elevating child care

RIE Parenting – A Respectful Debate

Infant expert Magda Gerber never shied away from controversy.  She knew that her child care approach was an uncommon one, often misinterpreted. In fact, she invited conflicting opinions, would even inquire, “What do you disagree with?” She’d then argue her point of view with spirited enthusiasm, a gleam in her eyes and (always) respect for her challenger.
I was reminded of Magda’s appreciation of a good debate when I happened upon a parent’s question about the RIE approach on Dr. Laura Markham’s Aha Parenting Facebook page. As an admirer of Dr. Laura’s child care articles and her passionate support of parents, I was curious to read her response. And, of course, I couldn’t help chiming in… Here’s the conversation that ensued.

Shannon:

I was just reading something about the RIE approach. And at first I thought it sounded interesting — letting children develop at their own pace, not hovering, etc. But then I did a little more research and I’m seeing a lot about it not being compatible with an instinctual style of parenting. Curious if you’ve heard of RIE and your thoughts on it?

Dr Laura:

Shannon -
That is a great question. I like many things about the RIE philosophy, especially around respect and play:

1. Respect for the baby as a real human with opinions, perceptions, needs. This includes talking to the baby, observing, saying what you see (“You don’t like it when I change your diaper”), empathizing.

2. Seeing myself as an assistant during play, rather than a director.

3. Showing up with full presence with our child and giving her our full attention.

4. Sensitivity to meeting each child where he is, and supporting him to explore and grow from there, rather than pushing him to meet some external model of milestones/ achievements.

HOWEVER, Magda Gerber lived at a different time and did not have the information we have today. So, for instance, she believed that babies will “learn to self soothe”… “if she isn’t picked up at the slightest expression of discomfort.” We know from brain research that this is simply not true. Babies learn to self-soothe by being soothed by parents, that is how the neural networks develop that are necessary to deliver the soothing biochemicals.

Gerber says that if a baby’s needs have been taken care of, she should be allowed to express her feelings through crying. I agree completely. BUT she thinks the baby should be left alone to do that crying, which I think is barbaric. Babies don’t want to be left alone to cry, and we know that because it sends their body into a stage of emergency, with their cortisol levels through the roof. Of course babies are allowed to have and express their feelings as Gerber says, but they need us with them or they get the message that they are all alone with those big feelings.

Also, I find it surprising that Gerber was so rigid about some things. For instance, she felt strongly that babies should be left to play on their backs while they are awake. Some babies will love that. Many will not, they insist on being held. Some like a mixture. Obviously, I would listen to the needs of my individual baby, which I am surprised that Gerber did not.

Gerber was also against the family bed, concerned that parents would not get enough privacy. All I can say about that is that it shows a lack of imagination which I assume came from her age. I think I speak for a lot of family bed moms when I say that for me it was actually exciting to find new places in the house to enjoy some privacy with my husband when our bed was occupied with small children!

So what you read about RIE being at odds with instinct might be about what I would call Gerber’s cultural resistance to what we think of today as the practices of Attachment and Continuum parenting, which are basically instinctual in nature. Does that sound like what you meant? –Laura

p.s. Janet Lansbury (http://www.facebook.com/ja​netlansburyElevatingChildC​are) and Lisa Sunbury (http://www.facebook.com/re​gardingbaby?sk=info) are both RIE advocates, and I admire them both. So you can also check out their pages for more info on RIE as well.

Shannon:

Yes, that’s exactly what I meant! I almost purchased a book on RIE, but started to become concerned pretty quickly as I read the few negative reviews the books were getting. The rest were so positive, but the few negatives all voiced concerns that I personally would have with the theory as well, if they were true. And it sounds like they are. I will check out the links you sent, as I’m curious for a more modern take on RIE. I’m a big believer in fostering children to be independent, but I also believe that comes from a close bond with their families — not from just letting them “figure it out” on their own via CIO and such. Anyway, thank you so much for responding, I very much appreciate it!

Me: 

Dr. Laura, I appreciate your detailed response to Shannon’s questions…but there are quite a few misinterpretations here…. The one I want to clarify immediately is that Magda Gerber would NEVER advise being unresponsive to a baby’s cries. Like Aletha Solter, she believed that babies should be listened to, supported and allowed to cry when they want to cry, when their other needs have been met.

The RIE philosophyis all about tuning into the individuality of the baby, perceiving a newborn as a whole and separate person and beginning a mindful connection from the start. Magda offered specific suggestions for doing that, like *observing*, and always communicating verbally before picking a baby up and giving the baby the opportunity to subtly communicate readiness. She believed that our “person to person” connection needed to begin right away.

