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Clever Or Crazy: Is The RIE Style Of Parenting For You?

What does the RIE parenting style entail? It encourages parents to respect their child by not invading their space, and speaking to them like adults.
Parenting: When you are presented with a newborn, is your instinct to cuddle and coo, or start speaking like you would to an adult? The RIE (pronounced ‘wry’) parenting technique involves treating your baby like you would an adult – that means no baby talk, no soothers, no baby toys and no high chairs or baby paraphernalia.

Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE) was founded in 1978 by early childhood educator Magda Gerber, who believed that children and parents should respect each other, with parents allowing children to find their own way without interfering. Really? Does this seem realistic, possible – or even safe? And would you ever refer to yourself as an ‘educarer’ rather than a ‘parent’?

You might be wondering why you would consider such a parenting style, and the answer is that the RIE method supposedly produces well-rounded, confident and more competent children. Advocates of the technique include Hollywood stars such as Tobey Maguire, Penelope Cruz, Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy, Helen Hunt, and Jamie Lee Curtis who was recently quoted in Vanity Fair as saying “RIE takes you back to basics. RIE makes us all better. Better parents. Better partners. Better people.”

So what does RIE actually entail? Well, it encourages parents to, above all else, respect their child by not invading their space, speaking to them like mini adults and encouraging a “strong sense of self” even at this very young age.

Admittedly, lots of elements of this parenting style make sense – for example, narrating to your baby what is happening in the home, or what is about to happen (eg, “let’s go and change your nappy, then get you dressed so we can go out for a walk”) which is a wonderful way to develop your baby’s language and cognitive skills. However, certain elements of RIE are less than mainstream. In her book Babies Know Best, Deborah Carlisle Solomon explains the ‘hands-off’ parenting tenets of RIE, which include:
  • No soothers: As Gerber once wrote, “the pacifier is a plug. It does stop a child from crying, but the question is: Does an infant have a right to cry?”
  • No toys: “children don’t need toys”, in reference to the singing, dancing, beeping, buzzing baby toys we’re so familiar with. RIE-approved toys are things you find around the house – saucepans and wooden spoons, stacking cups, and so on.
  • No baby walkers: referred to as “moving baby prisons” by Gerber.
  • No bouncer seats: these are thought to be more beneficial to the parent than the child, encouraging baby to “zone out” and become more passive.
  • No high chairs: According to RIE principles, “if you set limits around mealtime…it is possible for babies to eat in a dignified way”.
  • No lidded sippy cups: your baby should be encouraged to drink from a normal cup.
  • No responding to the first cry: your baby is expressing his emotions, so ‘shushing’ him is diminishing those feelings.
  • No baby talk: the underlying tenet of RIE is that your baby knows and understands more than we give them credit for, so encourage your child’s development with conversation rather than baby talk.
  • No rocking your baby to sleep or lullabies: this could be “interfering with your baby’s emotions”.
  • When playing, parents are taught to watch and respect the way their child chooses to interact with a toy and not direct the play.
  • Artificial and contrived distractions – such as toys, baby classes and so on – are not needed; instead babies should be relaxed and naturally stimulated.
Would you try the RIE style? Are there elements of this that you think are positive, or do you feel this form of parenting has a negative impact on a child? Leave your comment below to let us know what you think

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