5 Ways to Make the Early Days with Babies More Peaceful, Joyful and Magical

As the saying goes, “Hindsight is 20/20,” and that is certainly true for me as I recall life as a brand new parent. I adored my baby girl but was lost as to how to spend the day with her beyond what seemed obvious: breastfeeding, snuggling, making sure she had a clean diaper, keeping her from crying, and doing my best(!) to help her get to sleep.

There were flashes of joy in the chaos (and a whole of lot of gratitude, always), but what I remember most was panic — feeling overwhelmed, overtired, and paranoid, hating myself for being such a failure at parenting. I’ve learned since that I don’t do well in unknown, fluid situations where I have to make free-form decisions. I’m the type of person that needs a plan.

Then I happened upon the teachings of Magda Gerber (a story I’ve shared in other posts). Her perspective was a gift that resonated with me deeply and gave me profound relief. I finally had the roadmap I needed, and this parenting thing began to click. My daily experience as a new parent improved immediately as my approach to the job shifted from one of dread to excitement and meaning.

The sole purpose of my blog and books (and now podcasts) is to share the gift Magda gave me. I had honestly never expected Magda and RIE (the non-profit organization she founded) to be appreciated and embraced so widely, and it’s especially gratifying when parents share the peace and joy they are experiencing by adopting basic RIE practices like these:

Communication

Talking to our babies person-to-person opens the door for them to participate actively in a relationship with us, learn our language and about their world. We’ll be amazed by how much they comprehend.

Cultivating free play

When we value our baby’s choices to gaze in a particular direction or explore her body, simple objects, or toys in the safe “yes” space we provide, she learns the joyful habit of self-directed play. Observing our baby’s explorations and discoveries is the good stuff of parenting.

Keeping it simple

A peaceful, predictable environment helps babies adjust to their new lives outside the womb, prevents overstimulation, and builds confidence. It also helps parents relax, let go and focus.

Observing

Taking a step back to observe our infant helps us to understand her needs, discover her personality, abilities, likes, dislikes, etc. Babies sense our attentiveness and that they are holding our interest, which builds our connection.

Trust. Breathe. Enjoy.

Amberjade:

Amberjade baby

I just wanted to share how wonderful RIE practices are working with my 2 week old son. He’s so calm and loving: during diaper changes, clothing changes, medical procedures, nursing, etc. He already seems to understand the differences when I ask him if he is ready to breastfeed or if he is ready to have his diaper changed! When I see him playing and looking around at light and shadows or lost in thought, your posts and methods help me to breathe and wait and enjoy the prolonged moments. amberjade husband

I can’t explain how much joy this has brought into new parenthood for me and for my husband! We speak to our son mostly in Tibetan (my husband’s native language), but we explain everything to him RIE style, and he already seems to feel our love and respect. Your writings have helped me prepare for my first child with heartfelt confidence, and I feel more capable and less anxious and am able to enjoy all the little moments together instead of panicking or worrying.

Melissa:

Because of your blog and the thoughtful reflection I have been able to do over the years, I felt relaxed and comfortable with having a baby. I felt like I had “a plan” of sorts, and that gave me confidence. I am so grateful to have found RIE before starting my family, and it helped us so much in deciding how to furnish our nursery and what items to purchase for our home. We have thoughtfully tried to lay out our house to provide a simple and safe “yes space” for our son, and we saved money by not feeling the need to purchase every plastic gadget, unnecessary props, noisy toys, etc… knowing that our child will sit, walk, and entertain himself in his own way and time.

Not everyone appreciates our parenting style or feels we are tending to our baby “properly,” but my husband and I truly feel that the RIE approach to babies and infants resonates with our beliefs, personalities, and the way in which we wish to raise our children. I am blessed with a helpful and wonderful husband who practices and learns RIE with me on a daily basis. At first, he was intimidated about becoming a parent as he had absolutely no experience or previous interaction with babies, and viewed kids as a nuisance. Since having our son, however, I have seen his attitude change as he realizes that our son is a unique and special person that we can discover and get to know. It is precious to watch them interact and enjoy each other. Each night my husband and I read something of yours together and discuss our thoughts a bit. It’s a nice way to connect at the end of the day and make sure we are on the same page. Often, we find that we already believe and practice instinctually many of the things you mention, but we weren’t necessarily being conscious of our intentions, and of course we can always work on our execution.

I am excited to see who my son becomes and what types of things interest and engage him as he grows. Thank you for giving us the breathing room to relax and take a step back as confident parents, trusting our child.

Every morning while my son plays independently at my feet and I eat my breakfast, I read your page and be mindful. Here’s a picture of my son, happily laying on some blankets staring at a ceiling fan! (Photo at top of page!) Haha! It’s amazing what simple things entertain and please a baby

One last thing I just want to share with you as an example: Yesterday we had a friend over who we had not seen in a while. The three of us adults were sitting on the couch together talking, and my son was playing on the floor at our feet. Generally he’s very good at independent play, so I was surprised that he quickly became fussy. My friend held him a little bit, my husband checked his diaper, we offered him a snack… each time he didn’t seem satisfied and continued to fuss about something. I tried to think about what it could be, and I realized that this was usually the time when we would have some “wants nothing quality time,” and that he may just need a little attention from me without sharing that time with our visiting friend. So I pulled him to the side, had a little time together talking and touching and not being distracted… only the two of us really engaged. It wasn’t a long time at all, just about five minutes. After that, I asked if he was ready to rejoin the others. He seemed satisfied. We moved back to the couch area, and he happily crawled off to play by himself in his own way. All he needed was that little bit of time, which allowed him to then separate and play alone. I don’t think I would have ever thought to try that on my own, especially as a new parent, but the things I’ve learned from you and the mindful RIE approach really help and work.