Yes, babies need to be held, and Magda Gerber advocated “attentive” holding, holding a baby with the mind and heart, not so much as a passenger while our focus is elsewhere. (And, yes, this is different from practices in some primitive societies, like the one the Continuum author wrote about). Gerber and Dr. Pikler were unique in that they advocated time for infant free movement as well, so that the baby can begin to explore “self“. Babies are able to move most freely on their backs, but this is never something to be FORCED on a baby when a baby doesn’t want it! Babies let you know quite clearly when they need to be held…but it’s almost impossible for a young infant to let you know she needs time to move on her own. In fact, that isn’t something a baby knows she needs the way she knows she’s needs contact with us. It’s up to us to recognize self-initiated play as valuable, and provide opportunities for it, while closely observing the baby’s response.

And that reminds me of something else that Magda Gerber recognized (that I don’t hear other experts acknowledging). Babies become accustomed to our choices for them. The habits we create (like pacifiers for soothing, constant carrying, etc.) can then become our child’s “needs”. This can be confusing for parents as they try to recognize the difference between an individual baby’s true needs and the “parent-created” ones.

Dr. Laura, once again, I so appreciate all you do. Thank you for your support and the opportunity to engage in this conversation.

Shannon:

I’m enjoying your response a lot, Janet. I have a fairly “AP”-ish outlook on child-rearing, but for me, that means more than anything knowing your baby, responding to their needs, and using intuition over anything else. For instance, my son hated being in a carrier. SOOOO many people told me to let him get used to it — but that wasn’t his thing. It still isn’t. He doesn’t like being held close. He wanted to be held all the time as a baby, but only so he could see and look out at the world, and as soon as he could play in any sort of bouncer that let him sit up and be independent, he was suddenly the happiest baby ever. At 19 months, he is a never-ending bundle of energy who doesn’t stop — holding is out of the question, unless he actually “needs” me for comfort and such. He also totally rejected co-sleeping early on. He likes to sleep where there’s lots of room to move. I had a lot of guilt over that at first. But I realized finally that that’s his temperament. He’s his own person and I respect that. Son #2 is on the way in a few months — I can’t wait to see how this one differs from his brother. :) It’s all part of the journey! Thank you for your very thoughtful response, I appreciate it!

Me:

Thanks, Shannon. You sound like a great mom to me…and, as I’m sure Dr. Laura would agree, you shouldn’t ever feel guilty about listening to your baby and doing things that work for both of you!

Dr. Laura and Shannon, thank you again for this exchange and for allowing me to share it. Since I wasn’t able to take the time to address all of Dr. Laura’s issues with the RIE approach on Facebook, I’m hoping to continue the discussion with everyone here

(Photo of babies enjoying a RIE Parent/Infant Guidance Class is by Jude Keith Rose)

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37 Responses to “RIE Parenting – A Respectful Debate”

  1. avatar Holly says:

    Shannon sounds a bit like me when I first discovered RIE. :)

  2. avatar Shannon says:

    I love, love, love that I was able to take part in this discussion. Thanks to both Dr. Laura and Janet for all of the great feedback. I hope to be able to read more comments here from moms who have taken the RIE approach and how they feel its impacted their babies/children.

  3. @ Shannon- I understand completely what you went through with your son number one! Mine was the same! Heaven help me if I tried to hold him when he didn’t want to be held.

    The thing I love most about the RIE approach is the reliance on instinct and attention to what the baby is telling you. The acknowledgment of a child as an individual is so important to my philosophy- I believe that our job as parents is to let our child unfold as himself in a safe environment, with the gentlest of nudging when he makes unwise choices. RIE is the only philosophy I’ve found which supports this without telling me to follow a dogma of practice regardless of what a baby might be telling me.

  4. avatar Jen says:

    This post is helpful in clarifying some of the misinterpretations of RIE parenting. The title of the post also brings to mind the value and challenge of hearing others opinions on RIE. My husband and I believe in most aspects of a RIE parenting approach and this is how we have been raising our infant son (5 months old now). However, there is endless negative feedback from family members who have chosen a different lifestyle/parenting approach. Most recently my sister-in-law asked “why don’t you stimulate your baby?” ugh! Initially, I stood my ground and was proud to share with others how we’ve chosen to parent. Unfortunately our choices are constantly challenged, seen as ‘self-righteous’, and even mocked. Now I find myself avoiding answering questions about our choices because there’s such a negative reaction from family members. I’m unable to connect locally with like-minded parents, so find comfort in blogs like yours! I’d love to hear more about how you and your readers deal with negative feedback from family and friends that don’t support RIE parenting choices. Thanks again for another inspiring post–as always, I look forward to reading more!

