Authenticity and Play – A RIE Chat Summary

(Beginning in mid-March 2020, when the world shut down, I began a bi-weekly conversation with the parents who had been in my RIE classes. Since not every family could make it to these conversations, but each conversation touched on important elements, I would often write up a summary of the conversation. What follows is one of those summaries.)

Just one call this afternoon, but that’s okay…I’ve said it many times before and it continues to hold true: I hold the space so you know you can come…ask questions, share stories; so we can worry together, laugh together, enlighten each other…share the load a bit, I hope. And I hope that even if you don’t join a call, you still feel supported.

I used the morning to reflect on and continue to prepare for my upcoming online courses…I’ve been wrapping my mind around how to explain this work that very much needs to be experienced in person through a computer screen. It won’t be perfect. There will be exercises I’ll have to modify or skip; there will be observations that may not be made, or that will be made and discussed in retrospect instead of in the moment…and yet I’m coming to terms with that and even coming to appreciate it in a way. You see, I had a bit of an epiphany today:

My sister-in-law invited me to a virtual dance party between calls (I’m actually QUITE grateful no one hopped on the call right at one because they would have thought there was something wrong with their screen as my cheeks were strawberry red!). It was silly and fun and for a very good cause (all proceeds donated to Black Lives Matter), but as I was grapevining and Temptaioning, I started to remember that I loved dancing as a child, but didn’t do it very much because I wasn’t “good.” Turns out, I’m still not “good” (trust me, I will not be winning “So You Think You Can Dance”), but I have fun. I do it my way, and yes, I follow along and am very grateful for the guidance and instruction, but my style is uniquely mine.

That’s how RIE is practiced as well: there are guidelines and principles, but the expression of it needs to be authentically you. No matter the format, no matter the class, the heart of this work is about developing relationships, and that has to be done at the individual level. I can’t tell you exactly what to say, and I wouldn’t dream of telling you exactly what to do…that wouldn’t be authentic to you. RIE provides the framework, I provide the sounding board and suggestions, and you take them into your heart and home and figure out how to express your own version of RIE. It is a universal struggle for all parents to find their voice (it’s one thing to be an adult and an entirely new thing to be a parent), but RIE offers you the gift of finding your voice…not your parents’ voice, not your friends’ voice, not society’s voice…your authentic voice.

Authenticity is a gift that you give to your children, too, starting when they are babies on their backs…allowing them the time and space to figure out how to roll over on their own, to reach for a toy just out of reach…to learn at an early age what it is to struggle for a goal, and to achieve it all on one’s own. To know that feeling of self-satisfaction and achievement and to have them know it as a part of their psyche, as a part of themselves, from the first. That’s a hard muscle to build for caregivers: we want to make children’s lives easier, to erase struggle and ease frustration…and in truth, we absolutely should do those things, it’s part of what we do for those we care for, when we can…but part of caring for children is preparing them for life’s challenges so that they can meet them, even when we aren’t right there to help them. And they’ll be able to do that, partly because they have been practicing, and they look to themselves first to solve a problem…and partly because they’ve been supported and cared for by someone who loves and encourages them, who lets them struggle when they can, but who steps in and helps when they are too tired or too frustrated.

You also give them that gift when you allow them time for uninterrupted…and unstructured…play. Young infants need the time to discover their body…their hands and their arms, their legs and toes…time to discover the world around them like the way the shadows move across the room or the breeze moves the curtains. And even as children get older and you begin to introduce toys and expand their playspaces, continue to practice sitting back and giving children time to play and explore uninterrupted as much as you can…this allows children the opportunity to follow their own leads and discover what interests and excites them. This is another tough one for caregivers…children are so social and all they want to do is figure out this world and especially the people in it, they will (and can and should*) draw you into their worlds. It can be so easy to slip into teacher mode (this is the red cup?) or playmate (oh you’re talking on the phone? Is that Granma; can I talk to her?) or the director of their play (let’s stack all of these blocks up!), but I encourage you to resist the urge and instead simply comment on what they are doing briefly when they bring you in, otherwise, try to be a fly on the wall. Trust me, you will be surprised at what they know and what they discover. As Magda said, quoting Piaget…when you teach a child, you forever take away their opportunity for learning it for themselves.

*I want to add the caveat here that unstructured free play is an important part of a child’s life, and it’s something we practice in RIE classes and I ask parents to practice at home some of the time. As mentioned, children are absolutely social and want to draw you into play, and that’s healthy and appropriate and you absolutely should play with your children! I just also ask you to try to carve out some time to sit back and let them play without you, too. And I REALLY encourage you to draw on your child’s innate sociability whenever you are providing care for them.

Speaking of play, though, the parent I talked to today reminded me of the google doc of toddler play activities I created back in March. To be honest, I’d forgotten about it, and maybe you have, too. It’s a great resource, and I invite you to take a look and please feel free to add to it!! I’ll also point you to my RIE toy album, which you can also add to…pictures of RIE toys I use in my classes to give you inspiration for expanding your own toy collection. (Pst…I’m also going to start selling RIE toy starter kits soon…keep your eye out!)

Lastly, she brought up something that I’ve been hearing here and there as well…she’s looking to slowly open up her social circle for her toddler. I know not everyone is there yet, and that’s okay (on a personal level, I’m still pretty skittish of groups, even socially distanced ones)…but if YOU are looking to expand your circle a little, you can feel free to write to me and I’ll be your matchmaker!

I want to close by bringing the conversation back to authenticity. Magda famously said, if you want to raise authentic children, you must work on your own authenticity. And as the parent I talked to this afternoon said, it takes vulnerability to be open to learning. For that vulnerability you entrust to me, I thank you.

Wishing you all a peaceful weekend.


41. Finding Balance

There are so many paradoxes in parenting
that it is difficult to find balance.
Some don’t even try.
They just plunge ahead,
ignoring the subtle whispers of wisdom.
Others try half-heartedly,
but resort to old methods
when they get confused.
But some hear wisdom’s quiet voice
and make it their own.

They find strength in softness,
power in flexibility,
perfection in mistakes,
success in failure,
clarity in confusion,
and love in letting go.
Parenting paradoxes abound.
Don’t let appearances deceive you.
Things may not be at all as they seem.
What’s going on with your children right now?
Are you sure?
Or are you just making assumptions?
Buried in the most difficult of times
are polished gems.
Lurking beneath serene surfaces
lie turbulent waters.
Stay balanced.