The Curse of Respectful Parenting

The younger the child, the harder it is for her to show us who she is and to communicate her needs and capabilities. This means babies are ripe for our projections. What we see – or what we think we see – informs our responses.

This is important stuff, because the manner in which we engage our children determines their core self-image and charts the course of our parent – child relationship.

But aren’t babies just babies? Can there really be more than one way to view (and treat) them?

Here are two one-minute video clips that answer that question. The first reflects the philosophy of Magda Gerber, who believed babies are unique individuals, whole people with real thoughts and emotions. The other comes from Harvey Karp, one of the most popular and influential parenting voices of our time…

Magda Gerber has described the basis of her approach, Harvey Karp demonstrates his here…

What do you think?

2/19/14 update: I find it interesting that the above video of Dr. Karp was recently removed and is no longer available. Perhaps this is due to the negative responses here and on Lisa Sunbury’s blog Regarding Baby.  In any case, here’s a more lengthy video that contains some of Dr. Karp’s demonstrations and an interview:

For further reading/viewing:

Magda Gerber’s clip “Seeing Babies Differently” is from Seeing Infants With New Eyes, which is available on DVD

Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect by Magda Gerber

The Happiest Baby on the Block by Harvey Karp, M.D.

Toddler Man, The Atlantic

The Regarding Baby blog, especially Is “The Happiest Baby on the Block” the Most Oppressed? and The Way We See Them and Take a CALMS Approach to Your Crying Baby


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

  1. I couldn’t even watch all of the Karp video, all I could think about was that baby’s brain being rattled around and I felt so over stimulated by that shushing I couldn’t take it!

    1. This baby shows stress cues (wide eyes, wrinkled brow). This baby is overstimulated and attempting to compensate (and since she’s a newborn, she can’t compensate for very long). I see that look a lot, just as the baby figures out what I mean when I say “we have to put an IV in your hand, this will hurt, I will hold you while this happens”. I feel anxious and deeply sad when I see this look on babies who are not requiring medical intervention.

  2. Before RIE a similiar video to the second one you posted struck me as unusual. After RIE it strikes me as abuse.

    1. You’ve never had a colicky baby, have you?

      1. Rachel, are you saying that this approach is justifiable for a colicy baby?

        It is hard to deal with babies who won’t stop crying. It frays every nerve you have in a way that people cannot possibly understand unless they experience it for themselves. I too have a baby who cries, a lot, and fit the official description of colicy for the first 2 months of her life. Yet…I still don’t honestly think what is shown in the 5 S’s clip above is appropriate.

        1. Amanda, I agree with you. For a few long months I was up in the middle of each night for two hours straight with my colicky little boy. I tried to help him find a comfortable position next to me in bed. I massaged his tummy and spoke soothingly to him. I held him for a long, long time. But in the end, all I could do was listen to him cry and be there for him until the feelings subsided and he could fall asleep again. He’s 11 now and still has a sensitive tummy (like me).

          Yes, colicky babies are challenging and we all do our best, but Karp’s way is certainly not the only way.

          1. I read your posts and learn a lot with them. I’ve never commented but this post made me feel unsettled. My baby (now 3 years old) was colicky. I’m pretty sure it was the tummy too. We massaged his tummy after every diaper change (night too), and that seemed to make things better but sometimes it was not enough. The second video strikes me too, the baby seems to be an object in karp’s hands, I hate the sharp shh into the baby’s ears, the lack of eye contact, the talking with the mom/camera as if the baby was not there, and the shaking. However, using some of Dr Karp’s ideas with more humanity seemed to work for us and I never felt it was disrespectful (quite the oposit, I felt we were helping our baby that was horribly upset). We tried swaddling when he was very sleepy but very upset with his tummy: not as tight as the baby in the second video (and certainly we held him in a more loving way). This calmed him down, and he could sleep better (he didn’t struggle to get free and he seemed confortable). In similar situations (clearly too upset to nap) we used a more loving shh (not that overwhelming sound right into the baby’s ear), and that also seemed to help. Another thing that helped was turning on a blow drier/kitchen exhaust/dishwasher in the room. We didn’t try this intentionally at first, but we know about this theory and we noticed he would calm down whenever we were using these appliances. Janet, I would love to know your opinion about adapting this concepts in a more human way.

            1. Catarina – I appreciate your question. This post wasn’t meant to condemn all of Dr. Karp’s recommendations. The “source” obviously does not comprehend infant respect, which would certainly make me question his advice, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible to practice some of Karp’s techniques more mindfully than Karp demonstrates them. I’m sure I would have tried some of these things had I not learned about Magda Gerber and RIE. In fact, I did. I used a mechanical swing once and the dazed look in my daughter’s eyes before she suddenly snapped them shut made me pause. It was like a drug.

