RIE Parenting Basics (9 Ways to Put Respect into Action)

In recent weeks, several readers have asked me to write a post they can share with family and friends to explain Magda Gerber’s RIE basics. Admittedly, simple and succinct aren’t my specialty, evidenced by the hundreds of 1000+ word blog posts I’ve written, all conceived to be under 700 words. With that caveat, I will give it a try. (Feel free to skip to the bullet points at any time.)

RIE parenting could be summed up as an awareness of our babies. We perceive and acknowledge them to be unique, separate people. We enhance our awareness by observing them — allowing them the bit of space they need to show us who they are and what they need.

RIE parenting also makes us more self-aware. Through our sensitive observations we learn not to jump to conclusions; for example, that our babies are bored, tired, cold, hungry, or want to hold the toy they seem to notice across the room. We learn not to assume that grumbling or fussing means babies need to be propped to sitting, picked up, or rocked or bounced to sleep. We recognize that, like us, babies sometimes have feelings that they want to share and will work through them in their own way with our support.

We learn to differentiate our children’s signals from our own projections. We become more aware of the habits we create (like sitting babies up or bouncing them to sleep), habits that can then become our child’s needs. These are artificially created needs rather than organic ones.

In short, RIE parenting asks us to use our minds as well as our instinct, to look and listen closely and carefully before we respond.

Sensitive observation proves to us that our babies are competent individuals with thoughts, wishes and needs of their own, and once we discover this truth there’s no turning back. Then, like Alison Gopnik, one of several psychologists on the forefront of an exciting new wave of infant brain research, we might wonder, “Why were we so wrong about babies for so long?

Practiced observers like RIE founder Magda Gerber weren’t wrong. More than sixty years ago, Gerber and her mentor, pediatrician Emmi Pikler, knew what Gopnik’s research is finally now proving: infants are born with phenomenal learning abilities, unique gifts, deep thoughts and emotions. Pikler and Gerber dismissed the notion of babies as “cute blobs” years ago, understood them as whole people deserving of our respect.

Gerber’s RIE approach can perhaps be best described as putting respect for babies into action. Here’s how:

1. We communicate authentically. We speak in our authentic voices (though a bit more slowly with babies and toddlers), use real words and talk about real things, especially things that directly pertain to our babies and that are happening now. We encourage babies to build communication skills by asking them questions, affording them plenty of time to respond, always acknowledging their communication.

2. We invite babies to actively participate in caregiving activities like diapering, bathing, meals and bedtime rituals and give them our full attention during these activities. This inclusion and focused attention nurtures our parent-child relationship, providing children the sense of security they need to be able to separate and engage in self-directed play.

3. We encourage uninterrupted, self-directed play by offering even the youngest infants free play opportunities, sensitively observing so as not to needlessly interrupt, and trusting that our child’s play choices are enough. Perfect, actually.

4. We allow children to develop motor and cognitive skills naturally according to their innate timetables by offering them free play and movement opportunities in an enriching environment, rather than teaching, restricting or otherwise interfering with these organic processes. Our role in development is primarily trust.

5. We value intrinsic motivation and inner-directedness, so we acknowledge effort and take care not to over-praise. We trust our children to know themselves better than we know them, so we allow children to lead when they play and choose enrichment activities, rather than projecting our own interests. We encourage our children’s passions and support them to fulfill their dreams.

6. We encourage children to express their emotions by openly accepting and acknowledging them.

7. We recognize that children need confident, empathic leaders and clear boundaries, but not shaming, distractions, punishments or time out.

8. We allow children to problem-solve and experience and learn from age-appropriate conflicts with our support.

9. We understand the power of our modeling and recognize that our children are learning from us through our every word and action about love, relationships, empathy, generosity, gratitude, patience, tolerance, kindness, honesty and respect. Most profoundly, they’re learning about themselves, their abilities and their worth, their place in our hearts and in the world.

Note: these are not Magda Gerber’s official RIE principles (which are found HERE).

The outcome of all this? I couldn’t agree more with the promises Magda Gerber stated: “RIE helps adults raise children who are competent, confident, curious, attentive, exploring, cooperative, secure, peaceful, focused, self-initiating, resourceful, involved, inner-directed, aware and interested”.

