“I have only recently found your blog and been introduced to Magda Gerber‘s RIE approach and I must say a lot of it really resonates with me and makes beautiful sense! I have to admit I’m having a little trouble with the concept of child-led play though. I’m also taken with the Attachment Parenting style which highly advocates baby-wearing and letting the child experience your day with you. They also advocate high touch/less STUFF (so in that way the concepts are similar), and I’m not sure how the styles would mesh. A lot of what I’m reading about RIE makes total sense to me but AP parenting does as well, and while a lot of it cohabitates beautifully I’m not quite sure how these work together. Maybe just because I haven’t seen it in action? Any advice?” – Jessie
An increasing number of parents are reporting that they are combining Magda Gerber’s RIE approach and Attachment Parenting. Since I haven’t done that myself, I’d love to hear readers’ experiences in the Comments Section (below).
RIE and AP are distinctly different in both theory and practice, although both approaches could be considered valid routes toward secure attachment — both are responsive to the child’s needs. Where they diverge most is in their recommendations for bonding in the first year. These differences are reflective of the way each school of thought perceives infants’ needs and abilities.
Attachment Parenting views the baby’s first several months as a “fourth trimester” and suggests that infants derive comfort and security from an environment that is as “womblike” as possible. Maintaining constant close contact with the mother is also thought to help babies regulate themselves physiologically. So, among AP’s primary recommendations are: a) keeping babies attached to the parent’s body in a carrier for the majority of the day; and b) co-sleeping.
In the Attachment Parenting model, this almost constant connectedness helps parents become attuned to their baby’s needs. The parent trusts the infant to indicate readiness to be independent of the parent’s arms.
RIE perceives infants as dependent but innately competent self-learners ready to actively participate in life and begin forming communication partnerships with their parents at birth. RIE recommends speaking to even the youngest infants directly and respectfully (“Now I’m going to wipe your back with this warm washcloth”), and suggests parents pay full attention to babies and engage their participation during “relationship-building” routines like baths, feedings and diaper changes. In between naps and care-giving routines, RIE suggests providing infants opportunities to move freely and initiate self-chosen activities in a safe play area. Parents practice observing sensitively in order to become attuned to their baby’s needs (including their need to be held).
So, one could generalize that Attachment Parenting’s focus is building healthy attachments through physical connectedness, while the RIE approach emphasizes the development of a mind connection. Their core recommendations might be summed up as: “Keep your baby close” (Attachment Parenting) and “Pay attention and communicate” (RIE).
These would seem to be mutually supportive, compatible practices. End of story?
Not necessarily, according to RIE founder Magda Gerber and Jean Liedloff, whose book “The Continuum Concept” has been an inspiration to AP advocates. Interestingly, both Gerber and Liedloff expressed views on “keeping babies close” and “paying attention” that are not only divergent, they are diametrically opposed.
“Before attending RIE classes, I had carried my daughter everywhere. Starting from three months, I soon learned that I could let go and still stay profoundly connected. My daughter taught herself to roll over and sit up and walk, teaching me in the process that I could let her. She taught me that there are all kinds of things she can do without me”. – A RIE parent from Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect
Magda Gerber agreed with AP founder Dr. William Sears and Liedloff that babies have an essential need to be touched and held, but she also believed the positive effect of touch was greatly diminished when there was little direct attention paid to the baby. “What is the value of being held or touched if it’s only the skin that is in contact? What about your minds connecting, or to become more philosophical, your souls?” asks Gerber in Your Self-Confident Baby.
Profoundly influenced by her pediatrician Dr. Emmi Pikler, who was a pioneering advocate of unrestricted infant movement and unassisted natural gross motor development, Gerber also argued that the extended use of carriers was too confining for babies and impeded them from moving “according to their readiness”.
“Most animals can show affection only through touch, be we humans have an extensive, varied and refined repertoire of ways to demonstrate love. To me, a mature, evolved person shows love by respecting the “otherness” of the beloved. You become a good parent not only by listening to your instinctive messages but by paying close attention to your baby, by observing the infant. Sensitive observation flows from respect.” – Gerber
Like Gerber and Pikler, Jean Liedloff’s opinions were shaped through extensive observation. While Pikler and Gerber observed babies interacting with caregivers and initiating “child-led play” activities of their own in safe, enclosed play areas, the Yequana Indian babies Liedloff observed spent the majority of their day safely nestled in their mothers’ arms or attached to their bodies in carriers:
“…this in-arms experience had an impressively salutary effect on the babies and they were no “trouble” to manage. Their bodies were soft and conformed to any position convenient to their bearers — some of whom even dangled their babies down their backs while holding them by the wrist. The baby passively participates in the bearers running, walking, laughing, talking, working, and playing.” – Liedloff, The Importance of the In Arms Phase
So Gerber and Liedloff disagreed about the value of the “in-arms” experience. Their views about “attention” conflict even more dramatically. Liedloff’s is a more adult-directed view:
“…it is also important that caretakers not just sit and gaze at the baby or continually ask what the baby wants, but lead active lives themselves. Occasionally one cannot resist giving a baby a flurry of kisses; however, a baby who is programmed to watch you living your busy life is confused and frustrated when you spend your time watching him living his. A baby who is in the business of absorbing what life is like as lived by you is thrown into confusion if you ask him to direct it.” – Liedloff
While Gerber believed “gazing” was crucial for bonding and attunement:
“As you carefully observe your newborn, you will discover her unique personality. You will see your real child as she is rather that the ‘imaginary child’ of your own creation. You observe her so that, in time, you will understand her likes and dislikes, moods, and abilities. And understanding these things will help you to better care for her, communicate with her, and improve your relationship.” – Gerber
In Liedloff’s essay “Who’s In Control? The Unhappy Consequences of Being Child-Centered”, she asserts that giving babies too much direct attention when what they want and need is to be passive “spectators” is what commonly causes them to become “terrible twos”, bossy, demanding, angry, rude and defiant. Whereas the Yequana Indian children never had conflicts with peers or adults; never interrupted an adult conversation; “rarely spoke at all in the company of adults, confining themselves to listening and performing little services such as passing around food or drink.”
“The crucial difference is that the Yequana are not child-centered. They may occasionally nuzzle their babies affectionately, play peek-a-boo, or sing to them, yet the great majority of the caretaker’s time is spent paying attention to something else…not the baby! Children taking care of babies also regard baby care as a non-activity and, although they carry them everywhere, rarely give them direct attention.