              Karp and his fans marvel at the amazing ability his “S’s” have to “switch off” a baby’s cries. But if turning off a child’s feelings like a light switch isn’t objectifying, I don’t know what is.

              What I’ve learned, and yes, I had a colicky baby who kept me up for hours each night while he cried in my arms, is that these tricks and tactics are totally unnecessary. And they do not promote healthy bonding or help children to actually feel better. We can stuff feelings, but we can’t make them disappear.

              It’s OKAY for babies to cry when they don’t feel well, as long as we are there hearing and supporting them. We don’t need to stop their feelings. It’s challenging to allow babies to express themselves, but healthier in the long run. But, hey, we all do our best at that moment and children survive it.

              1. Janet, I appreciate your comment. This was 3 years ago, but I think he didn’t show that dazed look and the “shut of signs”. For an (eventual) next colicly baby I will certainly pay more attention. But I am not sure if we shouldn’t by all means avoid such intense crying in small babies: it looks like it is not feelings that they are expressing, but a cry for help, an inate reaction to disconfort. You know how a mom feels when she hears a baby crying: urgency to soothe him, but also breastmilk leaking, etc. I think something similar could be happening with the baby when crying, it is not only feelings, but also physiological mechanisms shaped by evolution that are making him cry. Janet, don’t take my reaction as an ofense, until now RIE is what has made more sense to me in terms of parenting, I am just expressing my doubts and feelings about this initial period of a baby life.

              2. I appreciate all your opinions about Karp’s methods after just watching the video, but I wonder if people writing above have read his book and the reasoning for his methods? He is recommending these techniques only for the first three months and all his techniques are related to transition from the whom. The loud shhhhh is replacing the blood flow in our body noise that babies have grown to know over the last 9 months of growing, the movement is us moving, soother is the human need to suck for comfort. Feeling something on their tummy is a natural feeling of safety and the swaddle is them being comforted squished in our whom. So he does speak to slowly transitioning out of these events. So really although it may seem unusual it does work and is worth learning more about rather then judging, abuse definitely not. I am almost incline to say not using his method is abuse (that is an over exaggeration) Because we all do the best we can with what we know. Just like learning math you need to transition (addition and subtraction before multiplication…), babies benefit from little transitions too!

                1. Deb, I understand how difficult the concept of respect for babies can be…I really do. Watching the video is all I need to know that this man has not a clue about infant care. He treats this poor baby like an appliance while her trusting mom looks on… I almost feel more sorry for the mom…she’s trusting an “expert” after all.

                  Shhh and swaddle all you like, but you will never convince me to look into this ridiculous man’s “reasoning”. Like others commenting, you are focusing on extraneous details and missing the entire point of this post. I have not shared opinions about Karp’s methods; I’ve shared my opinion that Karp is oblivious to the fact that he is holding a person.

      2. I’ve had a colicky baby just like everyone else. There are many things I dislike about his method: swaddling, holding the pacifier in her mouth, shaking her and doing that loud noise. I treat my daughter as I’d like to be treated if I were a baby. This is something very important to me (even before RIE).

        1. D in G, thank you for putting the focus back onto what this post is about: “I treat my daughter as I’d like to be treated if I were a baby. This is something very important to me”

          With respect to those who are perceiving this as a post about swaddling, etc., you are missing the point. This is about our attitude toward babies.

  3. I typically enjoy and resonate very much with your posts, but this one made me feel quite unsettled. Defensive, even. The implication that I understand from this post, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is that Harvey Karp’s approach is disrespectful.

    I had a very colicky baby. Nothing was medically wrong, as we know now that he’s 2 years-old; he just was extremely fussy for the first 4 months and would scream, no matter what we did, for 3 hours every evening, and had NO happy awake time before he was 8 weeks old. So when I’ve read your posts about younger babies, I have had a very hard time identifying with them. I wish that you would acknowledge that there are babies out there with whom the RIE approach may not make sense for the first 8 weeks. Without Harvey Karp’s 5 s’s, I don’t know if I would have made it through those weeks in one piece.

    I don’t mean to start an argument so much as a conversation, as this is the one thing about your blog and the RIE approach that leaves me feeling unsettled, and I’d like to move past it. It leaves me feeling like it was *my* fault my son was so unhappy the first 8 weeks, and if I had just respected him more or let him play independently more, he would have been more content.

