when the parents arrive and then we watch the babies for a certain period of time and then we just chat about parenting and what we observed and how it felt. And one interesting component is that we don’t have an ask no ages policy, which is pretty unusual. So the most common first question that you get is how old is your baby? You put your baby down next to another baby and that baby rolls and you ask like, Oh, how old is your baby? Cause you wanna know, you wanna know, is my baby behind? Is my baby, is there something wrong with my baby? Is my baby advanced? And I think comparisons can be really helpful, right? Cuz you don’t know and you need to have some context. But the idea in the class is that all and in rise is that all children develop at their own pace. And so it shouldn’t be this competition to do it faster. And it’s more an appreciation of whatever they are is where they are and we trust that they’ll get to wherever they need to go. They achieve verticality, Dr. Emmi Pikler said in the first year of life ish, at their own pace.
Dr. Sarah (24:38):
Yes. And verticality means being able to stand up and then walk. Right? We go from horizontal to vertical.
Yes. I think it, it’s comes as a shock I think to parents that you don’t have to, another thing that you don’t have to do, you don’t have to teach your child to sit, you don’t have to teach your child to stand. You don’t have to teach your child to walk. I know. And that’s really surprising for a lot of parents. Cause I think you see it a lot. You see a lot of propping.
Dr. Sarah (25:07):
We’re super trained to that. I mean, I thought that was something really profound for me to realize. I assumed when I was pregnant with my son and imagining having a kid before I found RIE, that fantasy was very much involved. What am I gonna teach my kid? How am I gonna teach them what is my role and what am I gonna do to make my child learn this and do this and get here? And finding why was incredibly, it was liberating in a way. I didn’t even realize I needed liberation in the sense that it was like, Oh, that’s not my job. My job, I do have a job. It’s not absent. My job is to be present. My job is to be connected, to be with my child, to follow their lead and to be curious about where they’re at. But my job, I I’ve to not have to practice sitting and in practice walking and to really authentically trust that they will get there.
Can’t not, I mean obviously where there’s delays in gross motor development and we want to be aware of that. I think where your point to comparison has a role and your pediatrician’s gonna be also comparing your child to your child on their own growth chart of their own motor development. But obviously outliers aside, and even within a child who may be developmentally an outlier, you still need to compare a child to themselves, not to another child. And so to be able to say, I trust that my kid will get there when they have physiologically and on a gross motor level have the strength to do it. That this, were built to know this. And I think the reason, one of the things that I learned when I was doing the right foundations that really helped me understand why it is that way, why RIE follows that model is that, so Magda Gerber, her story is she was, she’s from Hungary and she’s working in a Hungarian orphanage with Emmi Pikler who is a very well respected and world renowned now pediatrician back then after World War II I think, right?
And they had so many orphans after the war and there were tons of orphanages and the children were not thriving. And there was so much, so many issues that these children across Hungary were dealing with, and I’m sure probably everywhere, but Emmi Pikler created this or started adopting this model in this one orphanage. So what they did was they had attachment figures, basically. So each child was able to be paired up with a caregiver and it was one caregiver for many children, but there was a primary caregiver for those children. And that caregiver’s responsibility was to attend to their immediate caregiving needs with full attention and attunement. And then when they weren’t doing those caregiving routines, the child was set down to play and these children thrived and no one was teaching them. And the caregiving things were feeding diapering, bathing, dressing, things of that nature. It wasn’t teaching them to walk or teaching them to play or playing with them. It was when they weren’t doing those caregiving moments, the children were laid down on their back or put down in a place where they had freedom of movement and they were left to play on their own. And these children absolutely thrived. It was the Lóczy, what was the name of the it?
Yeah. Lóczy. She pioneered the primary caregiver model, which is what you were describing, where there’s one person who does a lot of those caregiving routines. And to your point about misconceptions and RIE, one misconception because of its focus on uninterrupted and independent play, some people I think can see it as a pretty cold method of like, Oh, you put your baby down if they’re trying to reach for this scarf and they can’t quite reach it, you just let them struggle. And if that’s all you knew about, right, RIE, oof, that would sound rough, right? Of like, yeah, you, you’re okay with your baby just being on the ground struggling to get that scarf. You’re not even gonna help them. And I think to get more into it, it’s like, oh, you are helping them, not helping them. You were watching them, you are available to them.
You’re realizing they’re not actually asking for your help, but they are kind of showing that they’re struggling to get to the scar for whatever. But I bring it up because the independent play doesn’t work unless you have those connected moments with your caregiver. And so that’s a huge piece in rye is these connected caregiving moments where you’re fully available to your child and you’re going slow. And so I think the diaper change in RIE is a whole ceremony. I think about doing a diaper change with ceremonious slowness for a baby. And you tell them through every step of the process what you’re doing, I’m gonna pick you up, you have poop in your diaper, let’s walk over to the changing table together. I’m gonna put you down on the changing table and now I have hold of your zipper, I’m gonna unzip it.