    • avatar DeeDee says:

      Ahhh the stimulate the baby thing! Who started that and can we punish them?

      I never understood that. I did it for a while, But it seemed exhausting and pointless. Isn’t everything stimulating when you’re new?

    • avatar ks says:

      I completely understand this sentiment. Most of my family get it, but my husband’s side DOES NOT! It’s not much of an issue for us because they all live on the other side of the world…the long visits are very difficult though, as they often stay for weeks/months at a time and when we go home, we’re kind of at their mercy as we stay with them. I also feel anxious, almost, going against the grain. We try very hard to avoid conversations about TV for example…it’s always uncomfortable trying to distract our 20 month old son from seeing an on tv at friends and then saying ‘we don’t believe he should watch it into, he’s three!’. But then I remind myself that we are doing the best we can for our son and the conversations become easier. Thank goodness for one of my son’s carers in childcare for introducing us to Janet and RIE

  5. avatar Jodie says:

    This is a great debate. I have always thought that parenting need not be a “my way or the highway” approach. We can all take the parts that we need and like – and work for us – from the very different parenting advice out there.

    I am no RIE expert. I’ve just done some reading of Magda’s book and Janet’s website. The thing that struck me from this discussion was the idea that Magda and RIE folks advocate leaving your child alone to cry. I haven’t come across this.

    Rather, the message I’ve taken away is that sometimes, after all the obvious needs have been met (diaper, feeding, sleep, etc.), sometimes a baby just needs to cry. We all probably know that feeling of relief after a big cry… I’ve come to understand that this is because tears of stress (not just from an eyelash in your eye) actually contain cortisol. When you cry, you are literally flushing the stress out.

    So the idea, as I understand it, is to support your child when they are crying (again, assuming that you’ve already met their other needs). Not to leave them alone… but also not to shush or grab the pacifier or any other things that we tend to do to quickly stop the crying.

    I began to learn more about RIE when my son was 2.5. And I can attest to the power of simply being present with my son in the throes of his crying. He gets those big feelings out… and then can move on. It’s magic!

  6. Let me begin by saying I’m a fan of Dr. Markham’s and Janet Lansbury, but as a RIE mom, I definitely agree with Janet here. The one thing I find missing from this discussion is the idea of maternal instincts. So much of the way we respond to and parent our children, whether we like it or not, is based on how we were parented. As much as people vow to do things differently, the default position, particularly in times of stress, is to do what has been done to us. That is what we know. (That’s why people who were abused, abuse.) The gift of RIE is that it helps parents bypass their “instincts” and to be thoughtful and mindful in the way they care for their babies. This can be plodding and feel unnatural at first, but then you make your own. RIE actually saves children from their parents instincts that have been shaped both by how they were raised and our culture. Janet, Dr. Markham….any thoughts on this. I’m not an expert!

    • avatar janet says:

      Jennifer, thank you, you make a very good point. Our experiences certainly shape our point of view and childhood experiences are the most potent of all. The RIE approach is interesting to me in that it often feels counterintuitive in practice, but at the same time, it makes sense to the parents who choose it. It’s the way we always thought it should be…had we known to think this way…

      I agree that we are inclined to “do what has been done to us”, or perhaps go to the opposite extreme, because we fear repeating patterns. Dr. Laura would definitely know more about this than I do and I would love to hear her thoughts…

  7. avatar Kathleen says:

    I love it when these debates are so respectful.

    Whenever I hear/read talk of the crying issue and CIO I am always struck by the thought about how different kids are. I know parents who are vehemently against any form of not immediately acting when a child cries, because their individual child responded in such a negative way. Where as, I don’t see it as at all barbaric- because I know my child very very well and I know when she needed to be supported to release tension. Crying has always been a release for her and helps her calm. Her sleeping habits have also always displayed a preference to fall asleep on her own. For other children, falling asleep alone is almost unthinkable until they are much older.

    What I love about RIE is that it respects the individuality of children by encouraging parents to really listen to their child before they react. I think, first and foremost, about things from my daughters perspective, rather then what others think I should or shouldn’t do. This helps guide me to the best decision for my child. More then that, I LOVE how RIE respects how capable our children are- rather then viewing them as poor, helpless creatures. This also shifts one’s perspective.

    What a great discussion.

    • avatar janet says:

      Kathleen, thanks so much for your thoughtful additions to this conversation. As you know from the many wonderful discussions you’ve hosted on your website, crying is an intensely emotional issue and a lot of fear abounds.