    I agree with what Magda Gerber says in the first video– in theory. But did she have a colicky baby? I can’t imagine that she did. I just hope that this post doesn’t leave any mamas out there who are currently struggling through the first 8 weeks with a colicky baby feeling insecure about using the 5 s’s. When your baby cries more often than not, I don’t think it’s disrespecting them, if you finally find something that works, to do it– even if it looks barbaric or objectifying.

    1. “I wish that you would acknowledge that there are babies out there with whom the RIE approach may not make sense for the first 8 weeks.”

      Rachel, you are misunderstanding the RIE approach and I’m fine with taking the blame for not making it clear. (In regard to crying, perhaps this post will help:

      RIE is about perceiving babies as whole people and learning how to be attuned to their feelings and needs. When you saw the Dr. Karp video, was it not apparent that Karp’s demeanor was the polar opposite of attunement?

      I am sorry you had a colicky baby, I had one like that, too. But neither my post, nor the essence of the RIE approach is about how much infants play, or “S’s” or how to handle colicky babies, it’s about the way we SEE.

      1. Hi Rachel!
        I completely understand where you are coming from; I work in children’s psychology and it can be really difficult to adjust the recommendations to our specific situations and frustrating when we never see anything that addresses the “other” experience. I think colic is very normal, and it would be helpful to have a post be very clear as to how RIE can help the parent of a colicky baby.

        My interpretation, is that rather than the “one size fits all” approach of Dr. Karp, that we first sit back and observe what our child is communicating. This can be difficult, especially as the colicky baby is expressing discomfort, but in really understanding — does the baby need physical comfort right now, or should I focus on the psychological experience, we can be a bit more effective. In the video, Dr. Karp’s recommendations are shown as he intended them — many people commented that they used his suggestions in a different way, and this would be very RIE! It’s not about leaving your child to deal with their discomfort, but about effectively helping them in the way that they need, rather than following a disconnected set of steps/actions. (Please don’t read this as a suggestion that you did the steps in a disconnected way, but the concern is that some parents apply all steps without truly paying attention to their children’s communications.)

        I also think that RIE works with other theories; i.e., I wore my daughter often in the first year, but that was based on her desires. She wanted closeness, and she received it, but I didn’t feel the need to “entertain” her during the babywearings, and I ensured that I only wore her when I needed to (errands, chores) and when she was clear about wanting contact. RIE doesn’t have to always look one certain way 🙂

        1. When a baby is colicky they are not going to be uncolicky based on what we do. We can help them with positions etc but the pain and discomfort is there and they are going to cry. This post really reiterated to me the sense of listening to the baby and not feeling responsible if we are unable to quiet them. For me, mostly I panicked with my first when he had colicky (for8 months+) ( food allergies), because I felt like a failure. I did listen to him but also didn’t, just like you said. If I had known all of this now I feel like I would have been more confident and relaxed… next step… getting through that guilt. Always something. Thank you Janet. I mostly find much healing and learning through your writings and it has been nothing short of amazing.

    2. Not sure how old this post is but I just found it…I totally support Rachel.
      Until you don’t have a colicky baby you have no idea what it means to let a baby cry…
      I love RIE and I don’t find anything unrespectfull about the 5 S’. It saved our lives during the hardest months of my newborn daughter.

  4. Can’t view the second video for some reason (I’m on an iPod, so m guessing that’s it).

    I think Karp’s forth trimester theory makes sense (that’s him, right?) but for example, I was never comfortable with swaddling. It DID seem to calm my son, but mainly because it kept him deeply concentrating on escape. After a week or two I got sick of trying to contain him (I never mastered the tecnique anyhow) and decided to just let him get used to the free movement of his limbs. It did seem to bother him at first, but it didn’t take him long at all to adjust.

    I’d like to give a more precise description, but that time period is all kinda blurry. My son may have been a complete human being from birth (or before) but for that stretch of horribly sleep deprived time, I’m not sure I was a complete human being.

  5. The second video is deeply disturbing to me. What is he trying to accomplish? And the mother just sits there smiling as this man traumatizes her child. Chilling…..

  6. This makes me SO glad I found out about RIE and feel guilty for swaddling my baby for so long (until he was 4 mos). The hospital where I gave birth made us watch a video about the 5 S’s. I do think there is SOME validity to Karp’s theory about a 4th trimester (Gerber states in her book that the first 3 months, infants are in a magical dreamlike world), but this video takes it WAY too far in terms of manipulating the baby.