And it’s slow, but it’s peaceful. And you’re teaching your child language and you’re teaching your child to trust in the process and you’re giving them your full attention. And only when they feel emotionally fueled what like Magda said, is when they can also feel freed to play. And so, you know, wouldn’t put your child down to explore the play objects unless they’re in what we call their optimal emotional state where they’re emotionally fueled, they have a fresh diaper, they’re fed, they’re not sleepy. All of those things have to be in place for that play session to be effective. And I get dms on Instagram from time to time. How do I get my kid to play independently? And it’s such a big question to answer because what does independent play mean in a developmentally appropriate way? And I think, does it take you five minutes to transition them to independent play?
Do you walk them through the steps? Do you sit down with them? Do you show ’em what objects are around them? Are you available to them if they need you, but not interfering if they don’t? What practices have you been building with this baby from the beginning? Because to take it to the extreme, when parents don’t know that that’s an option and they think they have to entertain their kid all the time, their kid gets conditioned to be entertained all the time. And then when you realize it’s not a reality to entertain your kid all the time, then maybe you bring in the TV to entertain your kid or something because it would be exhausting to entertain anybody all of the time. It’s not possible. And so getting that muscle inch by inch from infancy is really, really important for the kid and the parent.
Dr. Sarah (32:44):
Think. Yeah, I mean think it makes me think of mindfulness in so many ways, but in the sense that if you yourself wanna build a mindfulness practice, and I think actually RIE sort of inherently has so many elements of parental mindfulness built it. It’s a mindfulness exercise in and of itself. But let’s say you wanna build a mindfulness practice, the idea is you would start a few minutes at a time, you’d be very patient with yourself, then it was hard and you’d keep reminding yourself to bring your focus, your attention back on whatever you’re focusing on your breath or whatever. And over time you build this muscle to be able to focus intently on something for a longer period of time. And that’s independent play for kids. So it’s like you don’t expect a child to be able to play independently for hours at a time until they’ve slowly built the muscle of one, understanding what the skills are that require independent play focused attention.
And before you can even start with focused attention, you need to have a sense of safety and groundedness and a sense of being aware of your surroundings and knowing where your parent is, even if they’re not right next to you. Trusting that they are nearby enough and will respond to should you need them. Then you have that sense of I can relax and lean into this focused attention and you get lost in a flow state. And it’s amazing to watch. And yes, kids can play for hours at a time, but probably not right away. And that’s why I think RIE sets kids really funny too, cuz if you look, and it might just be temperament and personality and other things other unrelated to my parenting style and RIE but a bit of a case study is my son who I didn’t do full blown RIE with when he was in infancy. Cause I didn’t know about it then. And when you look at my daughter who was literally born right into a RIE approach, my daughter can play so much longer and more independently than my son. And that could be for a million variables. Second child, she just had to. But I really think her introduction to play objects and the way we approached independent play from birth built up a framework for her around what it looks like and what it feels like. And it’s amazing to watch.
Yeah, I think Janet Lansbury has a quote that’s the direction a child or the direction a baby is looking in is play, right? Or play for an infant is the direction she’s looking in. And I love that because when you can kind of see that babies are playing they’re tripping out. Or I have this picture that I use in my parenting class of my son looking at a vulture on his wall during a changing, during a changing session. And he was just tripping out, looking at it. And I could have used that time to change his diaper really quickly, but because I knew about rye, I used that time to just watch him looking at it because I think kids get a bad rap for having a short attention span. But it’s oftentimes the adult that kind of interrupts them to move on to the thing.
So I would wait not long, 10 seconds, 20 seconds, and then eventually he’d move his eyes back to me and then I’d say like, All right, let’s take your diaper off. And I think that that’s a small little anecdote, but the idea that children engage in activities that they want to engage with first by gays and then by mouthing and touching. But when the parent realizes that those are valuable experiences and don’t hop in to interrupt or gain the attention back or feel like you have to be constantly playing peek-a-boo or something, then that child builds that muscle. Like we were saying, that mindfulness muscle, that concentration muscle.
Dr. Sarah (36:48):
And going back to that Lóczy Hungarian orphanage example, we don’t need to be recreate an orphanage in our home to build this stuff. It was just that it was founded off these principles that Magda observed in this orphanage that, okay, why are these kids thriving? She tried to identify the variables that were working for these children in this situation. And I think what she landed on was so spot on, which was attachment, creating a meaningful, safe relationship with a significant care provider, that sense of trust that your needs, your basic needs are going to be met and who’s gonna meet them and you know, trust that they will reliably, consistently be met. And not all the time, because that care provider was providing for a number of children and they had to wait. And it’s not about instant gratification either. That doesn’t create a care attachment that creates actually anxiety and enmesh and all that stuff.
