I woke up early the other morning and I (engaged in the downright terrible habit that I truly need to break…) I grabbed my phone and started scrolling. It was a reel, or a post, or video…I don’t know what anymore, but I jotted down the words above after watching something. Then, I put my phone away, got ready, and rushed out to meet a friend for coffee.
But the words kept reverberating. I wanted to go back to the source, but the source is gone…the algorithm gods didn’t deign to lead me back. Oh well. The reason I captured those words is because they so clearly encapsulate the essence of RIE for me.
RIE starts with Care. With conscientious care, we build Trust. Trust is protected by Boundaries. Boundaries aren’t rigid, but Balanced…to create a Partnership. And in true partnerships, we care for the other…which builds trust, protected by balanced boundaries, sustaining the partnership, and leading to Real Relationships.
And you may think I am talking about the adult-child relationship. And to a great extent, I am. The way children experience our love is first through our care. It is how they build trust with us…and when we are observant and involve children in that care, we start to build trust in them and in their capabilities. We demonstrate our boundaries (I need you to roll over for this diaper change…I won’t let you throw your food) …they demonstrate theirs (rolling over is what my body needs to do…tossing food is interesting). We meet somewhere in the middle, balancing…sometimes more on their side, often more on ours, at least at first. And slowly, that partnership, that authentic relationship, is formed and grows.
But let’s think about these words in the context of their peer relationships…other children in class or in the park or in their own family. We want children to have real relationships with those people, too. And as vitally important your relationship is with your child, I believe it is equally vital that children grow into having real relationships with one another.
Looking at it through the context of those six words, we want children to notice and Care about what other children are experiencing. This one’s easy: humans are deeply social creatures. Even in my youngest baby classes, babies are intently interested when another child cries or moves…and absolutely when others come near. As they get older, children absolutely start caring (and deeply) when other children take toys they are interested in, when others want to get in the boat with them, when they want to climb on the triangle by themselves.
This next one is harder…we have to start to build Trust that children can interact with and learn from one another. We have the strong impulse to jump in and solve children’s problems…or the problems we perceive children are having. Even very young babies can be trusted to come close to one another, to touch and explore the other person…and trusted, most assuredly, to authentically let the other person know if they need space. And it gets harder still when we see children take toys from others who really wanted to hold on to them. We have to trust that the child who did the taking will see and feel the impact, and trust that the child was taken from will learn coping strategies when they are upset and figure out new ways to hold on in the future, or get things they really want back.
Of course, this doesn’t happen as a free-for-all. Indeed, it’s kind of funny that people think about teaching sharing as if it is an all-or-nothing approach: either we manage it entirely or it’s Lord of the Flies! No, we are there to hold the Boundaries. We keep children physically safe by not allowing children to hurt one another. We keep them emotionally safe as we talk about what happened and empathize with their feelings (both children’s feelings…big feelings come up for both children!). And there may be times that we may physically set a boundary…we might help a child hold onto a toy (if they have repeatedly had something taken away) or we might physically remove a child who is having trouble not using their hands to get what they want. But as much as possible, we want the children to set their own boundaries when it comes to conflicts…sometimes it just isn’t worth the fight to go after a toy when someone takes it from you, sometimes you find something else to do, sometimes you simply sit and bide your time.
You see, the more you do this…keep children physically and emotionally safe (yes, emotionally safe, even in the midst of upset)…the more you allow children to work through their own conflicts with each other…to really see and feel what the other person is feeling, the more they will start to learn the lessons on their own. I guess it cycles back to trust: I truly believe that not only are humans deeply social, but that we want to get along with one another. It doesn’t feel good to be the one who takes, the one who upsets others. And when adults can stay back, simply narrating what is going on, children will so very often figure out how to make amends. How to bring back Balance to their relationship with their peers.
Children easily slip into Partnership with other children, and when we guide with a light, observant touch, they can start to have Real Relationships with each other.
Let me give you a quick example…in a recent class, a child became enamored with the two child-sized pool rings I put out in the play space. (Side note: toddlers love large objects that they can carry around!). She happily embraced the challenge of figuring out to hold both of them, to swing them around. She put them on the ground and stepped into them. She lifted them above her head, and put one of them over her mother’s head. She was delighted. Not too surprisingly, another child noticed her fun and rushed over to take them from her. She was crushed. She cried, she turned for comfort from her mother. The other child watched…for a moment (he cared!) and then he continued on his merry way with the rings before dropping them and forgetting them. She retrieved them. He took them. This repeated several times. Each time, I narrated for both of them… “she was holding them. She didn’t want to let them go. You really wanted them, too. You have them. She’s crying.” I trusted that he was taking in her discomfort. And just when I was ready to step in with the boundary of helping her hold on…the balance shifted. She simply offered him the rings. He didn’t know what to do. He held them, kind of confused. Then dropped them. Later, the two of them played with some stacking cups, he started to take them…she quickly started filling his hands with more cups than he could hold! She repeated this tactic several more times in the class.
It was the start of a partnership between the two of them. It’s definitely a little uneven at the moment, but listen…are all of YOUR relationships always equally balanced or do they ebb and flow? So will theirs, as their real relationship continues to grow.
Have a wonderful weekend!