    1. For a child with sensory problems though, swaddling feels secure. My two youngest despised it, and I would never have dreamt of doing it to them, but my oldest was calmer with firm swaddling, envoloping hugs, and lots of touch. He still likes to be wrapped up with his blanket when he sleeps and he’s 9. There is never a one size fits all to anything. They each have individual needs.

      1. We used a loose sort of swaddling (not straight jacket style) – possible to get out of if baby so wished. Sometimes he did, sometimes he didn’t. Whatever the philosophies I could feel that my son felt secure in close contact (swaddled, in arms, in carrier). He was calmer, he was more alert, he observed the world (which is kind of the point of lots of RIE stuff, isn’t it?). When I just put him down he screamed and screamed.

    2. There are three ages that children are most likely to be abused… The newborn phase is one (From a late friend’s blog:“) On a societal scale, it definitely makes sense to give as many new parents as possible simple coping mechanisms to make that age less frustrating and hopeless seeming. It’s very difficult to teach tired new parents any kind of enlightened philosophy… but it’s pretty easy to teach the 5 S’s, which I suspect is why it’s so prevalent. Don’t feel guilty, I’m pretty sure your child wasn’t harmed by a few months of swaddling. 🙂

      1. We swaddled for the first few months, and as gung ho about RIE as I am, I’m not convinced swaddling does any damage. Of course, swaddling is just a tool, and any tool that is abused can do as much harm as good.

        1. Swaddling does no damage. As a statistician (and mom), my perspective on infant sleep is that the safest thing is whatever avoids exhaustion. Exhausted adults are dangerous to themselves and others, especially behind the wheel.

          Once you’re through that worst part of it, worry about parenting philosophy or whatever. I personally don’t adhere to any of them, but sample widely for ideas, keeping what works and fits my values.

  7. Wow. When my son was very young I actually used the 5 S’s approach (long before I discovered RIE) because it made sense to me to “imitate the womb environment”. But now, after discovering RIE, all I could think while watching that video was “OMG, that poor baby!!” and I couldn’t even finish watching the full minute. Thank you so much for opening my eyes!

    1. You’re welcome, Andrea. Thank you so much for sharing.

  8. How come once you learn in time better ways the best ways you once knew seem so horrid?!?!

    So thankful for RIE! It is a new way of thinking. So wish it could become more popular than all the other popular methods combined! I can’t imagine the state of society if all adopted this mindset of ultimate respect, even for the littlest of mankind-the precious baby!

    1. I’m the same way with discipline… I think a lot of my fellow toddler parents consider me overly strict (because I don’t give a zillion warnings before following through) but I just get depressed when I see the vast variety of punishments people come up with for children who aren’t even old enough to understand them.

  9. Magdalenapalencia says:

    What an interesting contrast between the two videos. You ask, are “babies just babies?” Babies are babies and infancy is one stage of being a human. We are fortunate to live in a time where Doctors can be doctors and do not have to pretend to be a uterus. This is what he is doing by wrapping the baby tight, jiggling them and making shhhh noises. Parents should always have the last word when it comes to how they care for their children. They will know what the best way to care for their child by approaching them with respect and honesty, without the need to pretend to be something they are not.

  10. The second video makes my skin crawl and my heart ache. Poor baby, and poor mom for not knowing any better. There is so much confusing advice out there, it’s hard to know who to listen to. I’m forever grateful I found this way of thinking early on, because I was very lost and confused myself.

  11. Oh wow. I’d never heard of the 5 S’s. I just couldn’t even… that was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen!

  12. I wanted to support what Rachel said. I have found the RIE /Janet blogs very inspiring but I too had a baby that was not happy for all waking hours not for 8 weeks but for the first 11 months- screamed and yet doctors said there was nothing wrong with her physically. I often felt in this first year that RIE did not apply to us, such as lying a baby down and letting it explore her environment. Often the only thing that calmed her was swaddling and shushing. I am sure this was an unusual experience as none of my friends had it as extreme and my more who has worked with young children for 30 years also said it was unusual. I guess what I’m trying to say is before you judge other people, walk in their shoes a bit. Many of us are trying to be the best parents we can but children are all different and different methods and approaches are needed.

    1. Jahlia, I have worked with many parents over the years who had babies that were uncomfortable and needed a lot of holding during the first several months. RIE is not about how often or how long a baby is able to play independently. RIE is about suggesting the possibility that infants can self-direct their play, while other approaches might assume babies need to be slung, carried, entertained or in seats and contraptions.

