There are 7 basic principles of RIE. There’s no particular order or hierarchy to them, and they are all part of putting this way of being with other people into practice. But, one of them (Basic trust in in the child to be an initiator, an explorer, and a self-learner) kind of supports all 6 of the others… it really all does go back to trust: you wouldn’t invite a child to participate in their diaper change unless you trusted that they would. You wouldn’t give them time, space, and other children to play with unless you trusted they could. And if you weren’t sure if they could, you’d observe…which would shore up your trust (or offer you the opportunity to instill some limits and consistency).
So yes, it goes back to trusting children…so easy to say, but sometimes hard to do. Like today when a child grabbed another by the shirt and almost pulled him over…but then we realized he was completely stoked to see that cat from the PUMA logo on the other child’s shirt.
(And yes, we offered another way to show his enthusiasm…). I really do trust that children want to connect with others. I start with that idea and that’s what I look for in their interactions.
It can be difficult to trust when we wait for children to figure out how to move…like one young boy who twisted and arched and wiggled and turned in circles for months before he finally figured out how to flip himself onto his belly (and well, having an energetic older sister who can flip you over anytime she feels like it probably contributed somewhat to that process). I trust that babies want to move, and will, if we give them the time and space to figure it out.
And it can be difficult to trust when we want children to cooperate and comply…like this morning when I had 3 toddlers in my mudroom, rather than in the playspace. One stood by the gate, working with the latch. Another scrambled up onto the redwood bench and swung his feet. The other sat pensively in a small Adirondack chair, his fingers in his mouth and his eyes far away.
I was excited for them to come in…today was the first day we could actually go out in the backyard…something they’ve been itching to do since the class started…and I was ready for them to come in so I could join the adults in conversation and observation. But they were enjoying their time in the mudroom without their parents, and weren’t inclined to give up their freedom so quickly. And since I couldn’t pick up 3 toddlers, I just waited. I got down on the floor and waited. And you know what happened? One by one they came…the one on the bench got a look in his eye and leapt into my arms, so I deposited him into the playspace. The one by the latch saw it happen and immediately climbed up to imitate. That’s two. Then the third came out of his reverie when he heard his mother call him and he came in, too. They didn’t come immediately, but they came in their own time.
Funny thing about trust…when you trust children, they start to trust you, and that’s where my last story goes. How do you trust your child to be okay when you know you’re going to break their heart? I’ve known the child in this story since she was just over a year old (she’s 3.5 now), and in the entirety of the time I’ve know her, she has been the most incredibly sensitive and empathetic child. So sensitive that her first RIE class only lasted about 30 minutes before she went home, and though she absolutely became more resilient over the months and years I knew her, she was always highly aware of the emotions of others which could easily overwhelm her. And if you’ve been in a RIE class, you know that emotions happen a lot!! Things like birthday parties, family trips, and big changes (like starting school) were often fraught. But there was one person that this child was deeply bonded with. One person who could calm her and always made her feel safe: her nanny. This lucky family found a special caregiver who just clicked with their child, and they attached securely and serenely. And for 3.5 years, this person has been a part of their lives, helping to add security and predictability to this family’s life…but lives change. And when this caregiver got word that her mother was sick, she knew she had to go. And not just to another city or even another state, but halfway around the world. This would be a pretty permanent goodbye. How do you tell your 3.5-year-old that the person who’s been there for them for their entire life would be leaving?
You tell them the truth and trust they can handle it and trust yourself to hold the space for all of the feelings, just as you have for their whole lives. Here’s what they did:
We talked about the upcoming change significantly the week leading up to her last day, and then had a happy party to wish her well in her new country, complete with decorations and parting gifts for both our daughter and caregiver. We assured our daughter that we would see her caregiver again in one week for a final goodbye before she officially moved. In the meantime, we had a few days with just us, then we brought my parents over and then had her new nanny start. The house was filled with love and support, and we made sure that her new nanny was doing new, fun and exciting adventures every day.
After a week, we had our last in person visit with her original nanny and with lots of hugs and kisses. Our child was fine (while the adults tried to hide all our tears). Since then, she asks quite often to FaceTime, which we do, and that relationship has continued to be strong, while her relationship with her new caregiver is steadily growing.
I’m so proud of our daughter, and I’m so thankful to you for your help. The whole process was a carefully planned symphony of events, but it all paid off. We were honest with her every step of the way, and I think respects us for it. We were expecting resentment for taking away her beloved caregiver, but she understands why she’s not here and she knows we’re not hiding anything from her. And, we’re seeing her experience new things and grow right in front of our eyes. Change is hard, but it can also be a good thing.
This story has so many elements of RIE in it…telling children what’s going to happen, slowing it down, and allowing for emotions and connection. In this case, the transition was beautifully smooth, but it could have been heart-breaking. We all want to protect children from the hardships of life, but hardships do come…and with honesty and caring and allowing for emotions, we all get through it.
Trust me, we do.
PS: People often ask me about where I get the toys and objects I use in my classes, so I’m building an Amazon storefront. There’s nothing there now because I’m still figuring it out (and Amazon is debating on whether or not they’ll accept me!)…but I thought I’d start with something that was wildly popular this hot week. I brought out ice for children to play with, and the shape that children loved the most was made from this ice cube tray. Children could hold it (or squeeze it and make it fly in the air!), and even in the heat, they melted slowly. Bonus: you can make ice that will fit in your own water bottles!
I also filled up a small bowl with water and froze these silicone pinch bowls and some nesting/stacking cups in ice. They melted pretty quickly and children enjoyed breaking the ice apart. Both activities should be well-supervised, but are a welcome and refreshing activity!
More recommendations coming soon!