But what I’m most grateful to Magda for is the deeply trusting, mutually respectful relationships I have with my children. Respect and trust have a boomerang effect. They come right back at you. As Magda promised, I’ve raised kids I not only love, but “in whose company I love being.”


In these two podcast episodes (from my series “Unruffled”) I share more about the first 6 parenting basics. The final installment in which I’ll describe basics 7,8, and 9 is coming soon!

To learn more about RIE parenting, check out these resources:


Your Self–Confident Baby by Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson

Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect by Magda Gerber

Pikler Bulletin #14 by Dr. Emmi Pikler

My books: Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame (both available on Audio)







My posts, especially Magda Gerber’s Gift to Grown-Ups and 9 Parenting Words to Live By

My youtube channel



(Photo by Mark Evans on Flickr)


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

  1. A simple hearty huge THANK YOU for this clear concise post!!! Excellent!

  2. It would be great if you could give some real situation examples if each? Thank you!

    1. Hi Andy! In the opening sentence of each of the bullet points there are links to posts with specific examples. For most of these topics I written many, many posts, so you might want to check out the drop-down under “Parenting” on my toolbar, or use my search function or tag cloud.

  3. Thank you Janet – the timing of this post couldn’t be better as my Bradwell Baby Cottage group is gaining ground! An exciting time for me. Sometimes I think you’re a mind reader with your posts!

    1. How exciting about your group, Helen! Your so welcome…and I’m glad to hear that the mind reading lessons are working! 😉

      1. Hi Janet

        I’ve been reading up a lot about the RIE approach and am now thinking I could apply this at home.
        My son was in an unfortunate position as a young child for which I left his father when he was 2 for domestic abuse. He would act out and lash out and would get very upset around strangers. He was diagnosed with apraxia of speech and attended a language school until 2015.
        This is no longer the case. He has become a confident little person amoung the family & community. He has a love of science, maths & being outdoors on bikes etc. My son is seven now and for the most part things are great. However I am hearing the You Must do this… or No we are going to do this… and while I am firm in my resolve and he knows this and does as he has been asked it is sometimes difficult. He also does this with his grandmother.
        My biggest concern is when he is angry or upset about something as while he doesn’t act out physically he is verbally aggressive. When someone cuts us off in the car he shouts & says they should have their licence removed or be chained and put in jail. I try to explain that people make mistakes.
        When he’s watching kids programs & someone hurts an animal he gets super angry again saying things that are violent. On occasion he has said things like stab them in the heart.
        I am happy that he feels so passionate about animals & wildlife but am concerned that what he’s saying is so violent and I don’t know if it’s something he will grow out of or if there’s strategies I can use to help him calm some of this anger he feels inside or if he will need more help from someone other than me. I am also encouraging more independence as until recently he has still gotten upset unless I sit at his door at bedtime. This finally seems to be happing less regularly.
        I also seem to be recieving a lot of attitude, which I figure may just be a stage. He is not having contact with his father & this is still an ongoing process. Please let me know what you think or can suggest.

  4. Thank you so much for this.

  5. What a lovely post. I resonated with the basic, “We encourage babies to build communication skills by asking them questions, affording them plenty of time to respond, always acknowledging their communication.”

    In my music practice, many parents bring with them a pressure to perform or make their babies perform. That assumed pressure sometimes tempts them to fill in the gaps for their babies. To relieve this, I like to encourage “purposeful silence” where the parents listen delightedly, with no expectations, even if the baby makes no sound at all. Thanks for the reminder that this is a basic communication skill!

    1. I love the “purposeful silence”, Ekanem. It sounds like our “quiet observation time” in RIE Parenting classes.

    2. Julia Cotterill says:

      Thank you for this post! I’m reading “Bringing Up Bebe” and I’m making so many connections between RIE and “the pause” Druckerman discusses. Do you see the two parenting styles as compatible?

  6. This is perfect. I usually don’t bother to direct people here unless they’re looking for advice on specific things like independent play or clingy babies… It’s too hard to explain and usually a single post doesn’t necessarily give a good idea of what it’s “about.” Could you permi-link this in your sidebar?