      Mostly, RIE is about attunement: listening to and observing babies in order to understand their cues, feelings and needs. In the video I’ve shared, the very powerful, influential Dr. Karp is demonstrating the opposite of attunement. This is starkly apparent to me. If parents see themselves in Karp and that makes them feel judged or guilty, I am truly sorry, because that was not my intention.

      1. Well Janet- you did call him “ridiculous” after previously saying his methods may have some validity- being a long term infant/toddler teacher and Childcare Director- as with most advice–listen but then go with your instincts, what works for you and your child who is as unique as the rest of us, and find a middle ground- Dr Karp isn’t nefarious or abusive- and it’s not like he stumbled upon his methods- think of the years of his life he has dedicated.

  13. As someone who tries hard to practice mindful parenting, I’ve found it helpful to distinguish between communications and “feelings,” at least as we conventionally use the words with/as adults. Very young babies are absolutely telling us something with their cries, and they should be acknowledged as people, but that doesn’t always seem like quite the same thing as them sharing “feelings”–at least not in the same way our friends share their emotional hurts and joys with us. A baby who is communicating, “I’m hurting or unsettled, please help,” may be asking for the help a swaddle or white noise provides, no? And a mindful parent might see that and offer that kind of help?

    1. Lindsay – yes, I think being mindful and attuned means being open to all possibilites (including the realization that WE can’t handle hearing the cries anymore, so we need to try to figure out something).

      The work I do has convinced me beyond all doubt that babies have many feelings to express. I couldn’t agree more with: “Very young babies are absolutely telling us something with their cries”. Often they are telling us they have a need we can fill (saying “help”), but just as often they are sharing “stories” about their birth trauma, overstimulation, something that scared them, or saying “please listen while I tell you that I don’t feel so great.” Cries always mean something, but are definitely NOT always a call to action…and that’s the common mistake parents make, which means those particular “stories” won’t get heard and HEALED. And when feelings and stories are unexpressed, that usually means there will be even more crying at a later time.

      1. Barb Rude says:

        Re: “stories”. Yes, this, many times over.

        I’ve noticed that my infant son needs to cry in my arms (usually winding down before a nap) after spending time with certain family members. I’ve come to interpret this time as him telling me/venting his frustration at the way they don’t understand his cues, or talk down to him. And instead of telling him not to cry (or that “you’re okay”, my personal pet peeve), I acknowledge his feelings and he calms himself down a couple of minutes later.

  14. The Karp video might be less offensive if he showed the slightest hint of compassion for the helpless human being he’s manipulating. Instead, it’s as if he’s working on a car engine…

  15. Janet,

    So happy you used the word attunement. This week-end I was reading from Daniel Stern’s books and he is very much about attunement in infant care. I like it so much better than ‘attachment’ which connotates a physical connection – with or without being in-tune with the baby.

    I have to say I could not watch the Karp video all the way through. Even though the baby was not crying, I had the same feeling in the pit of my stomach and the ache in my heart that I get when I see a baby crying or fussing and not being tended to – you know, long after your babies are grown and you are standing in the supermarket aisle bouncing away as a baby aisles away is crying and you are trying to somehow calm this baby from afar, heart rate sky-rocketing, arms aching to hold the baby?!

    There is some internal switch that went on when I watched the Karp video, saying – this baby is not being soothed or comforted but rather stunned or manipulated out of the state he is in internally.

    This may be a stretch but all I could think of as I watched was actually how dangerous this could be for a baby who is colicky. I know how frustrating it is when babies cry (my son was very fussy in his early months) and it would seem that tight swaddling, bouncing and loud shushing by tired, frustrated parents could go too far. Sorry but when I saw that robotic rocking of the baby – that just scared me.

    One thing I love about RIE and Magda’s philosophy is the idea that yes, the baby deserves respect – and while we of course do not treat babies as adults, I always wonder how I would like to be treated in a situation when working with young children. And while the practice might look different, the essence of how we treat our spouse, parents, friends, etc … is the same – respect and attuned to who the person and the situation is. I cannot in anyway way imagine wanting something to me that renders me powerless not just physically but emotionally.

    I feel as though what Karp was doing was simply numbing the child not addressing his needs. Just because the child quieted – I would have to ask why he was quieted and by what means?

    I always love learning by comparison. It is so clear by putting the videos side by side the difference and having each video standing alone would not have the same impact. One day if I ever have the luck to teach educators of young children (!), I hope to use comparisons to help bring home some of these differences.

    Thank you, Janet!

