Don’t Stand Me Up

An infant sits stiffly on the floor, unable to move his legs or extend his arms without losing his balance… A toddler steps off a platform and takes a tumble… Another toddler climbs the bars to the top of a wooden structure, then panics and cries out for his mom, who rushes over to rescue him…

These are children who are less physically self-assured than they might be for one simple reason: their motor skills are not being allowed to develop naturally.

Infant expert Magda Gerber, the founder of RIE, advised parents to trust infants to do what their body is able to do, and to give children time to achieve the next physical milestone when they are ready, without adult interference. Unfortunately, this central tenet of the RIE approach to child care runs counter to society’s conventional wisdom. Doctors, friends and neighbors inadvertently make us feel that our child’s motor skills must advance as quickly as possible. They ask if our child is sitting, crawling, standing or walking yet, and we worry that there may be something terribly wrong if the answer is ‘no.’

Parents should relax in the knowledge that each infant’s development is directed by his unique inborn timetable. Infants will always do what they are capable of doing and are naturally wired to advance their physical abilities independently. They never hold back. An infant who is given ample opportunity to move freely on his back will discover ‘tummy time’ on his own. Eventually he learns to roll to his back again. He then progresses to crawling, creeping, sitting, standing, climbing, walking, running and jumping, all without the need for parental prompting, propping or other intrusion. As Magda Gerber said: “Readiness is when they do it.”

There are countless benefits to giving a child ownership over the pace of her gross motor development. For one, she gains self-assurance, because each new skill is initiated and engineered by the child. The child will instinctively work to develop the muscle strength, flexibility and balance needed to achieve the next step. These children advance with a keen awareness of their physical capabilities. Magda Gerber reminded parents, “Earlier does not mean better.” She taught caregivers to appreciate the quality of a child’s movements, rather than rushing the speed of development.

Having observed infants for years, I can usually distinguish a toddler who was allowed to achieve his mobility freely from a child who was not. Magda Gerber was able to perceive these differences even in older children. Several years ago I met a young teacher named Leslie at a RIE conference who shared an account of Magda’s observational abilities during a visit to Leslie’s preschool. Some of the students at the school had been cared for in an infant center associated with RIE. To Leslie’s amazement, Magda was able to identify these children on the playground. Magda said that she recognized the RIE children by their agility and poise. Astounded, Leslie was compelled to attend the conference to learn more.

There is also a practical reason to permit infants to develop their abilities naturally: physical safety. ‘Safety’ is a word that attracts parents’ attention, and a child who develops his motor skills independently is much safer than one who is helped to sit, stand, or walk, held by the hand while going up or down stairs, or placed on a slide or climbing structure. Children will naturally seek balance, but when parents ‘help’, they give a false illusion of physical competence that can literally be dangerous.

My husband Mike encountered this brand of danger ‘head on’ when his friend, Joe, dropped by with his eighteen-month-old son Colin. The two dads talked for a while on our front porch, then Joe went inside to use the bathroom. Mike stood beside Colin, who was walking towards the brick steps leading to the lawn. Having raised three children who would never attempt to walk down steep steps at that stage (but might crawl down, or find some other way), Mike was blindsided by what happened next.

In a flash, Colin made a move to walk down the steps without even a gesture towards Mike’s available hand! He took a header, and when Joe returned a moment later he found his son in tears and sporting a trophy-sized, egg-shaped lump expanding on his forehead. Of course, Mike felt terrible (and his baby-sitting career was finished), but Colin’s parents contributed to this incident by habitually assisting him when he took steps. ‘Helping’ Colin along rather than allowing him to find his balance and his own safe methods of mobility put him in danger, because it gave him an inflated sense of his physical ability.

This false sense of security is learned when adults place children atop ledges, slides, climbing structures, giant boulders, or almost anything, and then help them to get down again. The child may believe he can get down by himself (after all, it was easy enough to get up), or he might reach out, expecting to be helped, and end up falling. The general rule is this: if a child can climb up by himself, he should be relatively safe climbing down again, and the child should be given the opportunity to practice both maneuvers. The adult should stay close and ‘spot,’ but not touch or help the child.

If a child is stuck in a place that he has climbed to himself, the best way to proceed is to talk him through getting unstuck in a soothing voice, or take the smallest possible action to help. (For example: helping a child to un-wedge his leg from between two bars so that he can then climb down.) The child who is allowed to work through the problem as autonomously as possible will learn the most from the experience. Quite often, the child who has had a frustrating and difficult time getting down from the climbing structure in my class will then immediately climb up to attempt it again.

There is joy in observing a child persevering to overcome physical challenges and discovering and mastering new forms of mobility. In my RIE parenting class, seven-month-old Bianca spends much of the time in side-splits and has a flexible, spread-eagle style when maneuvering around the room. Jason lies on his back and does leg-lifts and torso lifts that any Pilates teacher would envy. Audrey crawls agilely down a set of wooden steps head first. Alex walks down a ramp, trips, falls and gets up again. Sophie climbs into a wooden box and struggles to climb back out. She finally gets out by placing her hand on my shoulder as I crouch next to her. Predictably, she climbs back into the box.

These self-initiated learning experiences are infinitely more beneficial to a child’s development than a parent’s efforts to ‘teach.’ After all, if we look to the animal kingdom for models of the physical abilities we most admire — do gazelles, leopards and monkeys need to be taught how to move?

A trusted child “learns to do something on his own, to be interested, to try out, to experiment. He learns to overcome difficulties. He comes to know the joy and satisfaction that is derived from his success, the result of his patience and perseverance.” – Dr. Emmi Pikler, Peaceful Babies – Contented Mothers.