Being played with, talked to, or admired all day deprives the babe of this in-arms spectator phase that would feel right to him. Unable to say what he needs, he will act out his discontentment.” – Liedloff
In Gerber’s view paying attention could never be a problem and is, in fact, the key to raising healthy, happy children:
“The more you invest in those first early years of parenting, the easier your life could be later on. You won’t have to be a slave to a child who has been raised with aware, respectful attention. It can be the difference between nagging, neglected (withdrawn or aggressive) children and those who will make it in life independently, with strength and confidence.” – Gerber
I offer these viewpoints as a discussion opener and really hope you’ll share your thoughts and experiences…
(Photo by Gemma Stiles on Flickr)
I have many years of experience with attachment parenting as outlined by Attachment Parenting International (API), and have just recently discovered RIE which I find VERY similar in practice to the core ideals of API, so I was very interested in reading this article and the comments. I realize there are many interpretations of what AP is, and is not, however this is how API defines AP: Attachment Parenting International’s (API) core ethos is really a frame of mind that we promote as a habit or practice of mind ~ respect, empathy, compassion and reflection in thought, speech and action toward all (self, other adults, youth and children). I would like to invite anyone interested in checking out API’s website for information and support with the Principles of Attachment Parenting as outlined by API. http://www.attachmentparenting.org/principles/api
I do not see AP as a checklist of do’s and don’ts, rather guidelines and tools to help foster a relationship based on mutual respect, so AP is not child centered, it is family centered, with an emphasis on balance in family life. If my only understanding of AP is what is offered in this article, and the comments, I would be opposed to AP as a practice, however, in my experience, I see AP very differently than forcing a baby to be contained in a carrier the majority of the day, quieting cries, and utilizing time-outs. And in actuality, these examples, in my opinion, are very non-AP practices.
Janell – I would be interested to know your thoughts on this video, which was posted on an AP/Homeschooling Facebook page that also claims to promote “respectful parenting”: https://www.facebook.com/happinessishereblog/posts/432127393609450
The way this baby/toddler is treated is the antithesis of the RIE approach.
I’d say that video is more about balancing work with parenting than AP as such; it’s just an example of how an AP parent might make that compromise. Unfortunately in this modern world many parents have to make compromises in meeting their children’s needs because they have to earn a living, and the suggestion in this video is at least a better compromise than leaving your child to scream whilst working or sending a very young baby to childcare. Yes, it’s not ideal but very few compromises parents have to make in order to work are!
I found this video disturbing. The thought of throwing my “grumpy” baby into a carrier, onto my back (of all places), and bouncing her so as to distract her from her grumpiness, whilst I enjoy some time on Facebook. Seriously?!
Hi Janet I love RIE and this article! Fascinating stuff. Personally I see ap as perfect for a newborn and infant. I felt I was the one to emotionally regulate my son and carried him *when* he needed it. He didn’t ever want to be on the floor so I practiced Ap instinctively. There is so much research about the physiological effects of skin to skin contact, smell which is so important for breastfeeding etc. As he got older and didn’t react so hysterically to our separation I started an RIE approach . I began to merge from one to the other if that makes sense? Rie seems so perfect fir a toddler although if I had another baby I would inlude the respectful communication with the cosleeping and baby wearing. I did give him a lot of attention though and talked to him all the time so maybe I wasn’t a pure APer?!
Thank you, Hannah! I appreciate you sharing your story. Sounds like very thoughtful, attuned parenting to me, which is all that matters in the end.
Your words mirror my thoughts perfectly! This is exactly how I would like to approach life with baby number two and is not too far off how I did things with number one though I became a lot more conscious and deliberate as I went along.
I agree. I’ve worked with infants and toddlers for 18 years and just had my first baby a month ago. Since we do RIE at work, I had intended to do it with my child from birth. However, I find myself instinctively doing AP as far as a lot of holding, breastfeeding, carrying, and co-sleeping. Although I also observe and narrate what’s happening. I plan to do more RIE as the baby transitions out of the newborn phase. Thanks for sharing, Hannah.
I completely agree Janell, I think the trouble is there are so many different ways to practise AP because it ISN’T a prescriptive set of rules, so some of what gets called “AP” isn’t an inevitable consequence of following the core principles, it’s just one person’s interpretation of them. I find a lot of the descriptions of AP on the internet, both from people who practise it and those who don’t, don’t actually seem to have fully grasped the way the principles fit together or how the “7 Bs” (as distinct from the principles) are just suggested tools rather than things you *must* do to be AP.
Importantly, the principles of responsiveness & balance counteract the problems that can occur if the other principles are taken to extremes. For instance, anyone who is putting their child in a sling all day regardless of whether their child is clearly communicating that this is what they want is not being responsive. And anyone who is pushing themselves to breaking point trying to do AP is missing the “balance” bit!
Personally I see no real conflict between the core principles of both approaches, it’s only some of the specific ways some people suggest they are put into practice that can be at odds. At the heart of both are responsiveness, empathy, connection, treating your child as a human being & understanding the importance of mindful parenting. You can of course practice AP in a way that is at odds with RIE, or RIE in a way that is at odds with AP, but it’s very easy to combine both without running into serious contradictions.
I am going to start by saying that I don’t like all these names we give to parenting, although I understand the need for them. It gets confusing and more often causes ‘lines in the sands’ then community, in my opinion.
Aside from that, my sister was very big into the Attachement Parenting and although I could understand her point of view I also knew that something was missing. I’ve carried all my children on me when it was convenient for me to do so and when I felt they needed some extra ‘mom-time’ but I needed to get stuff done. I enjoyed baby-wearing but didn’t go out of my way to do it all the time or often at home. I encouraged my kids to spend time on their backs, close to me so I could talk to them, play with them, while I did my work. I still think that the whole ‘tummy-time’ thing is a little wierd – my kids spent time on their tummies but more often on their backs until they could roll over by themselves. My son didn’t like being carried on my back at all and I either had to tie him so tight he couldn’t move or risk him pushing himself right out of the carrier – so for safety sake – we didn’t do this for very long and when he wants down I let him down, ( i listen to him)
As for co-sleeping, I fought it with my second daughter, until I was exhausted because my husband wasn’t comfortable with it. Then in order to keep my sanity and get some sleep I gave in, she slept with me for about a month before I transitioned her to the bassinet, then the crib, then her own bed – all on her time and when she was ready. My son followed the same thing, I listened to what they needed but encouraged independent sleep because I have a few insomnia issues that co-sleeping doesn’t help with. But again I listened to them.