    1. You make many good points, Beth. Thanks so much for taking the time to comment!

    1. Jenna,

      Thank you for that link. I guess I have been out of the loop in the parenting realm – focused on education – for too long. I am rather stunned at not just Mr. Karp’s approach but his popularity. Really?! Watching that video was downright scary. And having the children dressed in costume to illustrate his point? I cannot believe the level of disrespect. This seems very gimmicky and nothing, as an educator, that I would ever see a professional putting into practice. It flies in the face of respect, and of being the adult meeting the needs of a child. The goal would be to see the needs of the child and guide him/her through the challenge or upset in a way that models respectful behavior. It would be comical if not for the fact that this is being fed to many, many parents. Confused and patronized is exactly right, Jenna – but it goes deeper than that. I worry at what parents are being asked to do in the hopes of being a ‘good’ parent.

      Again, Magda’s way with children is simply HUMAN and it seems so spot on for the way in which we hope our children will treat others which is really what we want for our children – to be kind and respectful not just to themselves but to others. This is the basis for humanity and I am not sure what Karp’s ultimate goal is.

      I hope this doesn’t seem like a rant – I think I am dazed and confused myself right now at what is out there for parents to consume. The debate when I was raising my children was whether to hold them or let them cry it out, whether to breastfeed or bottle feed. And that was less than 20 years ago.

      Really interesting discussion, Janet! Thank you, again.

  16. I am forever indebted to Janet and Magda and the entire RIE community. I love the approach and wished I learned it sooner than 11 mos for my daughter. I’m continually adapting to my daughter’s needs and her growth, all thanks to RIE. Likewise, she seems to be thriving as she is allowed to communicate her feelings without judgment and with respect from her mother and I. Not to mention directing her own play.

    My wife and I were fans of Karp, read the book before our daughter was born, and were ready to apply the 5 S’s from go. Thankfully (for us and our daughter) she was a happy baby and we didn’t do the 5 S’s more than a handful of times, usually getting no further than swaddling before she quieted. Knowing what I know now from RIE, we would have dropped every S but the swaddling as she seemed to enjoy it so much. I think Dr. Karp’s heart is in the right place, but like so many philosophies out there, I think it’s misguided nonetheless.

    Conscience comes into play at some point, I believe, and if parents feel their child is crying for help to fall asleep or similar comfort, I don’t think we, as a community, should begrudge them resorting to a gentler and more respectful version of Karp’s techniques. Especially if, in the case of a colicky baby, the parents’ nerves are fraying and they need to calm themselves by trying to calm their baby. Perhaps it’s better to say principles like Karp’s are better as a last resort when the stress of parenting is beginning to overwhelm?

    1. Why use it as a last resort if gentle rocking, or swaddling is what the child wants?

      Perhaps it’s better to say that not just these but ANY principles should be followed if it’s appropriate for the child?

      I tried to use a swing once and my boy had the same look Janet described, I snapped him out of there pronto. I couldn’t understand why my friends baby literally snuggled himself into it closed his eyes and fell asleep with a smile on his face. The same friend couldn’t understand how my baby molded into our carrier and went to sleep cooing while her little one screemed and wriggled before he was even in it properly it lasted about two weeks.

      Now my boy cannot be swung even gently in the air, hates it but he adores cuddles and snuggling. Her boy wriggles out of any hugs and cuddles and wants to be swung around.

      Some will say they have been ‘conditioned’ but it was obvious from birth which methods suited them.

      How cruel would it to have been to deny them the carrier, or sling, or any principle, and only use it as a last resort, and let them scream it out until then knowing that is what they want and that is soothes them?

      Some people love travelling on a plane and fall asleep, some have panic attacks and some are sick…

      Montessori’s words spring to mind here, ‘Follow the child’.

      That man is not following the child, but that does not mean that anyone who either rocks, shh’s or swaddles is not following their child either.

      1. Like I said, conscience should be a parent’s guide. Availing themselves to all the techniques at their disposal while conforming those techniques to their core philosophy allows any parent to adapt to their child’s needs while maintaining personal integrity and beliefs.

      2. In case it wasn’t clear in my latest response, I agree with you. I had said essentially the same as you in my first comment, only with an RIE audience in mind.

        1. I definitely agree with the gist of your post and feel in a similar position.

          I don’t know if I agree that any principle should be used as a last resort, I feel its better to work out what’s best for the child and follow them in finding out what it is and use that from then on.

          Some people go very attachment-parenty, then as a last resort do a Furber style cry it out. This post I felt was hinting at practising REI, and then if that fails as a last resort try some AP techniques. Both ideas upset me because I think that must be so confusing for a child.