      Since crying is the manner in which infants communicate a wide range of thought and emotion, Magda Gerber believed that our baby’s cries require a careful, mindful response on our part, rather than a quick jump to a conclusion. Some of the parents I work with have video cameras in their baby’s bedrooms and they can see that when their baby cries in the night, the baby is only partially awake and working on finding a comfortable position so as to go back to sleep. So, should we pick up the baby, wake her up and disrupt her “self-soothing” process? Should a mom like you, who knows and understands her baby’s needs “very well” feel guilty for allowing her to release tension? Absolutely not!

      Magda Gerber trusted babies, and by doing so, empowered parents to know and trust their babies, too.

      • avatar Kathleen says:

        Thank you Janet- yes, I think it is all about trust. We need to trust ourselves and our babies. I agree- it is all about stepping back and really trying to understand their perspective.

  8. avatar Lisa says:

    Janet, thank you so much for bringing these questions. What I learned as an attachment parent is that sometimes the attachment and drive to pick up a crying child is about our own needs from childhood. In exploring RIE and Magda Gerber’s work, I have learned to see the child before me as his own person and to really observe the child and help him learn to find his balancing point by being more conscious and seeing, hearing and feeling the person before me rather than projecting my own “stuff.” In doing this we can help children learn to self regulate, to find their point of balance by lovingly observing and waiting rather than swooping in to rescue without trusting and watching first. I am grateful for the respectful conversation here. And so grateful for the work of Magda Gerber and Emmi Pikler. Thank you.

    • avatar janet says:

      Thank you, Lisa, for your point about projections. One of the great eye-openers for me once I began observing babies was the abundance of projections I had! Now the subject fascinates me… Observing babies can be like a mini-therapy session for adults.

      • avatar Lisa says:

        Mini therapy, hee hee Observing babies is such a respectful deed and really gives us the space to pull back those projections and wonder who is this being? And it is so much simpler with other people’s children, again that need for space to really see the other. I am so grateful to you for bringing this important and healthy work to more parents.

  9. I was fortunate to participate in a week long intensive training with Magda Gerber and Ruth Anne Hammond at Pacific Oaks College in the nineties. The RIE approach has greatly influenced me and I make many RIE based suggestions to my clients in my parent coaching practice (and not just related to infants).

    HOWEVER, I do not advocate adopting any one parenting approach or philosophy in it’s entirety, believing parents risk dulling their own instincts and become resistant to necessary changes.

    The advice of “experts”, our own experiences, our child’s personalities and evolving needs, the requirements of our household, and our personal cultural and religious beliefs should all inform our parenting.

    • avatar janet says:

      Carolyn, I advocate something similiar…take with you what inspires and works, keep ears, eyes and mind wide open.

    • How lovely to read in your post, Carolyn, that you still carry with you ideas from our Pacific Oaks intensive back in the 90s! And I agree with you (and Janet) that we must utilize all available resources to do the best for our children. I think Magda and I must have succeeded in the class…because she always maintained that RIE was not a bunch of codified rules, but a way of being with infants that respected their capabilities. And since Magda has left us, I have had the good fortune to study Affective Neuroscience and Regulation Theory with Dr. Allan Schore…and I feel very confident that Magda’s Educaring™ Approach is a great set of guidelines for helping parents be good co-regulators so that their children can eventually be self-regulated (which will always include relationships with significant others). Carolyn, I’m still at Pacific Oaks, on the Children’s School campus now, if you want to see our wonderful new space!

  10. Janet-
    You are such a warm and generous person; Magda Gerba could not have a better representative. I think that you and I agree on just about everything relating to child development, including the importance of listening to baby’s cries, as described so well by Aletha Solter. But I think we are reading Gerber differently!

    I agree that Gerber says we should listen to the baby’s crying. But the comments below seem to indicate that she does not think the baby should be held while he cries, which we now know is an important part of the baby developing the ability to calm herself. In fact, physical contact with the infant helps her regulate her physiology.

    Instead, Gerber has us listen (which is great in itself) but repeatedly admonishes us not to pick the baby up. She also tells us that babies left to cry will learn to “self soothe.” So my question to you is, do you disagree with these comments? Do you think I’m misinterpreting them? I’m certainly no RIE expert, but her writing seems very clear.

    warmly,
    Laura

    From Your Self Confident Baby:

    p. 51-

    Helping Your Baby Learn to Self-Soothe

    “During her awake times out of her crib, I believe in placing a baby on her back on a blanket….If she isn’t picked up at the slightest expression of discomfort, she will learn to calm herself….Children may not want to be held when they cry or are upset….An infant’s cry can stir in us feelings of fear or pain from our own childhoods and we may assume our baby is experiencing the same pain. With babies, this is not necessarily so. A child can calm herself by sucking her blanket or thumb. Some children cry to calm themselves….As with everything concerning babies, they need time to learn a new skill. The more time she spends on her back, the more she will adapt to it…Eventually she will be accustomed to spending time on her own in her safe place, which will give you more free time.”

