RIE Parenting: Can This Trend Help You Raise a Happier Baby?​

 mom talking to baby

Move over, attachment parents and helicopter parents -- the latest rage on raising kids has arrived, and it's called RIE parenting. Celebs like Penelope Cruz, Helen Hunt, and Tobey Maguire are all fans of the RIE (pronounced "rye"). The name stands for Resources for Infant Educarers, and while it's recently exploded in popularity, this philosophy actually isn't new.

Aonprofit organization by the same name was founded in 1978 by infant specialist and educator Magda Gerber and pediatric neurologist Tom Forrest. Still, though, what is it?


The basic gist of RIE: stop treating babies like babies -- meaning helpless objects who must have everything done for them every second. Instead, show them some respect! Here's what that means:

Rule #1: Explain what you're doing before you do it.
Stop thinking you're doing things to your baby (such as dressing, feeding, carrying him) as if he were an inert object. Instead, clue him in by telling him what you're doing before you do it -- i.e., "I'm going to pick you up and put you in your stroller now" or "I'm going to leave the room for a minute but I'll be back." You can even solicit your baby to help by saying, "I'm going to change your diaper now, could you stop wiggling?"

"I've seen 5-week-olds lift their bottoms to help with diaper changing," says Deborah Carlisle Solomon, former executive director of Resources for Infant Educarers® and the author of Baby Knows Best: Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child, the RIE Way. "For some people it feels peculiar to talk to a baby who can't speak back to them. But once you internalize it, it makes perfect sense. Babies can understand a lot more than you think."

Rule #2: Don't assume you know what your baby needs.
Your baby is crying. What do you do? You scoop him up to comfort him; only he cries harder. That's because you've ignored a cardinal rule of RIE: you assumed you knew exactly why your baby was crying without really giving it much thought, or reading his cues.

"It's important to respond to an upset baby, but it's really important that respond accurately," says Solomon. "One mom in my class kept on picking up her crying baby to comfort him, and I pointed out, 'what's he looking at?' He was looking at an object on the floor that he couldn't quite reach yet -- that's why he was upset!"

Moral of the story: if your baby's upset, try to ignore that raging impulse to swoop to his rescue. Instead, ask yourself why is he crying and try to read his cues, from his body language to his eye contact. You may not always be able to figure it out, but it's worth a shot.

More from The Stir: 5 Celebrity Parenting Styles That Will Surprise the Heck Out of You

Rule #3: Don't assume your baby needs "baby-specific" things.
High chair? Sippy cups? They may occasionally come in handy if you're taking baby out to a restaurant, but at home many RIE fans consider them an insult to baby's true capabilities.

"They presume babies are are feral animals that need to be caged and controlled, when that's not the case," says Solomon. "Babies as young as 5 to 6 months can learn how to drink from a cup. Adults also say that when they give their baby a cup, they're more attentive and focused on it, so babies learn faster how to use it, and what the house rules are. As a result, they're better behaved at the dinner table."

Rule #4: Baby-proof your home so you don't have to hover.
Sure, maybe you've "baby proofed" by covering the electrical outlets, and locking the kitchen cabinets. But if you still spend your days yelling "don't touch that!" or rushing toward your tot before he climbs up the shelves or tips over your TV, then your home isn't truly baby proof... and no wonder you're stressed out!

"An RIE playroom is one in which a baby would be completely safe if left in there alone, so that nothing in the area is off limits and the baby can be free to explore independently," says Sara Connolly, a pediatrician at Bundoo, a website that enables parents to consult with doctors online. "The RIE playroom has a few very simple toys -- no electronics or toys that require parental help -- instead of the mountain of toys that are typical in many play spaces."

"This is one of the RIE principles that people are slow to implement, but it makes such a difference when you have a play space that's 100 percent safe," adds Solomon. "One couple in class decided to empty their dining room of all furniture and put up two gates, and they said their lives had changed. They can finally relax!"

More from The Stir: Quiz: How Much Do You Really Know About Attachment Parenting?

Rule #5: Give yourself a break!
RIE parenting doesn't just help you cultivate a calm, competent baby. It also gets you off the hook from assuming you have to do everything for them, 24/7.

"Years ago a mom came to class with her son, and after we let our babies crawl around, she started crying tears or relief," recalls Solomon. "She'd been to a 'mommy and me' yoga class where they had to dangle things in front of her babies, only her son wasn't happy, and it didn't feel right to her, either. She said, 'I feel there's this noise about what I should be doing with him. And I feel so relieved to know that I can just sit here and enjoy watching him play and seeing what he's going to do.'"

By slowing down and just watching and listening to your baby, RIE parents foster the one thing all parents want with their kids: intimacy.

"Long ago, in my desire to be a good mom, I kind of missed a lot of what my son was conveying to me because I was doing, doing, doing," says Solomon. "But RIE helped me see there's no hurry, or reason to worry. A friend of mine was at a playground and her 3-year-old daughter had climbed to the top of some structure and was sitting there like a bird. She could sense other parents were wondering why she wasn't closer by, but my friend didn't meddle, because she trusted her daughter. And her daughter was more sure of herself as a result."

What aspects of RIE parenting do you practice?


Image via Tom Wang/shutterstock

Read More >