RIE in Real Life…Simple isn’t always easy

Slow down, and then slow down a little more.

One of Magda Gerber’s classic sayings. And, like all of RIE, simple and straightforward on the surface, challenging to put into practice…and downright magical when you manage to do it.

One of my favorite personal examples* of this comes from my days as an Infant/Toddler teacher…in those days, I wore a lot of very cheap shirts (no sense in wearing expensive clothes if you are going to be caring for infants and toddlers!) with simple cartoons/icons on the front…a horse or a cat or a pumpkin…something easily identifiable by young children. I developed this little back and forth game with one particular child on my primary caregiving team: She’d sit in my lap, point at the icon on my shirt and say “What’s at?” I’d look down, and say “Oh, that? That’s a [cat/dog/horse]” and then I’d sing a song about a [cat/dog/horse]. It was a daily thing, until one day I wore a shirt very similar to the one in the header of this post.

She hopped up in my lap and asked her standard, “What’s at?” And I sat there, mutely, trying to figure out how to explain tie-dye (fashion? 60’s? homemade??) for a few beats. When I continued to stay quiet, she looked at me and said, with a touch of exasperation, “Sun!” And then she hopped of my lap to do her own thing, leaving me stunned…because I’d never considered how my pink and white shirt really did look like a particularly stunning sunrise or sunset.

But that is an easy example…I was forced to slow down because I didn’t have a ready answer, and I was gifted with a peek into this child’s brain. It’s so much harder to slow down when your instincts are telling you to go, go, go! But the payoffs can be just as rewarding when you and your nervous system slow down…and then slow down a little more. For example…

A family wrote to me last week because they were in the middle of transitioning away from the pacifier. Their child, 2.5 years old, was doing okay with the transition, but really missed his pacifier at night, in particular. Now please note: this is not a story about the perils of using a pacifier, or an indictment on children older than this who still use a pacifier! As I told this family, I can’t tell them if this was the ‘right’ time to transition away: each family finds their own way with this…what I did say was that if they were confident that they, as a family, were ready to help their child let go of his pacifier, I had some simple advice:

stay with the feeling and offer comfort.

That’s it…don’t offer reasons or logic, don’t say ‘but’, don’t even try to supplement a new lovey immediately. Stay with “I know you miss your pacifier. This is hard. I’m sorry this is so hard. I’m here for you.” The pacifier was gone; he was mourning it…perhaps he was angry that it was gone…he was having big, hard feelings. And it’s tempting to want to say things like “it was bad for your teeth/you’re a big boy/you don’t need it/you have this awesome new lovey, etc.” But he didn’t need reasons or substitute lovies…he needed to be comforted for his loss. Change is hard!

The update this week is that this simple (but challenging) mantra…slowing down and simply staying with the feeling, instead of rushing through the feelings to their resolution, actually helped reduce the intensity of his tantrums and his anxiety. He began talking more, and the transition has been so much easier!

Slowing down is hard, but rewarding.

Another example, this one from class, a young baby figured out how to climb onto my smallest box. Hooray! He even figured out (accidentally) how to climb off of it backwards. Yay! But young babies actually typically prefer to go headfirst off boxes and down stairs (even though it gives us adults heart palpitations!): they can see where they are going! And that seemed to be what this young baby wanted to do, too. After maneuvering off the box backwards twice, he climbed back on the box and almost immediately began vocalizing and looking around. His Mom and I came close, lying down on the sheet so that he would look toward and move toward us there, on the ground, instead of looking and reaching up, where your only solution is to be picked up. It took a few moments and a few false starts…crawling toward the edge and putting his hand out, but not quite reaching all the way down to the ground…before he was able to make contact with the sheet and bring his other hand down, and then both knees…and then he went straight to his mother for a cuddle…before turning around and doing it again.

Lying there, watching her child struggle and be uncomfortable was hard! But so worth the wait…learning to move through struggle is so valuable…and learning to move independently helps children learn to move safely. But both require us to slow down.

Slowing down is simple, but not easy.

And though I think I could go on and on with this topic, after all, slowing down is one of the hallmarks of RIE, I think I’ll slow down and stop myself here. This weekend I invite you to find a moment (or four) to intentionally slow down. Let me know what happens.

*I shared this story in a “RIE Win” email from earlier this year, but I couldn’t find it on my website…that’s because I have a whole catalog of stories like this, just sitting in my email outbox (and gmail is totally harassing me about it!). My goal this winter is to get those stories up on the website! Stay tuned!

PS… As I mentioned a few weeks ago, my inbox is overflowing with gift guides and lists and I expect yours is, too. In case you missed this one, though, I wanted to be sure it stands out. Granted, I have not vetted this list personally, but it looks like the people who did are really thoughtful people…it is a list of picture books by LA authors, and what I love about it is the inclusion of so many diverse stories and pictures. If you have read any of these books, I’d love to know your thoughts…and if you get them for a holiday gift for someone you love, I’d love to know that, too.