    I don’t know any way to interpret this other than that Gerber is telling us that when the baby is awake she should be left alone on her back. If she protests, we should not assume that she is in pain. She is merely crying to calm herself. (That doesn’t sound like listening to the baby to me!) She will get used to being left on her own, if we don’t (listen to her and ) pick her up! This is, according to the heading, how babies learn to self-soothe. But we know now that babies do not learn to self-soothe from being left to cry. They build the neurological pathways to self soothe by being soothed when they cry.

    Sure, children may not want to be held when they are angry, because they are defended, and holding them brings up the vulnerable feelings behind the anger. But I have NEVER met a baby who did not want to be held when she was upset or crying. They aren’t yet defended in this way. And besides, if they stop crying when we pick them up, then they are saying they WANT to be picked up. So why aren’t we listening to them?

    I also see this as incredibly rigid. My babies wanted to be held most of the time. Of course I put them down, often, on both their backs and their stomachs. They let me know– usually fairly quickly– when they wanted me to pick them up again. They loved being carried in slings so they could see the world. Much more interesting, I guess, than lying on their backs, and evolutionarily makes sense. Babies who were left on their back in the jungle were probably eaten and didn’t pass their genes on to us. So quite simply, why would we force an infant — and this is in the infant section– to lie by herself on her back if she didn’t want to?

    And I resent the last comment about this giving us more time. I thought we were talking about what’s good for the baby?

    p. 74-
    “Remember that a crying child may be simply complaining. It may not be in her best interest to rush and pick her up.”

    Whatever happened to listening to the baby? We know now that when babies are left to cry their stress hormones shoot up. When we hold them and listen while they cry, their bodies return to a normally regulated state, because they no longer feel like it’s an emergency.

    p. 34
    Where Should My Baby Spend Her Day?

    “I don’t feel a baby needs to have her mother near her at all times. I believe that there is too much emphasis on the idea of holding and touching one’s baby…what is the value of being held or touched if it’s only the skin that is in contact? I believe it is better to be with your baby while giving her your full attention….Place her in a safe area where she can play …you will have free time of your own.”

    We now know that there is tremendous value in skin to skin contact. Babies are born not yet able to regulate their basic physiology and being held helps them to do that. That doesn’t mean we don’t also give her our full attention at times. And it doesn’t mean we don’t put her down to play at times. But if she protests and is happier being held –which is the case with most newborns (and this is the newborn section), why would we not listen to her and respond? Again, the agenda of the mother’s free time is disturbing.

    p. 48-
    How to Respond to Crying

    “How long should I let the baby cry before I pick her up? There really is no answer to this…After her basic needs have been met, it depends on your tolerance.”

    p. 50-
    “If you allow you child to cry and settle herself, you encourage her to learn coping skills. She will discover what she needs to do to feel better. If allowed to self-soothe, an infant can learn to suck her wrist or thumb, find a comforting body position, or focus on an object in the room, as suggested by Dr. William A. H. Sammons in The Self-Calmed Baby.

    The Sammons book encourages parents to let babies (under the age of two months!) “cry it out.”

    p. 79-
    Preparing for bed
    “To form good sleeping habits, your child needs the opportunity to settle herself and go to sleep. This can be difficult for parents because some amount of crying is usually involved. Some children are better at self soothing than others…However, all children should be put in their cribs awake and allowed to work this out.”

    Sounds like cry it out to me. On page 80, she suggests that parents try the Ferber method.

    p. 33-
    “New babies should be allowed to sleep as much as possible….In the Europe of my day, babies were expected to sleep much of the time.”

    I have never met the parent of a baby who wasn’t desperate to get the baby to sleep as much as possible. But she clearly thinks this happens by letting the child cry himself to sleep. I think when a newborn needs to sleep, he sleeps. I don’t think I need to decide how much he should sleep and leave him alone to get on with it.

    p. 38-
    Where Should the Baby Sleep?

    “I feel it is important for a child to fall asleep alone in her crib….What does it do to a marriage to have a baby in the parents’ bed? It certainly cuts down on privacy.”