    1. Thanks, Meagan, that’s a good idea… I’ll ask my webmaster.

  7. Thank you for posting this!

  8. Bence Gerber says:

    Janet, I can hear my mothers voice when I read your blog. Your understanding and ability to clearly express Magda Gerber’s ideas is paramount.

    The amazing children you have raised are as lucky as I am. Clear and kind words of this and your other blogs read by your huge list of followers does more to spread my mothers wisdom than anything or anyone else. I am forever grateful to you.


    1. Wow, that is the highest compliment, Bence, thank you! Sharing the extraordinary, life-changing gifts your mother gave me is my goal. Feels like my mission in life.

  9. Thank you janet. Thanks a million! I work with infant and toddlers and their parents. This is such a great guide. A lot of hobg kong Chinese are beginning to come around to RIE. I will be directing them to your page too. What adifference we can make in the lives of many families here!

  10. I am just learning about RIE and this post is extremely helpful to me. My daughter is 6 months old and I made the mistake of jiggling her around to soothe her. Now, she won’t take rest on me. She has learned that when she’s with me, she should be bounced or moved about in some way. Interestingly, she snuggles with her nanny with no problems. Any suggestions on how I can break the pattern I created?

    1. Babies are able to make these kinds of changes with us, as long as we communicate clearly and support them through the transition, allowing them to express feelings like, “I want it the old way!” They have the right! Our confidence, clarity, communication, and acceptance of our children’s feelings are essential to making respectful adjustments. I would consider how you want sleep to go, and then make a gradual change toward that, beginning by doing a little “less” than you are doing.

      1. Hi Janet,

        It would be fantastic to get a little more detail on this as I’m having a similar problem. It would be amazing to see video clips of someone implementing this advice if at all possible.

        Thank you for your amazing work,

  11. Which of Magda Gerber’s two books you recommend is the better to introduce to new parents who aren’t already familiar with these ideas? Dear Parents or Your Self-Confident Baby?

    1. I recommend either of those books, Jennie. Dear Parent has more of Magda’s “voice”. Your Self-Confident Baby is a bit more comprehensive and includes several parents’ reflections.

  12. Juliet Wright says:

    what does RIE stand for?

  13. This all makes so much sense to me, but I was raised the EXACT opposite of this and it is not easy to retrain my brain. Most of this comes naturally to me, but I need lots of work in other areas. Thanks for the great post… it keeps me inspired and moving in the “right” direction with my toddler and infant 🙂

    1. I’m so glad to hear that. Your perspective is shared by many of us here. Welcome!

  14. Ruth Mason says:

    Janet, Wonderful, as always. I would love to see you share the Sensory Awareness Bulletin on Emmi Pikler as a resource. As far as I know, it’s the English language publication that has the most material translated directly from Pikler’s writings. I love it.

  15. Great post! We do most of these things but we have gotten into the habit of talking in a different tone to our daughter. As much as it comes out of affection, I want her to feel respected. Do you think she will react negatively if we stopped?

    1. Thanks, Kim! No, I don’t think she’ll react negatively… but I would acknowledge any changes you make, so she doesn’t wonder what happened. 🙂

      Remember that babies are ultra-aware and hear the way their parents speak to each other and everyone else, so it won’t be new for her…it will just be different from what’s usually directed towards her.

  16. I appreciate learning new approaches so much, and am grateful that some of these things my husband and I have done naturally. However, I am always overwhelmed with almost paralyzing guilt when I learn of something that I could have done much better in in an area that my children had already passed. Are these feelings normal? How do I overcome them?

  17. Janet, I am a Service Coordinator for an Early Intervention program in Missouri called First Steps. I have been reading your Facebook page for about a year and have found information that I can use with the parents that I serve. I am curious, though, and want to know if RIE Parenting can be done with all children with special needs since these children might not know how to do something and may need to be taught.

    1. Orna Gorosh says:

      I think the core of RIE is respect and sensitive observation which can be applied to anyone. Just enough help will be different to each child but the principle still applies. When my step mom was in hospice I was pleasantly surprised at how much my RIE practice helped me communicate and slow down with her and how much peace it gave her to be treated with respect and some dignity. It seems to me the practice of RIE is applicable to most personal interactions we have.