Please note: The recommendations in this post are geared towards neurotypical children, although Magda Gerber used these principles to guide in her work with disabled and neurodivergent children as well by prioritizing trust in their instinctive autonomous development whenever possible. Please consult your doctor if you have concerns about your child’s motor skill development or any other developmental milestones.

Recommended resources:


Your Self-Confident Baby by Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson and Dear Parent – Caring For Infants With Respect by Magda Gerber

Respecting Babies: A New Look At Magda Gerber’s RIE Approach by Ruth Anne Hammond

My book, Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting  (available on Audio)


See How They Move, featuring Magda Gerber, by Resources for Infant Educarers


Freedom of Movement and Self-Awareness”, by Ruth Anne Hammond, Respecting Babies

No Tummy Time Necessary” by Lisa Sunbury, Regarding Baby

Set Me Free”, “Messing With Mother Nature” and “9 Reasons Not To Walk Babies” (on this blog)


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Magdalena Palencia says:

    Dear Janet I have to share this with you. A very good friend emailed me a picture that she took almost 30 years ago when Lusna, her daughter turned one year old. Since I received the picture I notice something was different that I could not identify. Them I realized what it was. There I was with my dad watching Luana who was standing up on a chair, with her mother sitting in a chair nearby. I noticed that what was calling my attention was that my father and I were both leaned forward, ready to jump.

    I bring this out because I agree with you that it seems that there is a mistaken belief that the sooner children develop their motor skills the better. I also think that that feeling goes hand in hand with anxiety from the side of parents who see slower motor development as a sign of failure.

    As you said, when we give to ourselves the gift of learning RIE, we can trust the child and give them our time and respect to wait for their readiness for as long as they need.

  2. Andrea Holtzman says:

    Yes! This is exactly what i have always known in my heart. Leave the children alone to figure it out for themselves. The animal kingdom has many lessons for us, but we ignore.

    Question? how do I deal with my husband? he’s a very normal male type and wants to raise our 2 year old in a ‘manly’ way. It’s all about his physical development, and my husband thinks he can advance our son’s cooridnation by teaching him to walk. Like that is possible. It is very frustrating, and I don’t want to argue, if you know what I mean. It makes him happy. What do you think?

    1. Hi Andrea,

      My delay in answering your wonderful question is that I’m working on my husband to give the male point of view on this. We’re working on a brief post together that should be ready in a week or two.

      You’re instincts are valid and the key here is to look at long term coordination, rather than “the sooner, the better.” After all, your son will spend the rest of his life walking. The benefits, both physically and emotionally of waiting for readiness are huge. So, don’t let your husband open the butterfly wings too early!

      1. Andrea,
        My husband Mike’s post is finally up. HERE. I hope this is helpful to you and your husband. Please let me know what you think…and how it’s going…

    2. Kit Scout says:

      Primates and swine have both been observed killing (and in some cases, eating) their young. Maybe we should chillax on what cues we take from our animal brethren.

  3. This is one of the few rules in my class. I explain the reason to new staff the same way you explained it here. When we help children with gross motor skills, they are much more likely to get hurt due to overconfidence in their own skills. I think they are all finally buying into it after watching a little girl spend several days trying to climb up on top of a tunnel outside to sit on it. Another child had been helped with this and within a few days, he did get hurt trying to climb back up. This is probably on the most important things I learned in first preschool teaching position and the one I follow still.

    1. Shelley, I have seen what you describe many, many times and I’m convinced… We send children the wrong message when we “help”. We throw off their natural awareness, balance, sense of self. Either they end up with false confidence or they hear the “you can’t do it” message loud and clear and lose confidence.

      1. Hi Janet,
        It was a joy to read this blog today – it was recommended to be on the Natural Parenting Website on Facebook on a discussion regarding tummy time and ‘encouraging’ development. I am a physio with 2 kids and a firm believer in letting them work it out for themselves and as a Mumma have been quite annoyed when people interfere and try and help as more often than not, the distraction and the awkward hover of an adult distracts the child from something that they can normally achieve without help and is more likely to put them off their concentration!! For me, this has been instinctive but as I have evolved as a Mum, with my professional background I too can go to to the park and watch children and see which ones have been put in those activity centres, bumbos and who have been helped on the equipment as their sense of safety and sense of their core and balance is completely off. The development and movement isn’t fluid or sure. Without people knowing my bent on this they have often commented on how confident my 2 year old is with things and I watch with joy as she works things out for herself in her own good time. She was a very early mover and people assumed it was because I’d ‘worked’ on her with my professional expertise but quite the opposite. She was baby born and held a lot but came out of the womb with good head control and just went from there. She was always fiercely independent. I have also marvelled at her persistence with things, even as an infant. We never used bumbos, activity centres and the like as I too believe it interferes with normal motor development and the formation of sensory-motor pathways in the brain and just restrict the babies and their ability to move and explore their environment naturally. I now have a 6 month old boy, also very strong and moving at his own pace but again, he is doing things at his own pace in his own time and I know it makes them safer and more confident. We have a massive drop off at our back door due to landlords not putting steps in and my daughter has never been unsafe with it. Other playmates who come to visit who have been put in jolly jumpers, activity centres and helped to walk and they have all been unable to judge this as unsafe and work out how to slide down it backwards and require constant vigilance and look to their parents very quickly when they get stuck with things…I know it’s just an example but what you present rings very true for us. I think learning about your ‘centre’ isn’t just about physical ability either – it works at a emotional cogntive level as well. The children learn confidence in themselves fullstop…not just their physical abilities. I suspect too that many the patients I see as adults who have back issues and poor motor programming etc. stems from not being able to develop appropriately and freely as children.