So that sort of good enough parenting or caregiving and then this sort of free opportunity to play and to develop that gross motor development was not taught to those kids and they had free reign to within these safe spaces to climb and explore and do all these really amazing gross motor development. We haven’t talked about it, but I have talked on here about the Pikler Triangle being one of my favorite toys that’s still in use in my house with a three and a five year old. So going to this place of your kids will get to these places given the free time to do it, this exploration. And so I think both taking those two elements, and she probably took more and probably missing many, but that attachment relationship and that opportunity for self-directed learning and exploration uninterrupted by that caregiver.
That’s a lot of what she built RIE on. And that’s one of the things that I think is what for me felt so aligned with what I knew about child development going into finding RIE and being like, Whoa, this is fits what I know. We need attachment. I didn’t know what the gross motor stuff and all that stuff. And I was like, I love that. But it fit with what I knew about maternal mental health. Which is that we need to be able to be whole people with our children to be healthy. And if we’re constantly doing everything for our child and entertaining everything and being just not having our own boundaries and our own meeting, our own needs first and in tandem with our child, then we’re not gonna be healthy for our kids either. Or teach them healthy ways of showing up in the world for one’s self.
Right. Yeah, I love that. Have you ever watched any of the videos of nurses doing the caregiving routines at Lóczy?
Dr. Sarah (40:08):
Like a bath with, oh my God. Anybody who thinks RIE is cold or clinical, I’m just watch one of those videos. They’re so connected, so sweet, so slow, so intentional. and yeah, that’s the trust that was built. That baby knew that they would be cared for. So tenderly and with such great respect from really early on.
Dr. Sarah (40:34):
It’s a really beautiful way of being with children. And I think it gives parents so much confidence. I’m curious in your parenting classes, if you notice a shift in parents’ confidence from the beginning to the end of the classes.
I think mean. Yeah, I think so. And I have had the pleasure of seeing a lot of these parents now on the other side with their babies at our playgroups. And so I can see a difference in how they speak to their baby. And I think the classes are really good for partners too, it helps you wrap your head around what it’s actually gonna be like to be with a baby. And I know you’ve talked on this class about, or not in this class, but on your podcast about scripts before and how it’s the sentiment over the script. And I think in the class we do, I model and we talk about what it might sound like to say something to your baby. And I think those things can be helpful, but mostly it’s about thinking about what your authentic voice would be for your baby and just being freed to be radically candid with your kid.
I think can be really confidence inducing. So one thing we talk about is when your baby is crying, you don’t have to make them quiet as fast as possible. That’s not your job to quiet them as fast as possible. And I think that’s kind of mind blowing to some people because we think of a crying baby being something that’s really irritating, which it can be, but something that should be stopped right away. And when you reframe it as crying is communication, then maybe it sounds like, Oh, I hear you’re crying I wonder if you’re hungry. Okay, it’s gonna take me a minute to warm up the bottle. Oh, you’re really crying. Why don’t you watch what I’m doing? And then you know, go for the bottle. Maybe it’s not the bottle, you’re like, Oh, I thought it was the bottle, now you’re really screaming.
Let’s see if maybe stepping outside together helps. And I think it doesn’t mean that you have to be unruffled all the time. Sometimes you will get ruffled, but knowing that that’s okay and that you can repair with your kid can be really helpful. And so I think giving parents the confidence to try to figure it out loud with their kid. I’m trying to figure out what you need. I don’t know what you need, this is really new to me too. And then apologizing, right? You’re allowed to apologize to your baby. You’re like, Oh wow, I walked you outside. I offered you the bottle, but you have poop in your diaper. Of course, that’s why you’re crying. I didn’t look right away. I’m so sorry. It’s okay to make mistakes. You’re gonna make mistakes. Of course.
Dr. Sarah (43:15):
And I think importantly too is that I get a lot of times parents will be like, But my kid doesn’t understand a word I’m saying. And you’re like, No, you’re right. They don’t. And keep doing it. It’s got value to talk to your child in this way because they are understanding a lot more than you realize because it’s, even if they don’t have any receptive language yet, they understand facial expression, tone, cadence, rhythm, all of those non non-linguistic elements or I guess they’re still linguistic, but they’re not, words still communicate a sense of safety to your child. A sense of, I’m I see you, I hear you, where I’m attuned to you. And then as a child does get more familiar with these things that you’re saying and does develop receptive language, it does start to understand the words. It’s great for their language development, but also those things become their inner narrative, their self-talk. And we know that kids who engage in self-talk, especially sort of gentle and calm patient self-talk when they’re solving problems, are the kids that do the best in academics, in emotional development, in social and relational development. All of these things. This is scientifically researched outside of RIE. This is just where RIE and psychology overlap.