          I just feel that that is going against the grain of setting boundaries and letting children know where they stand, and having consistency in how you approach things.

          Not that parenting styles can’t be flexible, I’ve found a mix of Montessori, Attachment and REI works amazing for us. But the parts I have taken from each of them have given me a general framework to work from, which is unique to our family and I know is not a one size fits all that would necessarily work with another family or other children, but once I step outside that boundary he feels it straight away and it upsets everything. It’s striking a balance, very tricky.

          However, I acknowledge we should be open to everything, especially when people are feeling frayed. I do feel though, that if there was less us vs them in the different parenting techniques that parents would feel more comfortable taking what works for them and forming their own uinque parenting style. I feel friends in the past have felt ‘stuck’ to the parenting style they have first looked at, and then like you say when things are frayed resort to something else as a last resort, and then either a) feel eternally guilt ridden or b) jump on the other bandwagon outright condemning their first approach as bordering on abuse. Maybe parents would find themselves less often in that position of reaching tipping point of using something as a last resort if the techniques were more open and adaptable.

          The last thing we need as parents is judgemental attitude, please forgive me if my tone is over the top. I genuinely feel these are important discussions to have in ways to move forward collectively as conscious parents, I don’t mean to pick holes in an argument but was hoping to have healthy open debate about ways to move forward.

      3. Catherine says:

        This post very nicely expressed my feelings also. Like others, I had a gut reaction to the 2nd video. Dr. Karp was not attuned to the child. He seemed very disrespectful. But I disagree that this means all his work should be condemned and that his ideas aren’t even worth considering. (Which, is what I interpreted the gist of the post to be). Having read the book and used the techniques, I was shocked how differently they looked in this video.
        I used some of “his” techniques in a way that felt Respectful to me at the time. Although I did not learn about RIE until later, I believe I was instinctively quite attuned to my child. I absolutely did see him as a full person from day 1. I took in many ideas about parenting and used them flexibly and Responsively.

        To pick up on another thread that has been repeated here, I absolutely always have treated/respected my son as I would want to have been treated in his place. That said – there have been many times when I do not feel completely sure that I understood why he was crying. Janet, I am thinking about your response to Jahalia. Perhaps I thought some cries were calls to action when they weren’t. I would love for you to use your blog to do more education about this. (I believe I have already read all the ones you’ve posted before about crying). How did you come to your conviction that newborns sometimes cry a LOT (mine didn’t) telling their stories about, for example, their birth?

        In a related vein (it’s about crying), I have a toddler now. When he is upset, I do my best to acknowledge his feelings and stay present with him as he cries. Sometimes I definitely see that this is what’s needed. Other times I simply trust that it is an appropriate response. Occasionally, though, my son seems to work himself up more and more and more. Eventually, I do begin to gently suggest other things he might turn his attention to. This is partly my discomfort I’m sure, but the reason for my discomfort is that I’m no longer convinced what I’m doing is beneficial. In my adult experience, there is a line between releasing feelings that have built up and dwelling on them. If I allow myself to catastrophize a set-back, I am being counterproductive. (Perhaps young children aren’t capable of this?) Also, there are more and less appropriate times to discharge my feelings. I am interested to know your thoughts about teaching young children strategies to manage their emotions (breathing, etc.) as this might be a better approach than the gentle “distraction” that I do. I’d also like to hear what you see is the trajectory from a toddler who expresses his emotions with tantrums to an adult who maintains composure and keeps set-backs in perspective? An adult (or teenager) who can observe his/her feelings but not be controlled by them?

        I have found your work SO wonderful. Thank you!

        1. Catherine, thank you for your openness. The best way to teach children to manage their emotions is to encourage them to express themselves fully — accepting and acknowledging these feelings, while we model emotional self-control. A young child’s lack of emotional control is neurological. The prefrontal cortex is not fully developed until adulthood and maturation cannot be sped up through our urging. But what we can (and often) do when we act out of our discomfort and impatience is teach children not to be comfortable with their emotions, which also impacts their sense of self-worth.

          Dr. Karp’s methods are an intense and extreme form of distraction…more like an sensory overload/shutdown. When parents attend to their infant’s feelings this way, they are far less inclined to feel comfortable with their children expressing feelings in the toddler years and beyond. Shutdowns and distractions lead to more distractions and “comfort” that train children not to express feelings in a healthy manner.

          In my view, the feelings children express are always PERFECT, exactly what they need to do at that time, for that amount of time.