Audra:

My first baby is 7 weeks old and I have had several people comment on how relaxed I seem for a first time mom. While this isn’t always true, so much of this has to do with what I’ve learned about RIE. This morning, Sam played independently on the floor for a full hour and was SO happy doing so. My husband and I would check in occasionally to say hello and give him kisses (because we wanted to, not because he needed it). I am amazed at what he’s able to do on his own at such a young age, but I’m so glad I have trusted him to direct himself and communicate his needs to me from the time he was born.

Hsiao-Ling:

I want to share a magical moment with you….

I was a Nanny who was good at changing diaper. I was good at it because I could get it done efficiently, and at times, made a game out of it, so the children would cooperate with me to let me do what I needed to do.

Thanks to RIE, diaper changing is no longer a task, or about me doing something to the child.

In this short video, Ev was 3.5 months old (She turns 4 months old tomorrow!!). She had just discovered her hands, and rolled to her side a few days ago. On this particular morning, as I laid her down on the changing table, took off her wet diaper, and was about to let her know that I would wipe her bottom. She immediately rolled to her side while holding her hands together to look at something. Then, a string of cooing. It looked to me that she saw something new: shadow of her own hands on the wall.

I did not interrupt her by telling her I was going to wipe her bottom. Instead, I watched and marveled with her at her new discovery. I didn’t know how long it went on, she eventually turned to me, but with her hand and lower body still to the side. I said, “You saw something interesting on the wall. You were looking at it. I will wait when you are ready for me to wipe your bottom.” She turned to look at the wall briefly, and rolled to her back with a smile, as if saying, “I am ready. Change me, please.”

Someone once said, “Peace starts at diaper change.” Yes, I totally agree. It is a moment when I truly SEE the child, another human being, SEE the world through her eyes, and connect with her.

A HUGE thank you to Hsiao-Ling, Audra, Melissa and Amberjade for sharing your stories, photos, and videos!

To learn more about Magda Gerber‘s life-changing gifts and how to put them into practice, I recommend her books:Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect and Your Self-Confident Baby… and also my book: Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting

7 Comments

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

  1. Janet, can you clarify when to help a child vs. when to encourage him to do it himself? For example, my almost two year old has a stool for meals that he likes to play with after mealtime is over. I think he is capable of carrying the stool over to his play area but he always insists I do it for him. And what about during play? When we’re playing outside in his kiddie pool, for example, he’ll often insist I use his small cups to pour water in the pool, from cup to cup, etc. Or when he insists I take his socks off for him (when he already knows how). I’m confused because I know that occasionally kids need us to do things for them that they already know how to do (and also to be the directors of their play) but I don’t know when to do this, how to tell the difference between a child’s need to feel nurtured vs. him seeing how much he can get me to do for him, and how much of his play to participate in. Perhaps a good podcast topic? Thanks for all you do!

    1. My pleasure, Cara. I would help your child with the cooperative tasks, but not be his play puppet :). He’s exploring his power with you. So, I would not create a stand-off by refusing to help him with things you wish him to do, but I would definitely kindly refuse to play for him. “Ah, you want me to pour the cups. I sometimes did that, but today I’m going to relax and enjoy being with you.”

  2. Janet, your description of yourself “I don’t do well in unknown, fluid situations where I have to make free-form decisions. I’m the type of person that needs a plan.” That is me, exactly! I think that’s why R.I.E. ideas resonated so deeply with me right away. It offered a basic plan and a philosophy to guide me through the chaos, without offering too many details or “do this, do that”- so that I had to cultivate my own parenting instincts and wisdom. it was a perfect balance. Your blog truly saved me during that dark time almost 5 years ago. And now I’m truly enjoying the infant stage with my second. Thank you!

    1. Thank you! I am thrilled to be someone that helped you through your dark time. I wish you joy in your journey. x Janet

  3. Thank you Janet for your blogs. unfortunately for me I discovered your writing whilst my daughter was young but didn’t quite make the transition into doing this until a bit later on but I’m trying to ensure that my now 2+ year old has the benefit of this type of coaching. I only regret missing those quality times I had with her when she was younger.
    You’re making such a difference with your postings. Thank you! xxx

    1. Aww, thank you for your kind words, Rae. It’s never too late to embrace some of these ideas. I would only say that it might have make life easier for you to have this kind of support, but I’m sure you’ve done brilliantly raising your daughter.

  4. avatar Verona Hanlon says:

    Thank you for you openness& honesty & good to know there is hope for me yet – I lovedRIE for first child, but finding it so much harder to implement on the second because of the constant demands of juggling naps/feeds & play between preschool runs – physically & emotionally exhausting!

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