RIE in Real Life…Remembering What’s Important

Hello and Happy New Year,

I know, I know, we’re already two weeks into 2024, but I’m just barely wrapping my head around it. The last few months have been a whirlwind and the last two weeks were especially intense. It is one of my greatest pleasures to write to you all on a weekly basis with stories of RIE in Real Life, so I’m sorry to have missed my own deadline for a few weeks…it’s because I’ve been missing RIE for the last couple of weeks.

You see, I went home to Virginia to help my mother empty the house she and my family have called home for almost all of my life. And while I didn’t have time for much else besides sorting, packing, and reminiscing, I still had RIE on my mind…and in the middle of one particularly challenging closet my Mom said something that suddenly resonated. She said “hold on…slow down: we are so busy doing the immediate that we’re not focusing on what’s important.”

She was talking about what we were sorting and packing, but it made me think about life in general, and life with young children in specific. There’s so much that goes into caring for very young children…the diapering, the dressing, the feeding, and of course the cleaning up from all of the above…it’s very easy to get caught up in all of the task-ness of it all…the immediate…forgetting to slow down and connect with your children…the important.

RIE reminds us all to slow down whenever possible, to stay connected to the reality that the children we’re interacting with are whole people with points of view and ideas, and that when we make that connection, it not only feels good, it often garners cooperation.

There’s this activity that I sometimes do when I’m teaching a group of people about RIE. I ask everyone to break into groups of two, and then ask one person to help their partner put on a sweater. I tell them to do it as fast as possible and with as few words as possible. Then I time how long it takes. Not surprisingly, the person who’s being ‘helped’ to get dressed is not really that cooperative; nonetheless, it is usually accomplished pretty quickly. I then ask them to try again, this time slowing down and asking for cooperation. I time this interaction. You know what? The difference in the time is often negligible. And both people feel better about the exchange.

I’ve written about ​the reasons it feels better before​…what happens when you rush through a task is you turn the person you’re rushing into a bit of an object. And that doesn’t feel good for either of you. (Plus, it just feels nicer to be helped with calm, relaxed hands!)

Of course, that’s two adults…not a parent helping a child, but you might be surprised how much more cooperative a child can be when they are invited to participate…and you might be surprised at how little extra time it actually takes.

And while RIE is unique because we invite cooperation and honest feelings with babies and toddlers, those skills are by no means unique to human relationships…while I didn’t have any time with babies or toddlers on my trip home to Virginia, I did spend the week with my oldest niece, who’s 12. There were several moments of overwhelm for her, which I won’t get into specifically because I respect her privacy, but I can tell you that when I could calm my nervous system down enough to check in…to authentically empathize and connect with her, I was amazed and impressed at how swiftly she was able to re-regulate herself.

I shouldn’t have been surprised…that’s what we all need when we’re falling apart at the seams…someone who can put aside the immediate long enough to focus on the important. Let’s face it…the immediate will always be there, waiting for you. So let it wait, if you can, and focus on the important.