          I did not say that infants cry “a lot” to share stories about their birth, etc., but expressing feelings that can’t be “fixed” is definitely one of the many reasons babies cry. I have witnessed this kind of crying during the parent-infant classes I’ve facilitated for 19 years. I’ve been blown away by the amazing ability babies have to self-heal, but only because in our classes babies are trusted to express their needs, rather than being (however kindly) shushed and shutdown because parents are uncomfortable listening to them.

  17. I first heard about REI from an upset parent who’s child had been badly physically hurt left with potential scars and the other parent had said ‘I let them work it out themselves, we practice REI’.

    Anyone can take a good philosophy and do it badly, even the so-called ‘child-experts.

    REI is a great philosophy and doesn’t need to stoop to this.

    That been said, so is attachment parenting, and Montessori.

    When all these great minds, or great philosophies start working together great things will happen.

    1. Thank you, Rick! I can’t tell you how grateful I am to be sharing this mission with you. Cheers, my friend!

  18. Lee Fernandez says:

    Hi Janet

    I am so glad you juxtaposed these two video clips. Every viewer will have a gut reaction.

    I went to a Karp presentation a few years ago at UCSF Medical Center. Curious to see the man himself and hear his words, I sat in the front row and was literally blown away by his shushing (and spitting). He was so loud I wondered about hearing damage. I felt like the baby in your video looked. My take away was how much “Happiest Baby” brand was for sale in the lobby.

    Responsive parenting is not about lock-step application of a method or philosophy. As you have said many times, it’s about being willing to look, taking the time to be with your baby, becoming attuned to this baby and also to your own needs. What I learned from Magda is how to begin to open my eyes to each baby and parent. Magda did not expect RIE to be the approach for every parent.

    Love the heart-felt discussion your blog invites.

  19. I don’t know what the phrase ‘colicky’ means but my 2nd child would scream the house down every night. We later learned she had a gut problem that was easily fixed. I had read this website prior to her birth and am so glad I did. My husband and I just took turns being with her, acknowledged her and let her know we could hear her and that we understood she was in a lot of discomfort and let her just be. I remember realising that if I were in pain or discomfort and someone Ssshed me or jiggled me about, I would feel completely invalidated and that it was no different for her at 3 months old. I’m happy to say that by 6 months the problem was solved and she is a bright and happy toddler who is a pleasure to be around. I wonder if things would have turned out differently had we tried to Sssh her up or minimise what she was expressing through her crying.

    1. KM – thank you so much for sharing your story.

  20. I am unsure how old this post is but I am just discovering RIE in 2016. My daughter is 7 months right now and I must say RIE sort of came natural to me. I always knew it was best to talk to her. I could always tell that she was aware that I was talking to her and she would respond if she knew a way. Now she does give lots of communication. We’ve even been doing EC and she has been using the potty at least once a day since she was 5 months.

    I have seen many videos like the one from Karp of someone claiming to be a “baby whisperer” with a way to basically just “shut your baby up” and honestly this just goes to show what kind of society we live in. Very disconnected we have become.

    I dont really involve my family with my child because my style of parenting is so foreign to them and I am constantly being judged and told that I will regret the way I treat my child. There was even a time when a relative of mine said “She’s not a person, she’s a baby!” Before she was even 3 months old I was told “If that were my child she would be more independent”. So I’m not surprised that people all over the country are treating babies this way, its very disappointing, but somehow we have been conditioned into this way of thinking.

  21. I wanted to share this video, which to me sums up how perception changes the way we connect with infants. It is in Spanish but It doesn’t need translation to be understood.

  22. As a new, anxious, unknowing mom, we followed his recommendations with our first born. Looking back, I wish I could change it all. I can’t tell you what led me to his book or what resonated with me about it. I remember getting strange looks from people when I talked about it. Putting our son to sleep always felt like a crazy difficult task. Now I know it wasn’t respectful or natural. I see lasting effects in him and I feel horrible for it. Even my therapist turned her nose up at me about it. (I no longer see her.) I am so glad to have found Janet Lansbury for her respectful caregiving recommendations. I’m hoping we can undo some damage and move past the guilt.

  23. Hi Janet,
    During my pregnancy, I read the book ‘Baby Knows Best’ which I thoroughly connected with so I was aware of RIE. However, when i look back to my baby’s first months life I have to admit I was introduced to the 5 s’s & used some of them constantly (specifically Swaddling and Shushing). I’m now back to reading your books and listening to your podcast (which i LOVE), and am worried I may have done some damage to my baby girl in those first months? What are your thoughts on that? She is now almost 14 months.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

More From Janet

Books & Recommendations