        1. Hi Wendy! Thanks so much for sharing these wonderful observations and insights! YES…you describe my experience with my own children and as a RIE educator exactly. And I totally agree about the self-confidence aspect, as did Emmi Pikler when she first studied natural motor development 80 years ago. It’s puzzling to me that these pearls of wisdom are not more widely taught and understood. Perhaps because this is “anti-product”, and so there is no money to be made on this advice. Do you think? Anyway, I love having your professional corroboration… We just have to keep sharing this invaluable information!

    2. Anne-Laure says:

      Thank you for this very interesting article. My baby is 6 months old and I thought I had to help him practise things to get stronger, just like doing tummy time for example.
      I have a question regarding sitting: should we not place them in a sitting position until they can reach the sitting position themselves? I believe they tend to reach the sitting position unaided from lying down around 8-10 months, which would mean that until then we should leave them lying down, is that right? How to do for eating then?
      Thank you in advance for your answer

      1. I love this idea and was 100 percent committed when my kids were born, until it became clear that my child had developmental delays and needed extensive physical and occupational therapy to learn to move his body. My daughter now also seems to be in a similar boat. When kids have “motor planning” issues, they need help and guidance to know how to move, and often a lot of coaxing. It is not RIE at all, and it took a long time for me to come around to accepting that this portion of the philoo I would have to let go of. I just wanted to put this out there, because I’m sure there are other parents feeling things when they read posts like this about the ease of natural development.

  4. What about a child with hypotonia and gross motor delay? My son received PT from about 5 months old. Would it have been better to let him develop on his own? He’s almost 4 now and still getting PT. I feel it helped him but we did do things like hold his hand etc. He is pretty cautious on his own though.

    1. Hi Heather! Hypotonia is certainly not my expertise. If your boy has had a benign case — just some motor skill delays, I’d imagine Magda Gerber would advise non-intervention. It would also depend on the type of PT, how intrusive it might be, etc. But if you feel that the PT has helped your boy, then I’m sure it has! It’s important for infants, toddlers, all children to be able to achieve mastery. So, if I were you I would just be aware of that and allow your little guy to problem-solve and achieve (even it means a bit of struggle) as much as possible. Most of all, don’t worry! Projecting confidence in your boy is the key to him feeling self- confident.

  5. Is there such thing as advancing too quickly? My baby boy is sitting at 6 month and crawling at 7 month. He’s 8 month now and wants to start walking by holding to furniture. I’m afraid by 9 months, he’ll start walking. Would that cause stress on his bones and joints?

    1. The beauty of natural motor development is that you can trust it completely. Your boy’s body knows what it’s doing, muscles are developing in perfect preparation for the next new skill. So, no! Don’t worry, just relax and enjoy!

    2. My daughter didn’t crawl until 8.5 months and walked at 9. She has no issues that I’m aware of 🙂

  6. Even more than parents, what about Bumbos, walkers, activity centers, etc?

    1. Andrea, yes…. I’m not sure what you mean by an “activity center”, but those other restrictive devices interfere with natural development. They restrict natural movement while encouraging our children to spend time in positions they can not manage to attain themselves. They also cost money! Our babies are so much better off without the gadgets and gizmos.

  7. Hi Janet
    Have you any experience with kids with low muscle tone? My son is now 11 and half months and was a born at 35 weeks. He needed to have a surgery for craniosynostosis at 8 months. He still does not crawl, stand or sit from a lying position. Recently doctors have said that he has low muscle tone (although mild) and we have started PT with him. Sometimes as parents its difficult to know when to start worry and when not to interfere…

    1. Archana, yes, these situations can be tough to figure out. It sounds like you are doing the right thing. I know that there are PT’s who believe in minimal intervention in order to maximize the child’s opportunities for self-mastery. Please keep me posted!

  8. I recall hearing, too, that children who learn to walk by reaching up for adult assistance- later, when walking on their own and perhaps stumbling, will throw their arms up in search for security rather than downwards to protect themselves during a fall.

    1. Somewhat true. My husband is super hovery with our son and would get mad when I’d let him fall down. Our son would go rigid and fall back on his head instead of butt. This made our son very cautious but he wasn’t confident at all. We had always helped him walk, it was all he ever wanted to do and would have a complete melt down if we weren’t there to help him walk. He absolutely refused to walk on his own because he didn’t feel ready. The problem was that he never wanted to crawl and was extremely adverse to bending or being on his knees. He would not bring himself up to sitting. A PT gave us exercises that helped him feel more comfortable on his knees and to bend his knees. He was walking on his own within, sitting up and crawling within two weeks. Because he was finally bending his knees it was easy to teach him to fall on his butt. I made a game of it.

  9. My daughter is all about the stairs and I’m not sure what to do. She climbs up but climbing back down she just falls, either face first of butt first. I’m there and I catch her and perhaps she doesn’t learn because of it. I can’t keep her off the stairs (it’s three steps up and down) all over the place. Is there a way to encourage her learning to get down the stairs on her own?

    1. Paulina, this sounds like a skill she is working on mastering. She might also be attracted to the stairs because she gets a bit of a tense response from you when she uses them. Also, the catching can become a fun game. If you see her heading towards stairs, I would walk over as calmly as possible. Make sure you breathe, stay calm and relaxed, and spot her. If she starts to fall or jump to you, break her fall, but allow her to land as she would…just much more softly. If she is in the habit of jumping to you, gently explain, “I’m not going to catch you, but I will keep you safe. It’s safer for you to work on this yourself.”

