Respect at the Root

I hope this message finds you well on this gorgeous Spring day. And to my families who observe, I wish you a happy end of Ramadan and a joyful Eid al-Fitr! I’m starting some new classes in the upcoming weeks, and welcoming new families to existing classes as well, and that always gets me in the frame of mind to get back to the basics of this Approach.

I’ve mentioned before that the first pieces of advice I give are to slow down and tell children what you’re going to do before you do it…those are the two starting points for anyone coming to RIE afresh, or anyone needing a reset. But we can go deeper to understand why those are such good starting points.

While there are a full seven basic principles of RIE , I was once counseled (okay, more than once!) by my dear friend and mentor, Deborah Carlisle Solomon , to never structure an introductory workshop around those 7…it’s just too much she said. Instead, simply talk about respect and authenticity. And she’s right: when practicing this Approach, everything you do or say (or don’t do or say), comes down to these two fundamental elements. Let’s start with respect.

When I was first learning about RIE…which stands for the mouthful “Resources for Infant Educarers,” I didn’t know about the acronym. I just knew that the most fundamental piece of the Approach was ‘respect.’ I was genuinely surprised to learn that RIE did not stand for “Respect Infants Everywhere!” It had just been so drilled into me that RIE means to respect an infant. Even one of my first lessons (and one that I use regularly when teaching new people about RIE) is all about respect. In fact, why don’t you try it out right now…

Take a moment and think back to the last couple of months of your life, maybe the last year or so. Can you think of a time when you felt respected? Spend a little time thinking about that interaction. Maybe make some notes about what happened. Think about what was said to you and how it was said. Think about body language. Where did it happen? Did anyone overhear or see the exchange? And then think about how you felt…how did your body feel? What did you think? How did you feel about yourself? How did you feel about that other person?

Seriously…pause here and really think about it.

Next, go through the same process with a time in the recent past in which you felt disrespected. Ugh, I know. Who wants to go there? But I have a purpose for this torture, I promise! Again, spend a little time thinking and maybe writing. Who said what and how…how did you think and feel…and how do feel about that other person?

Okay, got it? Now, reflect…not on what happened or who said what, but on the feelings you had in both instances. Do you think your child can feel the same things you felt…again, not because of the interaction, but just the feelings…

When I do this exercise with students, I inevitably hear that the respectful interactions bring up feelings of trust and pride, self-confidence. They say things like, “I felt seen and heard.” Disrespectful interactions, on the other hand, tend to leave people feeling small, stymied, furious or embarrassed, unheard and unseen, dis-empowered.

I believe that babies can feel these things…and I do not want them to get used to feeling disrespected. And besides wanting children to feel self-confident and to know that they are seen and heard, there’s a lovely side bonus of respecting someone…most people report feeling really good about people who respect them. It makes them feel a little more likely to want to cooperate. When you think about someone who respects you, do you feel more likely to want to work with them? Yep, children do, too.

(Of course, your mileage will vary depending on your child’s age and stage, as well as whether they are hungry or tired or sick, or just plain out of sorts…but respecting a child’s mood and point of view costs nothing, and can very well be just the thing that helps.)

So that’s respect (well, as much as I’m really going to get into it today). I’d love to know if you did the exercise I outlined. Did you come to a different conclusion than I did? Did you reach a new understanding? I’d love to know.

And now, what about authenticity? Well, on the advice of another trusted source (thank you, my dear husband/editor), I’m going to hold off on that until next week.

After all, what’s the rush?