    • avatar janet says:

      Dr. Laura, thank you for putting so much thought into this conversation. I love your thoroughness. And I agree that we’re reading Magda Gerber differently. You’ve given me a lot to respond to, so I’ll go one page at a time.

      Pg.51

      I don’t know any way to interpret this other than that Gerber is telling us that when the baby is awake she should be left alone on her back. If she protests, we should not assume that she is in pain. She is merely crying to calm herself.

      I understand your interpretation, Dr. Laura, but not picking a baby up right away does not mean leaving the baby to cry alone. What Magda is addressing here is the belief many of us have that babies must be scooped up as soon as they cry, as if that is the most obvious or only answer. Often, it is not the answer, but we teach our babies that they need to be picked up immediately and that they can’t handle the slightest discomfort. Sometimes babies just want their feelings heard and acknowledged. Often a baby is calmed when we talk to her, ask her why she cries, or acknowledge the fact that she may be, let’s say, struggling to roll from back to tummy or working to find her thumb. We can stroke her gently to help calm her and then, if that doesn’t work, we can hold her in our arms while we stay sitting on the floor.

      When we rush to pick up a half-asleep crying baby, we quite often needlessly bring the baby into a fully awake state.

      But our more patient and thoughtful responses allow our babies to do the little bit of self-soothing they might be capable of doing. Often a baby will settle herself when we provide calm support and begin “playing” again or find a more comfortable sleeping position. This is about believing in our baby a little bit, calming ourselves, and being open to what she might do on her own. It’s certainly not about abandonment, or telling a baby to go and do it herself.

      It dismays me that these responses are thought of in such extreme terms (pick the baby up or abandon her) when infants are human beings who attempt to communicate a wide variety of thoughts and feelings when they cry.

      You may not be aware of Dr. Kevin Nugent, a Boston-based Irish psychologist specializing in the development of newborns and director of the Brazelton Institute at Children’s Hospital in Boston, but several of us shared a wonderful article about his work from the Irish Times today… Here are his observations regarding infants and self-soothing:

      “A baby’s “remarkable ability” to get his hand or fist into his mouth -even when he is not hungry – is no random movement. He may do it when he is upset and then settle himself by sucking on it, enabling him to remain alert and examine his surroundings. By this simple act, “your baby is showing you how competent he is and how, even in these early days, the urge to explore his new world is paramount”, writes Nugent.”

      Should we discourage these remarkable abilities by responding “instinctually” rather than thoughtfully? Listening and thinking before we rush to respond is the difference between Magda Gerber’s approach and the “instinctual” approach you are suggesting, Dr. Laura.

      Babies need us to give them opportunities, our patience and our faith to be able to achieve these small feats of competency and independence. (To be continued!)

      • avatar Evs says:

        I just wanted to add a couple of short comments from personal experience. I think (I’ve noticed this in previous comments on other articles) that you have more experience with the sort of babies you’re describing. And Dr. Laura possibly has more experience with different kind. Not that either of you is wrong as such, but you’re working from different notions of “average baby”.
        For example earlier in your comment you talk about why pick up a baby and bring it to fully awake state when you could wait a couple of min to see if they settle. Or the bit at the end about babies having an urge to explore the world and soothing themselves to do so.
        Personally, I’ve noticed that the opposite of what you were saying was true for my son – if he started crying when half asleep, picking him up or offering similar physical contact as quickly as possible actually ensured him remaining asleep. If I let him “self-settle” he would fully wake up and had to be put to sleep from scratch. So having enough sleep was a higher priority on my list then persevering with self-soothing.
        Similarly, I noticed that being held close to me in the sling actually induced him to be in one of 2 states: sound asleep or alertly awake and observing the world. So you can guess that I had to learn to be quite AP in the early days. It wasn’t so much a choice of parenting method as a survival mechanism.
        As he got older (3 now) I found RIE really comes into its own. But I think as a child gets older RIE and AP kind of converge anyway. But I’m not a member of any organisations and this is just the way it looks to me.

  11. avatar Teresa says:

    LOVE this conversation Janet and Dr. Laura. Please keep the conversation going, you are both addressing a topic that I have been struggling with, and I can’t think of two better people to answer my questions. Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!

    • avatar janet says:

      Teresa, thank you so much for the encouragement! The discussion with Dr. Laura continued here on my FB page: https://www.facebook.com/janetlansburyElevatingChildCare/posts/212716988778536 As you’ll notice, Lisa Sunbury from Regarding Baby and Laura Herndon Ling from Positive Parenting – Toddlers and Beyond also shared thoughts.