We know that, we’ve talked about the, have you heard of the marshmallow study? That delay of gratification study where a child is given one marshmallow and then they’re told, if you can wait and not eat this marshmallow, I’m gonna leave the room and come back in 10 minutes if you can wait. Or maybe it’s one minute or four minutes. But the idea is the child has to wait for you to come back. And if they can wait, they get two marshmallows instead of the one. So we’re really testing, can this child delay gratification, delay immediate gratification, eat the one marshmallow to get to wait for a greater reward. And the kids who are capable of waiting, the behavior that they tend to engage in that predicts their ability to wait is self-talk. Their ability to say, I don’t, You’ll see them in the videos being like, Don’t eat the marshmallow.
I wanna wait for, I wanna get the bigger marshmallow. Or they sit on their hands, but we’re modeling for them in this process, this really healthy skill. And it’s kind versus critical. Ugh, I’m so stupid, why did I do that? Right? They learn this stuff from us and maybe we’re not telling our kids they’re stupid. Why did you do that? But maybe we’re saying to ourselves, God, I’m so stupid, why did I do that? And our kids learn that too. So it’s the way we speak to our children. Certainly if you’re using a rye model, but a lot of times just if you’re using an attuned model, a gentle, respectful model, that becomes our kids in a voice and it’s a huge predictor of mental wellness.
Yeah. You’re modeling that metacognition for them and you’re probably keeping yourself calm while you’re doing it because the screaming baby is hard to listen to. And so keeping as much as you can, that perspective and that cool will help both of you.
Dr. Sarah (46:51):
So what would be one strategy that you might recommend to parents if they were, are interested in this and wanna try something at home with their kids after listening to this episode? And what’s a good place to start?
Yeah, that’s a good question. And I’m gonna use Magda Gerber’s answer, which is tell your child before you touch them. If you’re just gonna choose one thing, just tell them before you do something to their body I’m gonna pick you up. And then maybe wait a minute, not an actual minute, but wait to see if they’re responsive to that. We know that even two month old babies are responsive to being told that they’re about to be picked up. So if you go slowly enough, you’ll see a little trick that I did in the kindergarten classroom would be like, tap my foot five times after I asked a question. So give your child that Terry time. I’m gonna pick you up and then go to pick them up. Give them the chance to respond. But I think it works for toddlers too, right? You’re letting them know about the transition that’s about to happen. If you’re gonna wipe your kids’ face, let ’em know you’re about to wipe their face. Maybe let them help out too, but at least let them know that something’s about to happen to their body. I think that’s the number one thing you could start with, is understanding that children deserve that courtesy of knowing what’s about to happen to their body before they’re touched.
Dr. Sarah (48:19):
And if people wanna learn a little bit more about your work and Bee Street parenting, how can they find you?
I have a bit of an Instagram presence @beechstreetparenting, definitely always intellectually interesting to figure out how to communicate some of this really nuanced stuff in little squares. But that’s kind of a fun challenge. And then I have my website too, beechstreetparenting.com, and then if you’re in Portland, there’s the playgroups available as well.
Dr. Sarah (48:50):
Oh, great. We’ll put links to everything in the show notes, but if you have the opportunity to take a parent infant class, I couldn’t encourage you more. I think that they are, they’re wonderful for your child, but they’re really wonderful for the parent. I think they’re, they’re paradigm shifting. They shift the way you look at parenthood, they shift the way you look at your child. They’re incredible. So I highly recommend.
So much of RIE though. It’s like you, it’s, It’s not earth shattering. Right? It makes so much sense. I’ve had people say like, Oh, thank you for putting words to what I was already thinking. Right? Or kind of the opposite. It all makes total sense and I would’ve never thought of it. But it really does feel tangible and relatable.
Dr. Sarah (49:40):
It really does.
Dr. Sarah (49:42):
Well, thank you so much for coming on. I’m so glad to connect with you on this. This is really fun.
Thank you for having me.
Dr. Sarah (49:55):Thanks so much for listening. I hope this episode allows you to really cut yourself some slack, realize that you don’t have to get anything right a hundred percent of the time and find the value in slowing down for yourself and for your child. If you enjoyed this episode, it would mean the world to me if you could go ahead and follow, rate, and review Securely Attached on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you stream your podcasts. It’s a small act, but it has a huge impact and it lets the powers that be, those guys that control the algorithm, know that parents are enjoying and benefiting from these episodes, and that you want to hear more. I read every single review and comment that you leave, and I’m so happy to have been a small part of your parenting journey. I truly appreciate you being part of this community. Thank you so much for being here. And as always, don’t be a stranger.
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