  10. I am curious, do people determine that “back-time” is more a normal position than “tummy-time?” If not, than why not put the baby on either the tummy or the back at different intervals?

    1. Carla, it’s not about back time being more “normal”, it’s about giving infants a position in which they can feel most free to move and autonomous. Try it yourself… lie on your back and then on your tummy and you will feel the difference. Then imagine a baby with little neck control or arm strength. The tummy position is not confidence building. And the RIE approach is about empowering babies in small ways from the beginning.

  11. At the core of all this is the idea that challenge is where the learning takes place, not in the absence of falling, failure and mishaps.

  12. Fabulous post – one I wish more parents (and childcare teachers) wouldn’t just read, but truly understand. I was introduced to RIE in graduate school and I can’t begin to list all of the examples of natural development I saw in our lab school. If I may suggest another post following up on the comment you made to Paulina about letting children fall in the way that they are falling, with the adult being there to protect the fall. So many times we placed a hand below a little head to protect it when the child was falling, but by allowing the child to land naturally, even if it was awkward and uncomfortable, the children LEARNED their capability levels, were free to explore new actions and consequences, and did not suffer because of it. I think a more detailed explanation of appropriate spotting/assistance coupled with several real examples might prove beneficial.

    RIE made such an impression on me that the first questions I ask my undergraduates when we study infants and toddlers is, “Who has heard of RIE? Who knows who Magda Gerber was?” Usually there are no hands that go up and my response is a very cheerful, “That’s okay – you will come to know much more about her and then leave here wanting to know so much more!”

    Thanks for a wonderful and appropriate column. I never hesitate to suggest my students follow you, or to send them over to read a specific post.

    1. Kimberly, thanks so much for the kind words! And for your thoughtful comments regarding natural motor development. I totally agree with you about allowing children to land naturally. Many times on this blog I’ve tried to explain non-intrusive spotting in detail, but I’ve pretty much failed miserably. This is SO much easier to demonstrate as we do in the RIE parenting classes. Hmmm…you’ve just given me an idea, Kimberly…maybe I can ask one of my families to allow me to demonstrate with their child on video!

  13. hi Janet,
    So I did it, I help and helped my boy to do stuff 🙁
    At seven months old he was sitting in my lap and he grabbed my shirt and got up on his feet. Now he is eleven months old and he is walking held by one hand and when he feels safe he walks alone. I did not even think that helping him is not ok. Just today it was the first time when he stood up by himself (he was sitting in his crib and he reached for the top of it, grabbed the margin and got up – hurray!!).
    I realized, after reading some of your posts, that he is going to have problems with the stairs and not only there…(when we go downstairs he almost jumps…:()…what can be done? He cries in anger if I refuse to give him my hand to stand him up. Sometimes he starts walking by himself. Should I let him cry? I cannot let myself doing this…:(
    On the other hand I am quite scared when he starts walking by himself – you should see the speed!!!
    Oh, I forgot to mention that I also helped him to sit from his back. By now, he figured it out how to do it and he is able to do it without help. When he was like 3-5 month old he used to be ok on his tummy, but then, when he discovered the sitting position, he hates it. Maybe due to this, he does not know to crawl. He is sitting and leans to reach different objects, he is moving/turning around to grab things, but does not crawl. My pediatrician told me that crawling is not a compulsory step and if he stood up by himself it means it is quite ready to have this position 🙁
    So, I would appreciate a lot a piece of advice 🙂

    1. Andreia – First of all, don’t worry. He will be all right. Secondly, if you found out that something you had been feeding your boy was dangerous or unhealthy, wouldn’t you stop doing that even if he cried? Be honest with your boy and allow him to demand what he’s used to. You are not abandoning him to cry. You are his wonderful mama there to support him and make the healthiest choices for him, even when he objects. So, acknowledge the truth, “You want me to hold your hand to walk like I usually do, but that isn’t safe, so I can’t do it again. I hear how upset you are! You can sit with me or walk on your own when you are ready.” Spot him on stairs and when you don’t have time to allowing him to crawl down, pick him up and carry him down.

  14. LauraZoey says:

    What about babies who develop a flat spot due to being on their back so much?
    What about wearing babies upright in slings? I read that this is developmentally beneficial.
    We aided the babies in doing things they seemed able to do and they both progressed early. But our daughter is very overconfident and needs constant vigilance to keep her safe. She is now 1.5yrs and is finally trustworthy most of the time to not do things she can’t do. But she has never been allowed on stairs. She fell down one set when she was 10 months old and I didn’t let her near stairs til she was around 15 months and now I always hold her hand and she goes down on her feet. We don’t have stairs at our house so she rarely encounters them so my plan is to just not trust her on stairs til I’m quite certain she’s old enough to understand safety.
    So, I’m on one hand hesitent to jump on board here with you, but on the other side I see the possible benefits.
    I actually never placedmy babies on the floor til they were around 4 months old each and I would sit them up often on my lap or on the floor in front of me and they crawled at 6.5-7.5 months each, both walked at 9 months. My daughter could pull to stand at a year though and was cruising before she crawled. She also stood unassisted before she crawled. Anyways, I’m just intrigued but a bit skeptical.could you offer some more information please?