I think the two styles can be meshed together by just being close and aware of your children and what they need, but also what you as a mother needs. The biggest thing these two ideals have in common – in my eyes – is their want to get away from the crime and punishement upbringing that is the norm and has been taught to parents for a long time.
Both are trying to respect a child’s needs and are trying to understand how best to interpret and learn from those needs. We as parents can only trust our instincts, seek help from people with a like mind, and above all respect ourselves and our children.
Thanks Janet for the great post!
Heidi – I agree completely with what you say. When I had my kids, I discovered Leidloff and many others whose ideas made so much sense to me. At that time, these labels weren’t really there. I took from all of these “experts” what resonated, and didn’t label my parenting. Both AP and RIE have really good ideas and inspiration. I don’t so much like the concept that parents “belong” to one or the other.
My friends and I call it survival parenting. We’ve mixed the two parenting styles as well and adapt to the situation at hand.
I so love the concept of RIE. If you read Magda Gerber’s quotes it just feels so right. I do think attachment parenting is important, but I have seen a number of parents taking the baby wearing to extremes, apparently in the believe that if they carry their baby at all times they have AP covered. Good parenting is all about understanding as much as possible, so in reality AP and RIE are not that different. It’s nice for Janet to have managed to eke out the differences though. A great read, thank you.
Jean Liedhoff inspired AP; but AP is much more than just her theories. This article is a good representation of RIE, but not a good representation of AP. AP parents are very attuned to their babies needs. They put babies down and pick them back up again according to their babies’ cues. My baby wanted to be in her carrier 100% of the time (except when taking long naps) until she was 3.5 months old. Then she wanted down, and started rolling over and over… 🙂 AP parents are unlikely to spend all day doing chores and ignoring the babies on their backs. That is completely unlike anyone I know. I follow AP 100%, especially in regards to crying and attachment. But I love the respect and attention sides of RIE. To me, RIE is a good add-on to my AP style of parenting. I like the gentle discipline suggestions that I find in RIE. They work well with AP.
I’ve been reading your posts for a few months now. I agree with so much of what you write and feel like I could learn so much more from you. You are a great teacher of RIE.
Unfortunately, a few of your posts have made me feel like unsubscribing. Specifically, it’s the way you talk about AP. I’ve read many other people’s reactions to your comments about AP, so I don’t feel the need to add mine, just that I feel completely turned off, enough that I want to unsubscribe.. 🙁
I would love to continue learning about RIE. But maybe, if you could, just talk about RIE, the subject you are an expert on, and leave AP for others to talk about. Your comments on AP (and it could be anything else you disagreed with), only distract from the value of the teaching that you do and alienates people. I don’t feel like RIE needs to put down any other approach in order to be a good one.
Thank you for listening.
Hi Isabelle! I appreciate your feedback. It would be helpful if you could specify where (or how) I have “put down” AP in this discussion, because that has certainly not been my intention.
I’m sorry you feel alienated by the comparison I have presented (which was only meant as a response to the question I was originally asked!).
I don’t think you “put down” AP at all. And you have every right to say whatever you want. Don’t let people bully you.
Hi, I’m relatively new to motherhood (11-month old mama here). I’ve been devouring RIE as well as other philosophies/information, and doing my best to discern what personally resonates with me. RIE has become foundational to how I strive to raise my daughter. And in all honesty Janet, though I am eternally grateful for having found your writings, when you discuss AP (and frankly anything that’s not strictly RIE), it’s off-putting. I don’t mean it’s going to make me unsubscribe (never!) rather, I loose some respect for you personally. Which is a bummer for me! You sound very judgmental, and in this post in particular, it’s as if you are trying to make AP sound bad, intentionally. Honestly, it feels manipulative. And I say this with only love in my heart … I don’t think you are trying to be manipulative. As amazing as you are, perhaps this is something for you to look at (you asked for feedback, which is why I’m responding to this comment rather than the whole post!!)
The information you chose to represent AP in this post, even someone like me who hasn’t read much at all about AP, can clearly see is cherry-picked to make a point. It would be like if someone took just the idea of not putting children in baby carriers or bouncers/jumpers etc, and laying them on the floor instead, on their backs, to represent RIE in its entirety, and building a case against it based on that being it’s entire focus. I think you are smart enough to know what you’ve done here, but probably so invested in your own view that you don’t see it. So I’m just offering a reflection for you. Open heart. I want as many people as possible to benefit from your enlightened teachings on how to raise babies!!!
Thanks for all that you do, please continue.
Hi Jenny – I truly appreciate your feedback and kind words of support! It would help me much more if you could be specific in regard to: “The information you chose to represent AP in this post, even someone like me who hasn’t read much at all about AP, can clearly see is cherry-picked to make a point.” Yes, I was making a point in terms of a particular comparison of practices/views in regard to “paying attention” and “keeping babies close”. There are other comparisons I could have chosen as well (and have made in other posts, like this one: https://janetlansbury.com/2010/02/attachment-parenting-debate-for-crying-out-loud/), but I thought it best to focus in on just these two for the purposes of this post.
I would not mind at all if someone represented RIE as “not putting children in baby carriers or bouncers/jumpers etc, and laying them on the floor instead, on their backs.” Because many of the basics of the philosophy are demonstrated through that one specific practice. RIE believes babies are capable of self-learning and self-entertainment and that they should, as much as possible, be allowed to move freely, have the opportunity to self-direct play, make choices, experience the taste of autonomy that only floor play on the back can offer them.
Do you disagree that AP focuses on physical connectedness in the first year of life?
Anyway, I am sorry that I’ve caused you to lose respect for me. It should be obvious to anyone that I prefer the RIE approach to Attachment Parenting and that I perceive them as not so compatible. That is mostly because of my work with parents who have found it quite difficult to make the shift toward RIE in the toddler years. It has been my experience that AP does not always provide parents a very helpful set-up. So, yes I am biased, but it is certainly not my intention to portray AP unfairly. I hope you’ll help me understand where or how I have done this.