  18. I’m new to RIE and this post is exactly what I was looking for. I’ve been practicing AP since birth and this looks the right complement. Im struggling at moment with my 2.5yo son who seems no longer able to do anything without me and I’m getting increasingly frustrated, as I can’t literally turn my back to him 10 seconds or make a phone call without having him screaming ‘Mummy!’ all the time. I’ve just bought your book and hope to find some answers. Thank you for this post.

  19. Thank you for the post! It is so easy and clear to understand. I wish there is a Spanish version of this so that my co workers who are mainly Hispanics can understand 🙂 does anyone know rie articles in Spanish?

  20. Ana Carina Crnkovic says:

    Janet I really like your respectful approach on babies/toddlers/children naturally unfolding development. It pairs really well with the vipassana meditation technique I learnt : Nature will do its own role, your job is to observe .. very grateful my midwife led me to you. have a beautiful X-mas holiday!

  21. Brigit Mac says:

    I feel like I did really well with this approach when I had my first baby (now 2.5yo, a very spirited, sensitive and articulate boy)- I didn’t know what it was but when I read this I identified a lot that I did naturally. However with my second (11 months old) I am finding nearly impossible to really observe and understand her, simply because my toddler is so busy and takes up so much of my attention. My second baby is more content and calm by nature and because of this I feel like I pay her hardly any attention some days. Do you have any suggestions as to how to ‘juggle’ two children of different ages and personality types? I do not like feeling as though I am neglecting my second simply because she is less demanding.

  22. Jessie Groneman says:

    Hi Janet,
    I am so inspired by your blog! This perspective is so simple and so brilliant and SO NEEDED in the current parenting world!
    I live in an area where I would have to drive about an hour to join an RIE-inspired parenting group (which I did with my first child!). Now with my second child I have decided instead to host an RIE-like group in my home for about 5 parents and babies whom are good friends and have babies the same age (6-12 months).
    I am curious if you have any suggestions or support or resources that I can access to help in the process. My plan is to spend the 15-20 minute observation time and maybe if there is interest print out (or email) some reading material before each meeting to hopefully spark conversation before or after the observation time.

    I am sure you are busy so I will be surprised and delighted if I hear back form you!

    Thank you ever so much!

  23. I found your book “no bad kids very helpful”! Now trying to put it into practice with my 2 yo daughter

  24. These are actually THE 9 points for treating anyone with respect. Also, for being a good leader. Also, for conflict resolution:
    1. speak so it plays like a movie in their head
    2. ask for help
    3. be playful
    4. trust intrinsically motivated activity
    5. don’t use praise as positive reinforcement (to get them to be the way you want them to be)
    6. acknowledge emotional expressions
    7. define yourself authentically and vulnerably to the other
    8. establish conflict as normal and good
    9. be the change you want in the world

  25. JF Stover says:

    Typo in bullet point #4. . last sentence.
    Thanks, Janet, I’m a learning grandpa.

  26. أسماء الطيب says:

    thank you

  27. Monica Bhagwan says:

    My kids are way past infancy but this philosophy and practice resonate so much. I had to bumble my way through it and with lots of mistakes so I wish I had this guidance awhile back. I see now that my kids have become these remarkable human beings and I am greatful that I more or less did alot of this. I certainly don’t take the credit for what “I did”–I just believe that I wanted to let them be who they are. Now that I hit upon RIE as a concept, I look forward to learning more

  28. Hi Janet,
    I have been reading your blog for last 3 years and it has helped me immensely.
    Lately, I been introduced to right brain education through a Shichida website. I found it reasonable and amazing and scientific as well but it conflicts with some RIE practice . What’s your take on this? Thanks

  29. Ashley Burgos says:

    Thank you for your articles!

  30. Cynthia Cunningham Shigo says:

    I raised my own daughters this way years ago, without knowing exactly what I was doing. Now my younger daughter lives by your books and I am watching her raise our grandson with such respect for who he is and such love and joy. There is only one of these suggestions I have difficulty following, and that is in encouraging independent play. It is so much fun to play with him, and when I am watching him, two days a week, I have nothing else that requires my attention, so he has very little time to play by himself. Now he is 3 and he expects me to play with him. Any ideas for how to encourage independent play at this stage?

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