      For further clarification for readers (who don’t own the book Your Self-Confident Baby), I’d like to fill in just a few of the sentences Dr. Laura left out of the passages she quoted… I highly recommend reading the whole book (available at http://rie.org/) to understand the context in which these suggestions are shared.

      The last word in the world I would ever use to describe Magda Gerber’s opinions is ‘rigid’!

      p. 34
      Where Should My Baby Spend Her Day?

      “When your child is not in her crib, or you are not holding her or tending to her needs, she should ideally have an indoor and outdoor safe place to be where you can place her on her back… On her back, she has the maximum mobility and support. She is freer to move her arms, legs, and body, and do what she can do on her own…”

      “Touch is, of course, essential… Babies need attention and physical contact from a caring adult. When you hold your baby or simply observe her, be fully aware and tuned in to her. Then you are both freer to separate when necessary, feeling “filled” by the other. In my mind, a few minutes of this special receptiveness is much more valuable for both of you than feeling you must remain with the baby constantly or hold her without paying attention to her.”

      p. 38
      Where Should the Baby Sleep?

      “Parents often wonder if their baby should sleep in a crib or with them. This is another deeply personal issue [like feeding choices].
      …I feel it is important for a child to fall asleep alone in her crib, a learned behavior that will serve her well in life.
      …Doing this is a way of learning togetherness and separateness, and that separateness is not the same as abandonment. A child sleeping in her own bed still knows that if she cries or if something happens, her parents will be there. …However, if a family is happy having their baby in their bed, I wouldn’t advise them not to do so. Nobody has proven that those who sleep with their families will have a better life, or vice versa.”

      • avatar Gioconda says:

        Another option to consider for sleeping is the bed on the floor. A mattress on the floor offers a baby not only unconstructed visual access to her environment, but the freedom of movement to get into or out of bed as she is ready. Of course this means a room that is safe for her to be in! The bed on the floor is an easy place for a parent to be with the child for a nice night time story and cuddle before the adult gets up and leaves. This is a practice that some parents familiar with Dr Montessori’s work will be familiar with.

  12. avatar Rachel says:

    I love the respectful debate! I’d like to say, in response to Dr. Laura’s feelings about it being entirely about the baby (that’s how I interpret her dislike of mother’s free time being a consideration), this is one of the reasons I was drawn to the RIE “method”. I knew becoming a mother was going to involve a tremendous amount of focus on our new baby, but I also wanted to hold on to my own sense of self. I am a person, with needs and wants, and my little girl is a person with needs and wants. We are not the same being, we are individuals, and we both deserve our own “free time” :)

  13. avatar Jessica Isles says:

    A very interesting debate. But, I didn’t notice a mention of the mother/baby relationship being co dependent. I had a strong need to be near my babies, particularly as infants, just as they had a strong need to be near me, with me, held by me and breastfed by me. Often mothers are chastised for those needy feelings but they are instinctive and surely necessary given that a newborn would have been eaten pretty quickly if the mother didn’t keep it close and quiet. Of course, the intensity of neediness comes and goes for baby and mother and so you all work with it. But, I’m sure Magda wouldn’t have suggested not picking up your baby if you simply want to ‘love them up’ even if they aren’t asking for it! I couldn’t think of not giving my babies or children a cuddle and kisses just when the mood takes me (keeping in mind that you’re always reading your children’s moods) – 99% of the time they love it and respond with love and cuddles and smiles right back. If they don’t want it they have always let me know.
    On another note, I don’t think it’s helpful to connect co sleeping vs crib sleeping decisions with feeding decisions. While it’s true that where the baby sleeps hasn’t been shown to affect future health outcomes, what you feed your baby has significant health consequences. As we all know, many studies indicate that formula feeding puts babies at risk of many diseases so breastfeeding needs to be supported and encouraged while artificial milk feeding needs to be discouraged by health professionals and society in general and clear warnings on all packaging etc should be mandated.

    • avatar janet says:

      Hi Jessica! I like the way you mention our needs as parents, because this is the reason many wish to keep their baby in a carrier constantly, or in your words, “keep it close and quiet”. There’s nothing wrong with that choice! This isn’t about chastisement. It IS about awareness of this truth you’ve expressed: co-dependency. Many of us choose practices like these for our babies because of our own needs to hold on (or perhaps, because an adviser has told us we should). Later, we might mistakenly attribute these habits to our child’s needs (for example, “she’s a clingy baby that won’t be put down”).

      The RIE approach is about seeing as clearly as possible and being aware of our tendencies to project. At RIE, we learn to do this through observation, which is an art and great challenge, but a very worthy one.