Janet, I am an avid reader. This is my first comment. I think you hit the nail on the head yourself when you say you are biased in favor of RIE–as well you should be, given your life’s work. What’s confusing (and off-putting) to AP/RIE “hybrid moms” like me, however, is that you fail to appreciate the rather clear compatibility between the two approaches. (When a newborn needs physical contact, which is very very often for a great majority of babies, wearing them makes sense and respects babies’ biology as primates. When older infants or toddlers are content and happy, letting them explore on the floor freely/play independently makes sense and respects their need for autonomy as humans!) These are not “diametrically opposed” approaches. I would argue, in fact, that both approaches fundamentally incorporate the need for respect of babies as basic tenets. AP simply focuses on respect for baby’s physical (biological) needs (and it is in contrast to mainstream approaches that the AP notion of baby wearing is emphasized, but this is not the “only thing” that constitutes AP). RIE focuses on respect for babies’ emotional and cognitive needs. As such, the two are well suited to be used hand in hand.
In my opinion, the alienation people feel when you discuss AP boils down to simple word choice and implication/connotation. It is subtle, yet readers easily perceive it. Your description of AP in this post, for example, is reductionist: “So, AP’S primary recommendations are keeping babies attached to the parent’s body…and co-sleeping.” Yes, these are *examples* of AP practices, but they are not equivalent to its fundamental theory, which remains unspecified. Connotations are also negative: “attached to the body…for the majority of the day” makes it sound like baby wearing is a burden for the mother and torturous confinement for the baby (and that babies are worn whether or not they respond well to it). Your language is also hedge-y: AP “suggests that infants derive comfort from…” (as though this is a potentially dubious claim) and “close contact is thought to help babies regulate…” as if this has not been demonstrated in controlled settings (it has). In contrast, your description of RIE is rich and nuanced, indeed glowing: “RIE perceives infants as dependent but innately competent….” Connotations are positive: RIE “recommends speaking to even the youngest of infants…and suggests that parents pay full attention to….” (Note that in this case, the word “suggests” is followed by an actual suggestion, which keeps its connotation neutral or positive, unlike its use in the passage describing AP, in which it is used meaning “claims” or “asserts,” rendering its connotation negative.) Examples are provided in support of theories, and theories are explained in full, not reduced to their practices.
In short, what people would wish for, I think, is a less biased presentation of an approach that is compatible with RIE (particularly when used in alternation or sequence), as opposed to your rather transparent “bashing” (subtle though it may be) of any non-RIE approach as inherently less respectful of babies.
Edited to add that in focusing on babies’ physical (biological) needs (i.e. for responsiveness and closeness, particularly upon birth), AP aims to develop babies’ psychological and emotional needs. These objectives certainly do not preclude the RIE objectives of respectfully fostering babies’ autonomy and physical freedom. To suggest they do is silly. And to bend over backwards to ignore the complementarity of these approaches precipitates the backlash you are trying to decipher. (Indeed, if the recommendations to “stay close” and “pay attention” to our babies aren’t complementary, I don’t know what is.)
Becky – Thank you again for all your sharing and for your interest in challenging my post. 🙂 I really want to clarify this for you! With respect, it doesn’t seem that you are reading my words carefully. I agreed with you that the approaches seem quite compatible: “These would seem to be mutually supportive, compatible practices. End of story?”
But then when comparing Leidloff’s and Gerber’s perceptions of infants and their ideas about “best practices” when caring for them, these advisers do actually seem diametrically opposed to me. Would you not agree?
For instance, Magda did not agree with your opinion: “When a newborn needs physical contact, which is very very often for a great majority of babies, wearing them makes sense and respects babies’ biology as primates.”
Magda advised that we be fully attentive to babies whenever we are holding them… and when we could not hold babies with our minds and hearts as well as our bodies, she advised placing an infant (even a newborn) down in a stable place in the supine position to allow for full freedom of movement. Also to offer infants opportunities to initiate their learning, in other words, explore their environment their own way and time, rather than being moved from place to place with the parent. Magda and her mentor, pediatrician Emmi Pikler did not recommend baby carriers at all, because they restrict movement and place infants in upright positions that they observed as not ideal for skeletal and muscular development. Magda wrote:
“Often parents believe that holding is good, being left alone…is not. I believe babies need both. There are sound physiological reasons why a newborn should not be held all the time. To begin with, he must adapt to his new capabilities outside the womb, by kicking, stretching, curling and uncurling his body… I see lots of infants hanging on their [parents] in carriers. The babies are cramped and confined; any movement by the parent compresses them further into the carrier. Whenever the parent moves about or gesticulates, it is like a ‘mini-earthquake’ for the baby!
There are also psychological reasons why around-the-clock holding is not developmentally sound. Parents often say to me, ‘I want to hold my baby all the time to show him how much I love him.’ Most animals can show affection only through touch, but we humans have an extensive, varied, and refined repertoire of ways to demonstrate love. To me, a mature, evolved person shows love by respecting the otherness of the beloved. You become a good parent not only by listening to your instinctive messages but by paying close attention to your baby… Sensitive observation flows from respect… How often I see parents holding their babies, or carrying them in contraptions close to the body, without paying the slightest attention to them.”
Magda Gerber and William Sears perceive infants and their needs entirely differently, and their approaches are based on these differing perceptions. I am definitely not suggesting that AP is only about specific practices. Neither is RIE. They are both about the way we perceive babies and the best way to care for and bond with them. These perceptions are expressed through their recommended practices. Again, I apologize if that wasn’t clear.
This is the trouble with labels. Sounds like we are discussing two political ideologies and not relationships.
this comment made me feel deeply uncomfortable. Saying something like “you’re being manipulative” and then following it up with “only love in my heart” raises so many red flags for me. And “you’re smart enough to know what you’ve done here but…” makes me want to run for the hills.
It sounded like Janet had a very nuanced view of things that were not manipulative (intentionally or otherwise) even with her leaning toward one parenting style.
I’ll admit, I know next to nothing about either practice (I still don’t know what REI stands for), and I know that for me, intuitively it made sense to give my newborn son a little bit of space and “independence” of sorts.
It also made sense to give ME a little bit of space, as I struggled deeply with postpartum depression and being attached to my son any more than I already was felt suffocating.
My son needs a mother who is healthy, and that level of attachment would not have helped my mental health.
It sounds like we all have our own experiences and intuition. I hope that you find peace in your discernment and respect in others opinions.