  15. Hi Janet,
    What a wealth of information you have it here. I stumbled on it today and have been hooked since then-reading it like a book that needs to be finished. Unconsciously, I do try uninterrupted play because my daughter doesnt like to be helped. But I have a hard time when its time for her to get her down the stairs. I cannot help but pick her up and run or just animate her by moving her legs in a way she should be if she wants to learn getting down. Did I hamper her learning curve? How can I undo that if that is possible?Also, my husband bought her a walker seeing that she was holding onto the furniture. It seems pretty harmless to my uneducated eye. COuld you explain why a support of 4 wheels be bad for her?And should i stop using it?She just loves it. Finally, she is now 9.5 months what simple toys should i offer her?
    Thanks again for this blog

  16. Sameer Zainab Sheikh says:

    I have heard a voice of reason after a longg time…thanks

  17. Tia Waghorn says:

    Love this article, this is exactly what my husband and I feel! All 3 of our kids were left to their own devices for walking, crawling etc and they all learned at very different ages. We also would never lift our children up climbing frames if they couldn’t reach a part. We told them that they would be able to do it when they were ready. I have also told people not to lift my kids up high as I wanted them to learn to do it by themselves. We bought a large domed climbing frame for our youngest for the back yard, it took him 4 weeks to learn to climb up, he slipped a couple of times, but we told him just to make sure he always kept at least 3 points of contact. Now he is pretty proficient at it, and he is 4 years old. Much better to let them learn at their own pace.

  18. Yeah, not so sure about this. While I’m sure it works some, a toddler is going to be able to climb up stairs and stuff before they’re going to be able to walk down. My daughter is always climbing up on the porch and up the legs of chairs and so on. I never put her up there. And she learned how to do that way before she learned how to get down. And what am I supposed to do? Let a 11 month old fall off the porch and not help her down. She was too small to do it on her own.
    My daughter has way too much confidence sometimes, but that why she has me to look after her.

  19. Cathie Barret says:

    Thank you for putting this into words so well. I will print it out and refer to it as well as recommending your site to co-workers and assistants. We have a policy here that we never lift a child onto something, or off. We can stand beside and “spot” as you say. The discussion about “tummy time” is interesting as child care workers, parents, pediatricians, ALL seem to encourage this as a way to strengthen babies necks. I have always advocated against the over use of bouncy seats, walkers, contraptions because I find them overstimulating and now here’s another reason to simply allow babies to roll around, play with their feet, suck on their fist and watch things around the room at different distances, windows, someone walking past, a colored blanket, etc.
    I’d also like to mention the danger of over attachment we seem to have to “milestones”. “Assessing” infants and toddlers by checking a little box when they reach for something, roll over, sit up unaided etc.and celebrating when they do leads to the mindset of the sooner the better, which has been referred to in an earlier comment, and the pushing children to attain these steps before they are ready. I’m not saying there isn’t a place for watching for milestones and early intervention in some situations can be beneficial, but it should be played down when sharing with parents.
    As I was reading your blog, it occurred to me that there is a parallel with the need to push academics on very young children. There is the same idea of the earlier the better while ignoring natural, healthy development happening when the child is ready. A child should not be expected to read at 4 years old, but if they express and interest and start picking out words by themselves that’s great! Having them memorize “sight words” and the alphabet isn’t going to make them get into a better college at 18!Just as an infant who walks at 9 months of their own will is fine, but trying to speed up the process will not make them an athlete later on, in fact, it seems according to research, the opposite is true in both cases!

  20. LLLeopard says:

    Hi there – I am a childcare worker in NZ. Although our staff mostly try to allow children to develop naturally, we have a number of children who have been propped up, put into positions etc at home and expect this at the centre. ie an 11month boy who, when put on his back doesn’t/can’t roll over, or if put on his tummy doesn’t reach, roll back or make any move to sit up. Yet if you put him sitting, he can bum shuffle all over the room. if placed on his back, he screams, which is why his mom tells us she won’t do it and always places him sitting. His intense screaming is traumatic for the entire centre. When he is on his back, he does not show any curiosity etc, simply screams and screams until ‘rescued’ when he instantly stops. He is not the only child like this and I am not sure how (or if)to handle it – I am not the head teacher, and professional discussion is not encouraged or supported at our centre. other staff pick him up after a couple of minutes because they hate the noise and disruption. He begins screaming when I approach him now, because he knows I will put him onto his back after a nappy change or lunch (highchairs)! Am I just being cruel by giving him back time, remaining close by and encouraging him? should I just let it be?

  21. Im glad i read this, I never did tummy time with my two or once in a blue moon as they would hate it, my first crawled around 5 months the only thing I did to help was move an item a tiny bit further than he could reach, but never really helped as child health nurses would say. My second I just left and let him figure it out. My first walked by 9 months and by 12 was walking up stairs, i never helped him just on the odd ocasion guided him on what to do.. there were many falls and lots of tears but at 2 he only has the ocasional fall and thats usually over his own feet. My second that just turned 1 can walk along furniture and has taken 2 steps.. im waiting for him to do his own thing. And I know he will and im in no rush as chasing 2 boys will kill me.

  22. I’m confused by this, am I supposed to leave my 7 month old on her back until she learns to get herself in to a sitting position? Whilst sitting she reaches for toys, reaches forwards, lays down. On her back other the chew her toes she doesn’t do much and eventually cries. She makes no effort to help herself. I’m all for her working things out on her own but leaving her to cry seems unnecessary.

    1. Angharad – with respect, she behaves this way because she has become accustomed to being positioned by others: “she doesn’t do much and eventually cries. She makes no effort to help herself.” This is how children learn to feel helpless. Sitting is a confining, un-free position for a child who is not ble to get into and out of this position. It leads to scooting on the bottom, rather than crawling on all fours, which is essential for optimum motor and brain development. Here’s a post that explains in more detail:

  23. Janet,
    Do you have a suggestion for me? My 6 month old knows how to crawl but won’t unless it is for something very close. Instead he wants to walk! He climbs all over me in an attempt to stand and cries if I don’t hold him up. I have been following your advice so I don’t know how this happened! How can I honor and support what he’s trying to do without helping him stand?