      Regarding primitive times…I find it ironic that Dr. Laura refers to Magda’s advice as “outdated”, when Dr. Laura advocates “ancestral, primitive” parenting practices and talks about babies getting eaten by wild animals. We’ve evolved in a very positive direction since those times. The world our children will live in could not be more different. Free expression (which babies engage in through independent play, and by feeling safe to fully express feelings) is valued in modern western society (thankfully). The wild animals haven’t been devouring babies during floor play for quite some time. So, why are we holding on to these outdated ideas? And if there’s one thing babies are built for, it’s adaptation… Let’s catch up and allow them to be citizens of the world they will actually live in.

      In response to your points about breastfeeding. This is a personal choice and must always remain one, in my opinion. There are plenty of studies about the dangers of bed-sharing, too.

      • avatar Fernanda says:

        Dear Janet, hi! I woke 3am today morning and I could think of no better way to use my free time than reading your blog on some issues that still represent a question mark in my work.

        Could you please provide some links to the research on the danger of bed-sharing? Crying and Sleep is Nr. 1 question coming up from parents in my playgroups!
        Love you, with gratitude as always,
        Fernanda

  14. avatar Gwen Logan says:

    Thank you, thank you, thank you for this wonderfully respectful discussion. I wish the whole world worked this way. What a valuable resource for parents!!!

    I took the RIE intensive in the 90′s also. From my readings and from the discussions during the course, I ascertained that Magda Gerber had total respect for the relationship between the mother and infant. She seemed to understand the dynamics involved. I agree that it is important to recognize the context and time from which she was speaking, but she always encouraged mothers to trust their instincts, but to never forget to ask the infant what they needed and to give the child time to respond and to participate. Mothers of course are encouraged to be authentically responsive. It is the projections that adults inevitably have that we need to tease apart from our response. This takes practice.

    • avatar janet says:

      Thank you, Gwen! I couldn’t agree more about our projections being a huge roadblock to understanding our babies. That was a big theme in all three of my classes with parents just last week.

  15. avatar Mary says:

    I learned a valuable lesson when I was a nanny in Italy many years ago. The small baby that took care of was very fussy one night, and I couldn’t get her to quiet down. A friend of the family took her and put her in her bed. She fell right asleep. All the baby wanted was to just be in her bed alone so that she could settle down to sleep. I never realized that such a small baby would want to be alone! The other thing that I was told, that turns out to be true, is that babies will tell us their schedules and needs–we just have to allow them to do it. So perhaps this is what Madga Gerber meant–to leave babies alone a little bit so that we can learn to understand their cues. But people are taking it all too literally and a little out of context.

  16. avatar Kara says:

    You need to look into current research. Also, educate yourself on how the brain develops and functions. The RIE approach is out dated. I recommend reading “The Whole Brained Child ” for starters.

    • avatar janet says:

      Kara, I can’t imagine what aspect of the RIE approach you are referring to as “outdated”. The Whole Brained Child and all the other recent brain research corroborate Pikler’s work and Magda Gerber’s RIE approach. You must not be understanding. I strongly recommmend familiarizing yourself with the research of Alison Gopnik, Elizabeth Spelke and Paul Bloom, for starters. They are proving (finally!) that infants are amazingly competent human beings. Babies no longer need to be kept quiet and passive for survival’s sake, as they did in primitive times. Magda Gerber and Emmi Pikler knew this and believed in babies 50 years ago…

  17. avatar Laura says:

    Thank you so much for everyone’s input to this I have found it really useful :)
    I am newly pregnant (only 10 weeks) but I have always known that I want my child to learn things for itself and not have an over-reliance on being stimulated by TV and high tech toys. I have some concerns that my partners family automatically put kids in front of the telly to keep them quiet, and I would appreciate anybody’s advice on how they have dealt with this without causing family arguments!

  18. avatar Sara U says:

    I am just reading Magda Gerber’s book now. I really enjoy the RIE perspective on infants, but for some of the sections, I find myself thinking that Magda’s strongest influence on her perspectives was during her time directing Loczy, which is really different than parenting your own child, often times only one or two children. For example, she states infant carriers are unnecessary. This would have to be true if you were one of her educarers that was assigned to 9 children, but for myself, only having one child, it is mutually desirable to use the carrier at times. I feel this way about her sleep advice, too. If I were an educarer at Loczy, of course I wouldn’t co-sleep and night nurse, but with my one baby, I find this is what he needs. I wouldn’t say her advice is “outdated”, but sometimes not relevant to a first-time parent with only one baby…

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