To me AP is modeled after life in a tribal culture in which the group is together all the time, people don’t wish alone time and people will continue to work alongside each other long-term. Our culture includes expectations of alone time, including in bed at night and that children will leave parents to go to school (at 5 or before) and that they will go to soccer games, to camp, and have very separate lives, over time. I think examining what we want: children who are dependent on adults to be physically present most of the time, including at night in order to sleep, prolonged night-time nursing, a need for constant interaction with an adult, a reluctance to play alone or to leave the parent, then AP is certainly a simple choice. However, AP, to me, makes it harder for children to self-soothe, learn to go to sleep on their own or without nursing, sleep through the night, choose to be apart from parents. I encounter parents who are tired of being waked up at night by children who do not know how to go back to sleep on their own, who are tired of co-sleeping, who are tired of night nursing, who are tired of having children who demand constant attention and interaction. These children may be 3,4, 5, 6, 7 or 8 years old! With each passing month, changing these expectations becomes more difficult, leading to the need for events like what is called “cry it out.” For these people, their understanding of AP has become a problem. For Western cultures, I believe that RIE balances the needs of the child and the needs of the parent, and creates clear boundaries in attention and dependence that can clearly evolve over time. I have been a Montessori teacher working with parents and children for over 20 years.
Agree very much!
Just a few points to throw in : joan liedloff is to AP what Dr.Pikler is to Rie , So I think it would be fair to also have some quotes from Dr.Pikler’s book. dr. Pikler was also concerned about too much attention. Furthermore mrs liedloff observed native tribes deep in the rainforest , people going about their lifes as we all were thousand years ago As ” innocent ” One can be , unscarred by modern culture. I do believe that Dr.Pikler’s was observing mostly privelaged families from Hungaria perhaps the very oposite to the latter Both made conclusion based on what they saw and both of them dared to looked outside the box and found what was missing. They were both correct believe it or not if we just dare to look beyond the labels and think for ourselves . (I believe that mrs liedloff said herself that her book was never meant to be a parenting guide vs magda gerber who is an expert in the field ) … Any way all the best….you are doing a great job xxx
Isobel – please share Dr. Pikler’s quotations about “too much attention” and the source. I have never heard of her having such concerns and that would be completely counter to all her other recommendations. I agree that it seems Pikler is to RIE what Liedloff is to AP, although Pikler was a far more active mentor, who worked closely with Magda Gerber. I am personally very impressed by Pikler’s work and have no disagreement with it.
I practiced attachment parenting, and have just been reading your blog since my son was a toddler. I wish I’d known your method when he was a baby. While I don’t disagree with anything in attachment parenting, it doesn’t put emphasis on setting appropriate personal boundaries. I didn’t realize that I had trouble setting boundaries, and though giving too much of yourself is not how attachment parenting is supposed to work, it also doesn’t teach you how not to, and I understand it’s not an uncommon problem.
I like your emphasis on teaching babies to play independently, and setting firm, consistent boundaries, it has helped me immensely.
I also agree with the above poster, that Liedloff’s theories are not quite synonymous with AP. Dr. Sears emphasizes responsiveness to the child more than the child being a passive observer.
So I think RIE fills in what was missing in AP for me. The two seem to me to work nicely together.
I just would like to add:
There are different approaches of attachment parenting, such as “Circle of Security Parenting” and “Aware Parenting” (founded by Aletha Solter). These approaches do highlight the importance of setting boundaries, or loving limits, as well as parental attunement, attention and emotional responsiveness.
I am a psychologist and trained in attachment parenting and attachment based psychotherapy and Liedloff is certainly not someone I came across in my studies, training, work and exchange with colleagues until someone gave me her book. I don’t think that her book is an adequate representation of attachment parenting.
My 1 1/2 year old and I are delving in to RIE parenting. We did attachment panting for the first 6 months of his life and that was before I ever knew the RIE style existed. I know that RIE is pretty much dead set against baby wearing, but I don’t think we will be packing away our ring sling anytime soon. I was iffy on the childred play until I saw how much my kid was growing in independence and motor skills by having the freedom to explore and manipulate his toys the way he saw fit.
Sometimes my son will bring me the sling when he wants to be apart of dish washing or any other project of mine that is out of his reach. I let him decided whether he wants to go in the sling or not, and I listen to his need to get back out and explore on his own once more. I am sure that is breaking some rule somewhere but it really works for us.
I hear the rallying cry of 10,000 physical therapists over “tummy time.” 🙂
Full disclosure: I know much more about the issues of common parents around AP than I do RIE because I’ve participated extensively on message boards. I agree that there are issues surrounding boundaries with AP, as it was a common theme on the message boards. However, I can see where there are potential issues with RIE, including forced independence at an early age.
The core of both practices seem to be respecting the needs of a baby AND trusting that a baby knows what he or she needs to develop according to his or her own timeline. I don’t believe that one method is better than the other, and I’d go as far to say that they can truly complement each other when not taken to their extremes. AP recognizes that babies need close contact with their parents to learn that the world is a safe, secure place and learn the skills needed to live in the world and RIE seems to recognize that babies are individuals who need space to grow and explore on their own ways to live in the world (again, I’m not an expert on RIE here.) Expecting a baby to “self-soothe” before they are ready and able is equally as problematic as dropping everything the second the baby makes a single peep.
I have to say a word about self-soothing, as it was mentioned in the comments and is a concept that has bothered me for some time. It takes time to learn emotion regulation (which includes self-soothing) and healthy emotion regulation needs to be modeled. (Side note: many adults do not have healthy emotion regulation skills.) Babies cannot learn this on their own by being left to their own devices. I’ve always likened this concept to expecting a child to add and subtract by giving them a worksheet and telling them to figure it out on their own without instruction. Here is a great article on the issue of self-soothing: http://evolutionaryparenting.com/educating-the-experts-lesson-four-self-soothing/
Jennifer – with respect, you lost me at the end of your first paragraph when you said: “forced independence at an early age”. The RIE approach has nothing to do with “forcing” independence (or forcing anything else, for that matter). Nor would we ever “expect” babies to self-soothe. Those are common misinterpretations of RIE that stem from the common misperception of babies as mindless, completely lacking in ability, and without ideas of their own. It is from that outdated (soon, I hope) perspective that one believes that self-directed independent play or self-soothing would need to be forced on babies.