  24. Hi Janet,

    I LOVE your articulation of this parenting philosophy and have been trying to incorporate it since about 6 months. My question is about my 11.5 MO who does not crawl. She is now officially considered to have a gross motor delay, and this is causing my mother significant anxiety. Until now, I haven’t worried about it, but now it is starting to seem potentially problematic. Should I do anything to help her practice new skills or just let her be? What do I say to those who are panicking about her lack of crawling and cruising?

    Here are more details. I made the mistake of sitting her up early on, so she has spent a lot of time sitting from about 6 months. However, around 9 months, I made a concerted effort to to give her lots of tummy time, and she spends lots of time playing on her back in her crib (hour or more a day). She now can move herself from tummy to sitting and she turns easily 180 degrees on tummy and bottom. She also scoots backward on her tummy. She is big for her age and seems very strong, but she just doesn’t have the concept of putting her knees under her. I tried putting a rolled up towel or pillow under her abdomen to get her onto her knees, but she HATED that and did nothing but scream and arch. I do let her experience some discomfort and have to reach for things, but I could (and plan to) do more of that. She seems to quickly realize when things are out of her reach, however, and either move on to something else or scream if there is nothing else.

    My mother wants us to see a specialist, and everything else I read wants me to be helping her to stand and walking her around. What CAN I do to help, and almost more pressingly, what can I do to explain to others that I am on top of this situation and “doing something” (even if it is actively NOT doing things) about it? Thank you so much for any advice!

  25. Janet, my question is a little bit like Melissa’s. My baby can now roll onto her tummy but can’t yet roll out of that position. She just gets very distressed, and I can’t just leave her there because she’s not going to develop the next skill straight away (I do let her try for a while). She is still happy to keep rolling onto her tummy and I’m sure the rest will come. What’s the best way to assist her during this transitional stage – pick her up, roll her back?

  26. Hi Janet,

    I read about the RIE approach only recently and decided with my then newborn (now 10 month old) to just let her be – no tummy time, bumbos, activity walkers. She didn’t sit up unaided until she was 8 months old but strangely enough did start commando crawling at 7 months and today is a super confident little explorer who will calmly and confidently navigate stairs, cruise furniture and pull herself up everywhere. I can see her being careful where she feels she needs to be but my issues are, as she gets more confident and able, I find myself (and my extended family even more so) rushing to her aid or to avoid danger. For example she tries to pull herself up on a light kitchen stool (which could see her falling back on the tiles bringing the stool with her) or climbs the sharp spa steps in the bathroom. How do we draw the line between encouraging her and keeping her safe as she seems super intrigued in everything.

    Furthermore I have a 3 year old who was also never in bumbos or activity centres/walkers but was and still is helped a lot in the playground and at home. He often says ‘help! I can’t get down!’ and I think it’s because of our reactions to his explorations when he was younger. Any ideas on how to reverse the damage?

    Many thanks!

  27. Wow! That was a great article. When my son was born I decided minimal intervention was what I wanted for him and it was hard for people to understand why. I couldn’t give them all these reasons, it was just a gut instinct. I found RIE when he was 12 months old, but by then he was already running and climbing down stairs. He is confident in his abilities and I trust him to know his limits. I see other parents who barely let their toddlers do anything because they assume they will get hurt. My son just turned 20 months old and he can walk up about 8 stairs with no hand rails or help. Shocked me and his OT yesterday! Thank you for putting into words what I knew to be true!

  28. Hello Janet,

    Thank you for this is very in line with my way of thinking. But can you cite some science based resources to back up these observations? Evidence based articles published in peer review journals or something like that?this ia more for the unbelievers in my friends group to whom I would like to share this article (and even more similar). Thank you!

  29. Hello Janet,
    I’ve been following you for a few months now and I’ve been trying to apply RIE (but had no success with the gross motor development) with my little angel who is almost 18 months old. I am desperate!!! I started helping him when he was 5 months old and really wanted to get to sitting position from my lap. I thought I was doing the right thing. Then he wanted to stand, so his father helped him with that too. Finally, when he was 7 months old we started helping him with walking (which he loved). The result: he is the perfect opposite of MOBILE. He made no progress in motor skills development from that age until now. All he can do by himself when left on his back for play is roll on his tummy and back, play for 30-45 minutes (depending on how hungry or sleepy he is) and then fall asleep. If I put him in a sitting position he remains there until I pick him up. He has no interest in getting a playing object if he can’t reach it and he seems to be scared of any new position (we tried doing some physiotherapy but he wouldn’t stop crying so we gave up). Unfortunately we don’t have any Feldenkrais practitioner in Romania, so we can’t try that. He has no other health problems (as far as our investigations went). A few days ago we started taking him to the pool to get him used to the water (he loves his baths but hates deep water)so we can start water therapy. PLEASE,HELP ME ! Is it too late for him to develop naturally? What should I do? How long should I wait? What’s the limit age for crawling, standing and walking? Did I screw up my son?
    Thank you!

  30. María Arcos says:

    Hi, i love the website and star reading your book. I just have a question regarding my daughter, she is almost 11 months and standing on her own with no help, but she is starting to push on chairs to walk from one place to another in our living room, also using a box that we meant to throw but she loves pushing. Now she likes to stand and use me as a walker, she push me from my knees so she can walk. Is this Ok? I feel she is trying really hard to walk but I don’t know if I should encourage or stop this behaviour.
    Thanks in advance

  31. Janet,

    As an early childhood educator who is now raising my first child, I truly love and appreciate your work with infants and toddlers and have looked to you for guidance frequently. I loved this article and it supports many of my beliefs.

