Sunday, July 31, 2011

How Doing Less Could Make You A Better Parent

Last week I had the great pleasure of observing one of Janet Lansbury's RIE classes here in Los Angeles. I have known of RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) since my kids were very little, but never really delved into it or understood what drew people to it until I met Janet and another colleague of hers, Lisa Sunbury, last year. Both Janet and Lisa studied with the founder of RIE, Magda Gerber, and are passionate advocates for children. I have learned a great deal about respectful interactions with children by paying close attention to what these two remarkable women share on their blogs and elsewhere.

As I sat in Janet's bright, spacious classroom I noticed a sign on the wall which read:

The goal of RIE is to raise authentic infants who are:
Competent      Confident
Focused      Aware
Peaceful      Secure
Inner-Directed      Attentive
Involved      Curious
Cheerful      Exploring
Cooperative      Interested
Resourceful      Initiating
Well, who wouldn't want that for their child? This sounded pretty great! So I settled in and watched, notebook ready to write down all the ways in which one accomplished these goals! You know me, I love being able to put things into practice after a good class. After a few minutes I realized this class was going to be different. On the outside it seemed as though nothing was happening. The adults simply sat along the wall and watched the babies crawl about the thoughtfully laid out toys. Occasionally, Janet would quietly comment when a baby showed her something they had found, now and then she would extend a hand to protect a child who looked as though he might topple off something he had crawled on to. But there was very little "action" from adults, just a whole lot of observation.

As I watched the children moving about the room, I was struck by how much I noticed their emerging "people-ness" (if that's even a word). That is, without parents' over-involvement, or need to intervene, it was quite clear that these 14 - 18 month old babies were less "baby" and more "person". I could see how all of those words on that list on the wall applied to each of the 6 kids in the room.

Open ended toys allow children
to use them in myriad ways. Especially
when adults keep from instructing.
I loved how no one encouraged the child who was hanging back to move out into the room before she was ready. No one stopped any of the children from picking up, mouthing, banging or piling up any of the toys. No one told the child with the plastic basket on her head that it wasn't for wearing, she was just allowed to figure it out for herself how she wanted to use it. Each child was doing his or her own thing and by simply observing I could see the curiosity, silliness, inventiveness, and ability to discover that each child has. 

The other aspect of RIE that struck me was this idea that our children are so much more capable than we give them credit for. There is less need than we think to jump in to fix things, less need to "help" our kids, less need to teach. Janet recently wrote a terrific post on her blog called The Parenting Magic Word (10 Ways To Use It). What was that word, you ask? Wait. Yes, wait. And I watched as Janet did this, time and again, in this class.

Wanting to help our child is normal, but if
we were to wait a beat, perhaps she might
learn something valuable we could never teach.
Two children toddled out on to an outside deck and began to remark that it was "hot" on the floor. So many parents would have rushed to put on the child's shoes, or remove the child from the area, but Janet and the parents in the class listened and watched as one girl went back and forth from the cool floor of the indoor classroom to the warm wood of the outdoor deck, discovering the difference for herself. Later, another girl discovered a large circular hole in one of the play cubes and managed to wedge herself into it in a half sitting, half falling position. Her reaction was not one of panic or fear, but rather that she was noticing the fact that she was stuck and, perhaps, uncomfortable. As Janet sat next to her, ready to assist, the girl figured out over the course of a minute or two, how to get herself out of the predicament she had found herself in. It would have been so easy for an adult to misread the child's cues if they had not been quietly observing. And had a grownup simply reached in and gotten the girl out, nothing would have been learned. But by waiting, this child developed a sense of confidence that she was quite capable of helping herself. 

For 90 minutes I watched 6 children who were never bored, had no need to be "entertained" by adults, enjoyed the few open ended toys in completely novel ways and never once cried. At the end of the class I wrote a note to myself: "Why rush through things? Have no agenda - it's all part of play and learning". How much that attitude would help when it comes to power struggles and tantrums!

If you would like to learn more about RIE, I highly suggest checking out Janet Lansbury's blog, Elevating Childcare or the official RIE website.

I wish I had understood RIE better when my kids were really little. I followed it, loosely, without knowing it, in certain ways. But I wish I had understood that I could build my children's confidence and resourcefulness by doing less and observing more! What about you? Do you follow RIE? Does the idea of it resonate for you? I'd love to know your thoughts.

Thanks for reading!

The Twin Coach
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