My daughter is 21 months old and I have raised her so far similar to the guidelines of AP but I have only recently learned of REI and have been reading as much as I can to try and learn the best way to take care of my daughter who is now a toddler. I find the article by Leidloff very interesting and I have been thinking a lot about it. Correct me if I’m totally off but I don’t think it’s appropriate for Leidloff to use her observations from the group of Indians to state that being child-centered causes issues with our kids. My reason is that, although I would love to raise my daughter like these Indians do their kids, it’s not possible as I am alone with her most of the time. Of course her father comes home in the evenings and we keep our days busy with play dates and park visits, however there is no one else at home to interact with her most of the time. I would love to live in a group like the Indians do and dream of moving off to join a commune of some sort, or even wish my mom would retire and we could all live in a big house together but this just isn’t the reality for us right now. I think the idea of not paying attention to your kid only works when there are other people around. Even when I have my niece and nephew once in a while when my sister works she drops them off, the kids play together well and I can go about my day completing tasks and not completely focused on the kids and I think that’s wonderful and healthy. However I’m afraid that the non-child centered approach is a terrible idea when it’s just one caregiver and child. If my daughter is looking for my attention and I’m the only one in the house I’m definitely going to pay attention to her and respond to her needs and to do otherwise I feel is neglect.
I personally see these 2 “styles” as being compatible. Have have read quite a bit about ap and have honestly never tag anything about giving too much attention to babies rather that you can’t give too much attention. There obviously could be subgroups with in the group.
I’m a bit newer to rie and have learned exclusively from janet’s articles and the book No Bad Kids. So I haven’t had much focus yet on rie prior to toddler hood.I see AP as I understand iyou to be aparenting philosophy that advocates holding our kids more and not leaving them to self soothe. To keep them closer to you when able and possible. Yes this I is based on physiological needs.
.especially with Co sleeping aa studies have shown that baby’s heart and respiratory rate are directly effected by proximity to adult.
It is my opinion that RIE philosophy only adds to AP and, at least in janet’s book, gives specific examples and language that can be used to set compassionate limits and how to be more observant to their cues and this foster greater independence and autonomy as they are ready.
Anyways I’m about to have baby 2 and am trying to read elevated chold care before she is born. I plan to continue to Co sleep and hold my baby quote a bit but also hope to implement some rie philosophy earlier on. I will let you know how it goes.
Please do, Amy! Thanks for reading the books
I agree that all these labels are confusing especially to new parents. I’m an older mom in my 30’s. I didn’t even have a label or idea when I had my child. I just innately knew I wanted to hold my son as much as possible in the beginning. I stumbled across RIE parenting and liked what I saw. I like the discipline approaches too. In your article you mention baby wearing and the connection of mind and soul. Perhaps some wear their babies and forget about them and go about their daily lives but for me wearing my son kept us even more connected. We went about daily life together. I don’t wear him anymore. He’s too heavy haha but I do bring the ergo to events where he might fall asleep and I’ll wear him. He is 21 months old.
I’m a mum to a 7 month old and I have a few things to add, just my own perception. I second what many say about AP and RIE complementing each other in some way, elements of both make a lot of sense (more than just elements) and I also agree that giving these things set names or saying ‘I follow this or that approach’ causes a lot of separation amongst parents. It was only once I had my daughter and a few months in looking online for resources that I discovered there were names for what we were doing instinctively. For example talking to baby and explaining when you are going to change her or pick her up, that for me was innate, the same way I tell her when mummy is going to eat some lunch or that daddy is coming home soon or that it’s a beautiful day outside/cold grey day outside. Attached parenting and sling wearing for us is without a doubt a must. She isn’t excessively worn (not sure why I feel I need to clarify that), but she loves it looks so contented, eyes wide taking in everything around us and while I am telling her what we are doing and seeing. I suppose my main point and gripe is the way parents want to separate into gangs of those who do this or who do that, I am someone with strong opinions on what I think makes sense, but I also know there are 100 different ways of doing something right. More than one way to swing a cat as my first boss out of university told me. Never a truer word have I heard! Great reading all the other comments, thanks!
Without knowing much theory at the time we combined both… a lot of AP, babywearing and the like for the first 6-7 months, and by the time LO started crawling we sort of switched to RIE, and Montessori to a lesser extent. The switch seemed natural, and in a way is what the concept of 4th trimester is about, giving them physical and emotional support and contact, until they feel confident enough to explore the world on their own. I started reading about it afterwards, and in hindsight I guess I wasn’t all that wrong. As soon as he became mobile I stepped back and started following him, paying attention to his cues and interests, providing comfort when he needed it (which was less and less often). I guess both methods can’t really overlap, but you can transition from one to the other without problem, depending on LO’s development and confidence
This article comparing REI and AP simply isn’t true. AP is the close physical contact along with being connected mentally. We who practice attachment parenting do actually speak to our infants as well. And do want to be physically and mentally connected. Being physically connect is the most normal and natural thing since human infants are completely physically helpless.
I have respect for the different philosophy’s but saying that AP is just close physical contact is just false info. Maybe promoting REI? With all so respects just voicing my concern about what’s written about AP. It doesn’t say “don’t speak to your child”.
The problem with attachment parenting is that everybody can interprete it differently and apply different tactics to it.
I have practiced attachment parenting with my baby without even knowing it had a name. I co-slept,nursed on demand and carried him often. I also never jumped to comfort him without being curious what he comunicated first, he had plenty of floor time to explore (when he wanted to) and age appropriate boundaries.
For me attachment parenting is not about golden rules, it’s not about being attached to the baby constantly or wearing him all day it’s about being RESPONSIVE. The only real difference between RIE and AP (where they can’t meet) is the value of touch. In AP touch is very important and has value in itsel – it regulates breathing, heartbeat and helps the brain grow but that does not mean touch can’t be mindful ot that it’s used to distract the baby. I honestly can’t see how respect, bservation, healthy boundaries and so on cannot be applied in attachment parenting – they can and should be.I don’t agree with the idea that mums who practice AP jump to every wimp of their children without any thought process or don’t allow them age appropriate boundaries. If it happens it’s because of their own issues and lack of mindful responsivnes not because AP.
Ack, the tone of this article in regards to AP and the defensiveness in response to people sharing their differing opinions is really off-putting. If you’re going to present a credible comparison of two differing philosophies it’s probably best not to be so vehemently biased in your presentation. If we’re choosing teams here I would say I’m a strong AP proponent who has recently become intrigued by RIE. I’ve read your books and listened to your podcasts and have found them profoundly helpful in terms of parenting lovingly and respectfully parenting my now toddler. But I very much consider the RIE techniques a complement to a much more natural and instinctive approach for me that would be defined as AP. As a few people have said above, you don’t have to knock another philosophy to promote your own.