    I do have a question. My son is 10 months old and has been very active since birth, progressing quickly through rolling, sitting up, crawling, pulling up, walking while holding onto things and climbing. Climbing is now my challenge as I have found that he can climb up things very easily- stairs, a slide, climbing structures on playgrounds etc. However, he is not always able to figure out how to go back down (he has learned how to go backwards down stairs and on and off of his floor bed). He does seem to exhibit some of that sense of false safety- assuming that I will catch him- and he is not cognitively developed enough to understand my language when I try to guide him on how to climb down from somewhere. Despite this, I still use language to try and guide him, while I use my hands to try and help him find the correct way to climb down. I guess what I am asking is, do you have any recommendations for a child whose natural physical capabilities have developed faster than his cognitive capabilities?

  32. Hi Janet,
    I love this article although am at a loss for how to manage my 15month old who is fearless – so quite regularly puts herself in situations that could lead to serious accidents like the boy in the article. How do I move her to letting her learn herself without initially having a few serious falls?

    1. Hi Pandora! I recommend creating a safe, gated area for her to explore safely and then spotting her when she is on steps, etc. Spotting is just being there to cushion her fall, but I would still allow her to fall. Learning to fall safely is really important.

    2. I believe that following this advice is the single worst decision I’ve made as a parent so far. My daughter didn’t have any help standing or walking from 6 mo to 13 months, when she finally started walking on her own. Still she was so unstable that she was regularly falling to the point where there really couldn’t be a “safe place” for her, as regular child’s furniture, walls, and her own feet posed a hazard. Naturally she still chose to crawl regularly until around 15 months. At that point it was even more difficult to keep her contained in her “safe” room. Turns out her feet and hips were so underdeveloped from under use that they couldn’t hold up her relatively tall body. She’s now been in physical therapy for two months and has at least two more months to go, trying to strengthen the muscles that would’ve developed much better had she spent more time on her feet at a younger age. The doctors insist there isn’t anything else wrong with her besides weak muscles. It’s heartbreaking to see her at the playground unable to do the things much younger kids do easily.

      I’ve had the same bad RIE experience with the straw vs sippy cup debacle. Tried straws for months and all we had was a dehydrated child. Sippy cups solved it in a week. As a scientist I feel like I should have known better, and I’m so sad I put my daughter through this.

  33. Robyn Falline says:

    My daughter is 21 months old and is lacking a lot of transitional movements, namely standing-to-sitting and vice-versa. She hated tummy time as an infant, which is when I discovered RIE and promptly put an end to the torture, but she never figured it out and never crawled. She walked at 18 months after lots of help. I want to trust her inborn developmental timeline, but it’s absolutely heartbreaking to see other kids her age and younger enjoying so much more independence than she does. Her head has always been disproportionately large for her frame (it’s hereditary, MRI was clear), and my guess is that this has greatly affected her balance and thus comfort-level in unstable positions.

    1. Hi Robyn – Can you describe her motor development progression in more detail? What happened after you stopped tummy time and started allowing her to move her limbs in a supine position?

  34. So just to clarify, we should NOT do tummy time pretty much from birth, the way all health professionals tell us to?

  35. Eleanor Rahmany says:

    Hi Janet,
    I hope this hasn’t already been asked, there are so many comments! My daughter is 7 months old. We have followed some of your principles but instinctively, I only came across your website today. We didn’t sit her or use a bumbo, no door bouncers etc. We did put her on her front, she now rolls off onto her back instantly. If I leave her on her back she just plays with her feet, I leave toys around but she makes very little effort to get them. She can sit, when placed, I don’t know how she learnt this, we didn’t sit her but then one day we tried and found she is very stable. In a sitting position she reaches right out for toys. So would it be better to leave her on her back, but she seems to have no inclination to roll at all. Or let her sit and play, I imagine she may learn to move onto all 4s from a sitting position rather than rolling onto them. Sorry for the long post. Ellie

  36. Hi Janet,
    Thank you for all you have done for parents and children! I truly believe your information has helped people get back to real parenting without all the noise!

    I only found your blog (and bought your book “toddler discipline without shame”) when my 4 year old was 2 so I had two years of his development where I was doing what I felt was right. I always talked to my son openly and told him what I was doing and what was coming next. When I read your works and more on RIE I felt like this is how parented naturally and was thankful for that. I felt like I had respected my Son and this helped his mental/emotional development. Since then I have had two more Son’s have implemented RIE as best as i could and people always comment on how calm the boys are and confident in the world.
    My concern is- in the first 2 years for my eldest Son i didnt respect his physical development like i now believe is correct. We helped him roll, helped him walk by holding his arms, helped him up/down play equipment.
    He did crawl for a few months but was walking at 10months.
    (His younger brother was not assisted in the above ways and walked at 11 months so both fairly early walkers) however, my 4 year old is not as coordinated and sure of his body in space (he is also very tall so coordination may come later) whereas the 2 year old is extremely coordinated and knows exactly what he can and can’t do. (3 month old is obviously still discovering) so my question is- can you ‘undo’ or ‘fix’ that foundation development if you feel it was impeded by outside factors?
    He is a confident young boy and gives everything a go. He can climb and run and play just great and if his brother wasn’t so coordinated then I probably wouldn’t even notice a difference!
    He is outside playing all day long. Very physically active and doesnt watch tv at all. No screens as yet so has plenty of opportunity to develop his gross motor skills. Is this all he needs?
    Thanks again!

