I came across that simple alliteration a while ago and it resonated…You can spot a RIE parent in the wild just by the way they talk to their children!

(The cover art for this article are the lyrics to a 1984 song called “Talk to Me” by Maggie Parker Mayall. You can hear it as you watch the credits to Seeing Infants with New Eyes…or you can click here to listen.)

This practice is about talking and listening. And, as the opening refrain implies, it is an integral part to raising children. Yes, children come to us with their genetic predispositions naturally (nature), and yes, the philosophy of parenting (nurture) you live by influences and interactions with those genes (and your genetics and the way you were nurtured influence how you are able to nurture!). But there’s this other level that’s so critical: narration. The way you talk to your child and to yourself, the stories you tell your children about yourself and your family…those are the pieces that fill in the gaps.

So much of RIE is about talking to children, and how and when we talk to children, about what we say to them. And it’s one of the first lessons of RIE I give to new families…the first being slow down. The second, tell your child everything you’re going to do before you do it.

This practice is both for your child and for you. For your child, it lends predictability and peace. They know they won’t be scooped up without warning; they won’t look up to find you missing. They learn the steps of routines and can participate more fully (or resist more forcefully!). For adults, it helps us both slow down as well as to tame our reactivity…as Magda says in her classic film, Seeing Infants with New Eyes, when we say what we’re going to do before we do it, “it goes through grey matter.” We think about it, instead of just doing it. (Of course, there are times when we are triggered and we say things we might wish to take back…). But most importantly, talking…really talking and listening…grounds the relationship… we don’t just talk, but we give space and attention to their reactions and to what they say to us: A mom with laryngitis messaged me this week to say that she realized that a lot of her talking recently had been, in actuality, not-listening…

It’s such a simple idea, but very profound, and it makes such an impact…Remember I mentioned that you can spot a RIE parent in the wild just by their words? Well, here’s an example!

We were at a restaurant and I brought my daughter in to the bathroom to pee. I was propping her up on the gigantic public toilet, helping to hold her little body balanced on there so that she didn’t fall in.

I’m in a rather uncomfortable squat, wearing a dress with long flowy sleeves, one of which I realized was touching the rim of the toilet (ICK!! But I stayed calm and present, thank you, RIE!). My daughter was taking her time, chat, chat, chatting away. We heard someone go into the stall next to us, which prompted some more narration from my daughter.

Finally, I realized that I didn’t think she was going to pee, so I asked her, “no pee pee, my love?” She said nope. And I calmly said something like, “ok, if you get the pee pee feeling again, just let me know and we can come right back.”

I didn’t think anything of this interaction, so when I came out of the stall, and the woman who had been in there with us said to me “you’re such a great mom,” I admittedly felt very confused, and I’m sure my face showed that. I was thinking, ok thank you but how can you tell by just overhearing in a bathroom?

She elaborated and said “the way you speak to her- the tone, the words you choose. It’s really very special.” And then she added, “I’m a kindergarten teacher, so believe me, I know.” Haha! And suddenly it all made sense and I thanked her so much for the compliment, and told her it really meant so much to me.

And it did. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was just so kind, and validating for me, but more than that, it sort of highlighted all that I’ve learned through RIE. And it made me realize, oh wow, we DO really speak to, and approach children differently. And I think because we often are in this RIE bubble, I don’t see it, because all of the other parents around me also speak to their children this way.

But you do speak to your children in a special way, and it does make such a difference. I see it, other educators see it, and your children are embodying it.