Alex – Thank you so for your support of my books and podcasts. Could you please share what you mean by “the tone of this article” and defensiveness in comments, etc? Yes, I am admittedly biased toward and passionate about Magda Gerber’s approach, but my intention with this post was to present a more objective comparison. If it doesn’t feel that way to you, I would sincerely appreciate specific feedback. Thanks again.
I think you’ve missed the boat when you state that attachment parenting boils down to a focus on the constant physical attachment of the baby to the caregiver (by means of a sling or carrier), when the emphasis is actually on the secure *psychological* attachment of the baby with its caregiver. In this post, you make no reference to actual Attachment Theory (in the field of psychology) on which AP is based and instead reduce AP to “constant carrying” and co-sleeping. (It is this reductionism that turns AP readers off, even the ones who love your RIE work quite a lot.) Indeed, the work of many in the field of psychology has revealed that babies do in fact develop secure (or insecure) attachments to their caregivers based on the behaviors of those caregivers, including, of course, the implementation of physical proximity (and caring responsiveness, as RIE also advocates). This is no way precludes the effective use of RIE practices in combination with AP! Certainly, the respectful practices of RIE fit very nicely into and alongside the practices espoused by AP. To claim that the two approaches are “diametrically opposed” seems odd and simply exposes your distaste for some AP practices. Your readers pick up on this readily. (In my reply to you after Jenny’s comment above, I discuss the word-choice and connotations that contribute to the “tone” Alex mentions her in comment, since you are asking for specific examples.)
Having said all this, I will also say that I love your work, consistently refer others to you, and VERY much appreciate the efficacy of RIE, particularly with my toddler and preschoolers.
Thank you for this thoughtful comment, Becky. I concur in every respect, from regularly appreciating and referring others to Janet’s body of work, to the questionable tone and reductionist approach taken with regard to AP (which you accurately detail in the other comment you referred to). Such an approach does little service or justice to either philosophy, both of which I find meaningful, helpful and inherently compatible because of their root inspiration, which educational philosopher Charlotte Mason put so simply and well: “Children are born persons – they are not blank slates or embryonic oysters who have the potential of becoming persons.”
Becky – the title of this post is “Bonding with Babies…” and I wrote:
“RIE and AP are distinctly different in both theory and practice, although both approaches could be considered valid routes toward secure attachment — both are responsive to the child’s needs. Where they diverge most is in their recommendations for bonding in the first year. These differences are reflective of the way each school of thought perceives infants’ needs and abilities.”
So I do agree with you that “the emphasis is on the secure *psychological* attachment of the baby with its caregiver.”
What I clearly stated is that RIE and AP are both going for bonding and secure attachment, but they approach that goal in very different ways. I stand by my belief that Liedloff’s and Gerber’s views are diametrically opposed. For these approaches to be practiced successfully, they must first be understood… and their roots and sources must be understood. But that’s just my opinion (and you certainly don’t need to agree).
Regarding Attachment Theory and how it relates to AP and RIE, that has been discussed at length in several of the preceding comments (I realize there may be too many to want to sift through!). Here is a link to a book that devotes a chapter to Magda Gerber and Attachment Theory: https://www.amazon.com/Theories-Attachment-Introduction-Ainsworth-Brazelton/dp/B00ZY8QERG
And here are a couple of articles exploring the relationship between Attachment Parenting and Attachment Theory: https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2012/05/what-everyones-missing-in-the-attachment-parenting-debate/257918/
I imagine you’ll disagree with these articles, but I’d love to hear your thoughts.
And all of that said, the advice I share on this website and in my books and podcasts is a branch that anyone can swing to anytime. While rooted in Magda’s theories, many of the details I share (particularly in regard to toddlers and beyond) are my own interpretation, combined with all I’ve learned from working with parents and toddlers in the classes I’ve been leading for the past 20+ years. Also, raising my own three children with Magda’s approach (which is still my parenting guide with my adult children — I’ve never needed anything else), has taught me plenty about the implementation of all I learned from Magda. Thank you so much for reading and supporting this work.
Couldn’t agree more! I find a lot of people who practice AP focus a lot on the baby wearing piece and always preaching about “the 4th trimester”. Sort of a cult like following to me. I just discovered RIE but I’ve been practicing it instinctively. I found what everyone said about the fourth trimester to not be true for me. I hold my baby plenty but have never felt the need to baby wear and he’s so happy playing on the floor. He will watch me and move around a lot and kick and laugh. He’s three months old and all about his hands right now. I’ve felt no need for bouncers, baby wearing, swings, or toys. He also slept just fine in his crib that’s next to my bed from day one and he woke up every 2 hours for 8 weeks and now at 12 weeks sleeps through the night. (Felt I needed to add that because the people I know who co sleep act like they are the only ones not getting sleep). I never felt the need to co sleep (a common theme among people I know who practice AP). Anyway, I got kind of off topic but I do think it is important to distinguish between different methods otherwise what is the point in given them names? I also understand why people might chose to do something different than me or other people and that’s okay. I just don’t see why people are getting upset over your compassion. They are different.
All I can say is that I wish I read RIE books while I was pregnant and that I wasn’t so inundated with AP indoctrination at the time my son was born. AP destroyed me and I’m still recovering from it. The constant need to be at baby’s disposal, the constant breastfeeding on demand, the indoctrination that the baby has to co-sleep and should never be let to cry for a few moments was absolutely exhausting for me. Thank god I found Rie when I did. And to me these two approaches are entirely different. One sees baby as incapable and in constant need of parent and RIE sees baby as an equal (maybe non-verbal yet) but certainly capable human being. This makes so much more sense to me. And the AP parents definitely are exhausted beyond anything I ever saw while Rie parents are dignified.
I mean I could go on and on. But this is the just of it. Thanks Janet!
Oh wow, this is really a big can of worms!! Interesting discussion though.
I must say, for me if I could be the “perfect” parent in my eyes, I would do exclusive RIE parenting. But with a toddler running around, And a big garden, the truth is I find it *easier* to also sometimes carry my 13 week old in the carrier while I care for our toddler on our (often multi-hour-long) outside time.
But I don’t do it because I think it’s the “best” developmental practice. I also try to attend to her while I carry her, and try not to carry her during awake periods.
