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A caring approach

No dummies, high chairs, bouncers and flashy toys. RIEⓇ parenting may not be mainstream, but its respectful approach to raising kids is a philosophy that’s here to stay.

There is no shortage of parenting handbooks. Do this, they say, and your baby will self settle. Try that, and they’ll be rolling on their tummies right in time for their milestone. According to renowned infant specialist and educator Magda Gerber, trying to control the development of babies is where many parents are going wrong.

Magda was mentored by paediatrician Dr Emmi Pikler, who observed children at a Hungarian orphanage to find better ways to raise them. Madga then took this respectful approach to the US, where in 1978, she founded Resources for Infant Educarers, more commonly known as RIEⓇ (pronounced wry), which changed the way parents and educators around the world viewed babies and children. In its simplest terms, EducaringⓇ – the name of the approach RIEⓇ advocates – teaches to trust a baby, observe, speak to them respectfully (yes, baby talk is out!) and meet their needs. While it’s known to have a big celebrity following (Vanity Fair even profiled it), this is not a fad.

Mum of three, Emily McDonald, has been an advocate of EducaringⓇ for several years, and noticed a significant difference in her children’s development and her own parenting from the moment she began practising it.

“I’d read the article by [US-based RIEⓇ expert] Janet Lansbury, ‘How to talk to your newborn’. It said that from the very beginning, you should just talk to your baby honestly about what is happening to them. Observe them mindfully and see what they are communicating to you, then we can better understand what our baby needs,” explains Emily, a parent guidance specialist at beingwithbaby.com.au .

“The authentic, genuine approach made sense to me. It felt strange at first telling my baby everything that I was doing, but after a short period of time, I felt a deeper connection than I ever had before with my baby.”

Emily admits one of the biggest challenges she faces as a parent is ‘letting go’.

EducaringⓇ trusts the baby to reach their milestones of rolling, crawling, sitting, walking, when they do it. Part of that means they develop that joy of mastery themselves,” says the Perth mum, who is on the board of the Infant & Toddler Advocacy Network Australia (ITANA).

While some elements of EducaringⓇ are seen by some as controversial, its growing legions of fans around Australia show this technique is going a long way to helping parents understand their mysterious little human beings.

“The goal for this approach is an authentic child – one that is true to themselves,” says Emily. “They’re confident, capable, and able to communicate their needs.”

Not only that, it can be good for mum and dad, too.

“It has made me a confident and calm parent,” says Emily. “I’m less stressed about my role and I’m forever grateful for Magda Gerber for sharing it.”

The basics of EducaringⓇ

Talk to your baby
Speak in a normal voice and talk about what’s happening at that moment, such as: ‘I’m going to pick you up now’. Ask questions and give them time to respond.

Crying
Avoid distracting a baby from crying, as that makes them feel disconnected. “Crying is a healthy way for babies to express their feelings,” says Emily. “Pause and observe it and consider what they’re trying to communicate and try to meet that need.”

Dummies
“Dummies are tempting for parents but Magda advises not using them because a baby’s cry is a way to communicate a need to us,” says Emily. “If we give them the space, they may soothe themselves with a thumb or their hand.”

Feeding
A baby will give you cues such as pushing their hand away from the spoon when they are full so there’s no need to cajole them into eating with aeroplane sounds. As for how to feed, EducaringⓇ isn’t a fan of the high chair as it restricts the baby’s movements. “You would feed your baby in a semi-reclined position on your lap until they can sit independently themselves,” explains Emily. “Also offer their food at a very low table with a stool they can get into and out of themselves. It allows them to tune into their own bodies and know when they are full.”

Manners
“Social things like please, thank you, sorry and other polite terms are caught not taught,” says Emily. “What we model is what they pick up on. I haven’t ever asked my five year old to say sorry and he says it all the time.”

Praise
“Children should be intrinsically motivated to do something, not seeking the praise of a parent,” says Emily. “If they’ve completed a puzzle, we would say something like, “I see you’ve built the puzzle, you must be really proud of yourself. We wouldn’t say ‘good boy’ or ‘good girl’ as that motivates them to please us.”

Sharing
“Infants need to go through a stage of development to understand sharing,” explains Emily. “They need to know the concept of ownership and that an object will be returned to them after someone uses it. We trust that they will figure out toy struggles themselves.”

Play
EducaringⓇ promotes uninterrupted, self-directed play in a ‘safe space’ in the home that an infant can be placed in unattended and unrestricted for a period without being harmed. “When they’re starting to commando crawl, we might introduce a low platform so they can explore going up and over something,” says Emily. “Parents should trust that their baby can figure out how to navigate it and not try to teach them. Magda wouldn’t recommend any battery operated or loud toys as they make the baby a passive observer. Walkers and bouncers also restrict their bodies. The best toys are often those in the kitchen cupboard.”

Read up on RIEⓇ

Your Self–Confident Baby by Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson
Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame By Janet Lansbury