Interview with Janet Lansbury on RIE approach

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On my personal quest for practicing gentle guidance with my daughter, I learned about the RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) , through Janet Lansbury. It´s basically about respecting and trusting babies as whole human beings and it gives us lots of ways to do so.

I´m happy to interview Janet, a RIE instructor for parents who shares all her experience in her blog. Janet´s posts, links and community are a great source for parents to build and maintain a good connection and use positive discipline with our children.

So, let´s get to it!

Janet, can you describe a bit of RIE, and what your work with RIE is about?

Janet: RIE is a non-profit organization founded by infant specialist Magda Gerber in 1978 that is dedicated to infants, toddlers and their caregivers. We provide education and support for parents and child care professionals.

Our approach is based a view of infants as unique individuals — whole people — and capable ones, too. We aim to treat infants with the same level of respect we would extend to an adult. We believe babies capable of participating actively in relationships with the adults who care for them, and help adults recognize a baby’s abilities.

The late Magda Gerber was my mentor, and since 1994 I have been a certified RIE instructor. I love teaching Parent/Infant Guidance Classes. The main thing we teach is observation, which is the best way to understand babies. Observing our babies helps us see the difference between our adult perceptions and our baby’s reality. It’s illuminating and endlessly fascinating.

In October 2009, my blog was launched. It is the first (and hopefully not last!) active blog about the RIE philosophy. I’ve been inundated with questions from enthusiastic parents for whom RIE has opened up a whole new understanding of their babies and parenting…and I’m  loving that!

How old was your daughter when you first approached the RIE parenting classes? What did you start to put into practice right then that changed your parenting?

Janet: I was a clueless, overwhelmed and depressed new mother when I happened to read a quotation from Magda Gerber in an article about children and creativity and was intrigued (“Take the mobile off the bed, take care of their needs and leave them alone.”)

My daughter was 3 ½ months old when I brought her to a RIE class. I had believed I needed to provide non-stop amusement and entertainment for her during her waking hours, to ‘stimulate’ her, which had been exhausting and crazy-making (for her, too, I imagine!). In the class I was asked to try placing her on her back on a blanket and just sit nearby. I was completely blown away when she was occupied with her own thoughts for almost 2 hours, perfectly content. (I write about this intro to RIE in Blue Sky Thinking.)

I immediately went home and began arranging our life around making lots of time each day for my baby to engage this way — “uninterrupted play”, as Magda Gerber called it. Watching my daughter gave me joy — made me excited about parenting!

I read in one of your posts that Magda Gerber didn´t believe in time outs. What´s the most appropriate way to control a child´s behavior? Or how does the RIE approach handle children´s challenging behavior?

Janet: First, as parents, we must know in our hearts that we are in control, and our children need to feel that we are, too. We don’t break our child’s spirit by saying “no” and clarifying what he is or isn’t allowed to do. Misbehavior is usually a child’s way of telling us he is tired, needs more attention or more clarity. Children need to learn self-control, and they do that when we give them guidance kindly, patiently and confidently.

Time out is a punishment that doesn’t teach a child correct behavior. All the child learns is “I did something bad.” Our children need to know what we expect. They need “time in”. They need teachers, not enforcers. So RIE suggests keeping it simple, fair and honest, and explaining the logical consequence for a child’s action, i.e., if you throw your food down I will put the food away and we will be finished with lunch. I don’t want you to throw the toy truck. If you can’t play with it safely, I will put it on the shelf. If you refuse to get dressed, we can’t go to the park today.

The key is to stay calm, confident and feel on top of the situation. These very small people seem HUGE to us sometimes, especially if we give them too much power. We are the ones in charge, and our children need us to be. How can they feel secure if we bend to their wishes to prevent them from crying, or if they can make us angry or upset so easily? (I detail this approach to discipline in my most popular post No Bad Kids – Toddler Discipline Without Shame)

How do you educate a parent in educating children? Can you talk a bit about your work along the parents?

Janet: One of the most brilliant things Magda Gerber taught me was to trust infants and toddlers to be self-learners. That was the lesson I gained in my first RIE class, and it is the basis of what I teach parents for the two years they attend our classes. Babies will seek out exactly what they are ready to learn if we allow them to. They always do what they are capable of doing and ready to do. And this is a big relief for parents, because it means we don’t have to teach. If we provide a physically safe, emotionally nurturing and cognitively challenging environment, we can leave the rest up to our child.

We encourage parents to observe their babies in our class and at home. When we observe, we recognize and appreciate all our children are doing, rather than focusing on the next milestone and worrying that our child hasn’t achieved what  so-and-so’s baby has.

What´s the biggest difficulty parents have when starting to use the RIE approach?

Janet: It’s tough for all of us to change habits we’ve begun with our baby, but not nearly as difficult as we fear it will be. For example, parents learn in our classes (through observation) that placing an infant in a sitting position actually restricts movement and therefore interferes with the development of motor skills. But as long as the parent is still holding on to the old way, it’s hard to for the child to feel content in the back or tummy position. Once the parents take a leap of faith and commit to a change, transitions are much easier than parents expect.

Can a parent be too late in adopting the RIE approach? If you don´t start while your child is an infant, can you still introduce the RIE approach?

Janet: No! And YES, absolutely! For example, here’s a post about encouraging independent play with an older toddler: Solo Engagement – Fostering Your Toddler’s Independent Play.

I´d only like to add that the comments on this post you mentioned are really worth reading too.

What simple advice you can give us about parenting?

Janet: It’s hard to resist answering this with some famous Magda Gerber mantras… “Pay attention.” “We all need someone who understands.” “Do less, observe more, enjoy most!”

Sounds like the best parenting advice for meThank you Janet, for talking about your beautiful work with us here.

This article was originally posted on Tripping Mom by Marilia Di Cesare on February 24, 2011. Republished with authorization. Click here for all other posts.

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