Then, whenever possible, when toddler naps or at other times in the day, I give baby as much “free time” on the floor as possible, with my full attention as much as possible.
When it comes to cosleeping, I Am in agreement with believing in baby to be able to sleep and learn to fall asleep and self soothe, while supported lovingly by me. But I did co-sleep sometimes in the first month just because of survival for me – and because I loved the cuddles!!
When I do things like carrying baby in a carrier or co-sleeping, I feel like it’s about ME (I need to get things done or care for toddler, or I want the cuddles…). Knowing that there’s a whole parenting philosophy that encourages this Makes it feel like it’s ok to do this sometimes .
When I have energy to do what I believe to be BEST, I always turn to the RIE method and I strive to do this more and more as the days go by.
All along, I’ve been fully attentive to her during all of the caregiving activities, talking authentically, and respecting her as much as I possibly can, while setting limits (as well as I can) with my clever and energetic toddler.
I loved attuning to my baby in terms of sleep – and watching her find her fingers and soothe herself. I loved watching as she rejected the swaddle – and the self confidence she had to sleep arms up on her own after I finally listened to her. She now has long stretches of independent sleep in her bassinet and we are both well rested.
The more I see her, the better she trusts me, and it’s sooooo lovely.
I never intended to follow Attachment Parenting Principles, but my three children really would NOT sleep independently despite months and months of following all the “rules.” Similarly, they all hated strollers and car seats and loved being carried. I certainly put them in strollers and on the ground as much as I possibly could, but it would only last so long. For my three children, RIE’s approach makes me feel very inadequate because I “can’t” follow the suggestions despite lots of trying. I think the idea that parents need to pay attention and figure out their particular child’s personality and needs is the most important tenet of any parenting approach. Ignoring my children’s very clear preferences to be carried often and to co-sleep (not so much a preference for my children but a need) would have been impossible. I realize you may read this and just think I am a pushover or not able to implement the suggestions with fidelity, but I assure you that is not the case. Babies vary widely in their temperaments, preferences, and needs (RIE is clear on this) and some will thrive on the floor most of the day while others thrive in mom’s arms most of the day. To say otherwise, is unfair to moms and babies. This inflexibility is what frustrates me with parenting approaches.
Kim, reaching across the years to say thanks for this comment; it really speaks to my experience. While pregnant with my first, I read both of Janet’s (and two of Magda’s) books, and felt extremely prepared to raise my RIE baby. I fully accepted the premise that any parent who paid sufficient attention to their baby would discover that baby’s needs align with RIE’s principles. Imagine my surprise when my 8-week-old started refusing to leave my arms! I don’t identify philosophically with Dr. Sears’s work, which I find paternalistic and patriarchal (nor do I feel the need to look to any man for permission to mother my baby in response to her cues) but now, at 7 months, we are bedsharing, breastfeeding on request, and spending as much time in the carrier as we both want, confident in our mutual instincts and the research that supports them.
In retrospect, I wonder about the wisdom of taking an approach developed by a pediatrician in a group care/orphanage setting — medical; traumatic; biologically abnormal — and attempting to apply it to the biologically normal case of the mother/baby dyad.
Thanks for sharing your experience, Katherine. Just need to correct one thing… Dr. Pikler had a thriving and renowned private practice when she developed her recommendations. She based them on the thousands of hours she spent observing babies and families. It wasn’t until years later that she was asked to create and direct the orphanage setting at Loczy and adapt her approach to that setting.
When babies object to being placed down and away from their parent, Magda and Pikler believed we should definitely respect that. Their point was to consider the benefits of this freer time too, and not to give up on it. Babies evolve every moment. So Magda suggested that we continue to periodically offer them opportunities for free movement rather than deciding that a particular baby was needier and could not benefit from it. As parents, we are inclined to project. I’m not suggesting this is your situation, but often the nuances of Magda’s and Pikler’s teachings get lost in these conversations.
Super interesting post! Like many others here I started off with AP and transitioned to RIE closer to a year old. I did no research on parenting approaches prior to giving birth but while seeking out breastfeeding info/support came across AP which seemed to describe/affirm my natural instincts. Now that my little girl is a toddler I find RIE extremely helpful for the day to day and gives me confidence in the long term investment of our family. I wonder if there is a physiological component/instinct to giving birth/breastfeeding and keeping your baby close (AP) and if this would hold true if I were the caretaker for an infant I had not given birth to and/or was not nursing, in which case my instincts might have been more toward the RIE approach from the beginning.
Just finished the AP/RIE post — I agree I think a mash up of the two styles (especially newborn – slightly more AP and 6 months up slightly more RIE) is what feels best knowing what I know now. Instinctively I love having a newborn on my chest, in a carrier, close by for ease of feeding etc. But I also know how important it became to have that connected separation once we were out of that phase (ie when it became apparent the whole house needed more sleep and we moved into gentle sleep training). I definitely think that my approach to newborn care will be different this time around though, talking through each step of a diaper change, asking permission etc. I even noticed myself asking “did you poop?” to my daughter quite loudly in our kitchen tonight (it was just us at home of course) and I thought to myself…. well now that’s kinda rude I typically wouldn’t ask another adult if they just pooped in a loud voice like that, so I am appreciative of the RIE perspective and how it permeates almost all of the things I naturally did as a parent or saw other parents do. Nice food for thought
I think the problem seen here is in a lazy person’s rendition of AP, not AP itself. Putting the baby in the carrier and then ignoring them all day is to AP what leaving the baby in another room and ignoring them (no observation, no checking in, etc) is to RIE. In both cases the baby is relegated to a position of lower importance as the parent is able to go about their days unhindered. I think a healthy balance of the philosophies can coexist where we recognize both the baby’s mammalian desire for closeness and physical affection and the human animal’s ability to build connection through speech, security through the knowledge that the parent is close by and will return, quiet observing presence and eye contact, and the baby’s desire to learn to move their body when they are able.
Janet. Thank you for this article. So interesting as I am trying to walk a line between these two approaches and it’s really interesting to see where the similarities and differences are. I am surprised in some ways that the two ‘camps’ are not more integrated because with more nuance applied to both situations it really seems like they can be. You mentioned that many parents are using a hybrid of the two approaches but I’m wondering if there are any leading professionals advocating a meshed approach – be they writers; researchers; parenting advisors; childcare workers; campaigners or whatever. Are you aware of any working in that space as I’d love to explore more if there are. Thanks, Claire.