  37. Rachael T says:

    I write this comment with a heavy heart as my daughter who is 13 months old today was just evaluated by early intervention at the request of her pediatrician and the diagnosis is that she has the gross motor skills of an 8 month old and needs early intervention services. I have been following the RIE principles since birth always prioritizing freedom of movement and steering free of constricting toys, seats, etc. While she is progressing at a different pace than her peers, the key for me is that she is progressing. She has been rolling up on her side for weeks looking like she will using her arm to push up to sit any day. She is also commando crawling throughout the home and is starting to rock up on all fours. The evaluation rated her fine motor skills as above average and she is “on track” with all other cognitive and adaptive skills. However, the recommendation is to work with a “specialist” to teach her how to do the things that I strongly trust in her ability to perform. So I am at a loss of what to do. It is very scary to be told my daughter is 5 months behind schedule, but it doesn’t feel natural to prop her to sit and train her like a monkey to reach for toys, etc. Your advice is much appreciated. Thank you so much, Janet!

    1. Dear Rachael – I am hearing of many OT’s these days who have a progressive, holistic approach that values, as Pikler and Gerber did, autonomous achievement by the child. These therapists make it their job to intervene minimally (and respectfully) to give children the opportunities they need to experience the power of TRUST and “I did it!” as much as possible. They perceive all children as innately capable. I would encourage you to do some research in your community, so that you can find the respectful support that you and your child deserve. Please keep me posted! Love, Janet

  38. Hi Janet, I really love your podcasts and books and as a parent of 2 young children 2.5 and 1 I feel I’ve learned a lot, but still have a long way to go.

    I’m also a paediatric physiotherapist and find this article particularly interesting. 3 years ago I would’ve disagreed entirely, but I’m starting to change my beliefs.

    I would be interested in your opinion say in a child with plagiocephaly (flattening on one side of the head due to positioning) and often improves with time. However usually I would recommend lots of stimulation to the non affected side, tummy time etc and quite a lot of intervention. Under the principles of RIE this would seem to be not correct. However it seems the baby has had a strong tendancy to look to one side therefore I’m not sure if they would self correct if allowed to explore in their own natural way.

    I find this all fascinating and am just interested how to handle these types of issues when medical issues come into play. Any resources/reading around this topic including PT ( as I saw you mentioned that you know some PTs who belive in minimal intervention) I would be very grateful.

    Many thanks

    1. Hi Rhiannon – I love your openness. With Magda Gerber’s approach we would do less adult stimulating and pushing, so that the child can be self-motivated to turn to turn their head to the opposite side. That might include positioning them in their crib with the flat-spot side toward the wall and/or placing a toy or two in the needed direction on the floor, but then leaving this up to the child. We would make even more of a point to offer plenty of floor time in the supine position, so the baby can develop the skills and muscles needed for rolling. You may wish to check out the Anat Baniel method. Irene Lyon is a great resource as well: You can check out her post on my site: The Case Against Tummy Time

  39. So how do I do achieve a course correction if I’ve been doing this “wrong” for 10 months now. Baby can sit and get into a sitting position, she can crawl, but usually doesn’t. She does a little scootch on her bottom. She can pull up in furniture and can walk along a little. She is always reaching for us to hold out our hands so she can pull up and also to hold one or both of her hands so she can walk. How do I stop interferring? Cold turkey?

  40. Hi Janet

    Today was probably my proudest parenting day so far (our little girl is almost 14 months) and I just had to share why with you (and other readers wondering about this approach) because it is in large part thanks to all of your teachings!

    I stumbled across your post about not sitting babies up when my little girl was around 5 months and we had just started doing that very thing (because we had seen a friend from our antenatal course doing this with her little one of course!). Once I read your post on this I started to read more and more and it all made so much sense to me – so we committed to RIE! It was only a couple of days of not sitting her up before our girl was happy lying on her back again, enjoying kicking her legs and rolling all about – when she learnt to get to the sitting position by herself at 8 months she was so strong!

    Fast forward to today (after many more months of reading your posts almost daily and purchasing and reading and re-reading both of your books) – our little girl took her first steps!!! After so many months of being asked ‘is she walking yet’ and ‘does she have a walker? You can borrow ours’ etc. etc. from well meaning relatives and friends, and asking people not to walk her around (why does everyone love to do that so much?) – she did it all by herself!! Her determination as she crouched, stood, gained her balance, and took those steps – then falling to her bum but getting right back up over and over to do it again – and her joy as she was doing it! Oh we were so proud!!! Tears in our eyes that’s for sure. And to top it off, this afternoon we met up at a toddler playground with two other Mums and their bubs of a similar age who we hadn’t seen for about a year as they’d moved out of town – they tried to hide their surprise when they saw our girl was crawling around and not walking (the few steps at home this morning obviously didn’t translate to the park environment just yet!), but as the play date went on I could see their surprise turn to wonder – while their gorgeous kiddos could tottle about, they were being placed at the top of equipment, not sure what to do next – frozen and looking for help – our girl was off! Crawling up the ramp, climbing the steps, going through the tunnels, sliding gleefully down the slide – she was in her element! Using her body with strength and confidence in her own capabilities. I beamed all the way home with pride.

    Thank you thank you thank you Janet for all that you do – we are enjoying our experience as first time parents and the relationship that we are developing with our girl so so much and we have you and RIE to thank. Forever grateful.

    1. Hi Amy! Wow! what a beautiful report! I love hearing this and I’ve had so many similar experiences with my own children. Well done trusting your agile girl! xo Janet

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