• Sophie Smith

Let them be and follow their lead

Updated: Feb 23, 2019

Learning about RIE parenting and how to respect my children and follow their lead


I remember an elaborate set-up with cardboard loo rolls taped to the wall and tubs of pom poms which I had spend ages sourcing. All the babies on Pinterest and Instagram seemed to love sitting and dropping the pom poms through the tubes and into the tubs. Not my daughter. She did it about twice before becoming enthralled by pulling all the tape off, and then sprinkling pom poms like confetti around the room, accept for one or two special ones which stayed in her mouth. And 5 minutes later she was bored and I was frustrated. There goes the special activity I had planned and all I had left was a mess.

I followed leaps and wonder weeks and developmental guides to know how I should be stimulating my child and what milestones she should be achieving. I was secretly very smug that she seemed to reach them all early - crawling by 6 months and walking at 10 months, talking and counting and drawing. What I wish I had realised is that I didn’t need to consult apps and books, my daughter had all the information I needed to know.



The second time around, with my son, I follow his lead. At the moment he loves putting objects in containers, and emptying them out again. He loves seeing a task we are doing and copying us. He loves carrying around a bucket or a basket. So I create simple ways for him to do this - a peanut butter tub with bits and bobs, a bucket with some balls in it, letting him help put away all the toys and books at night.


The reality is also that with a second child, especially when there is only an 18 month gap, you forget about milestones and focus on survival. While your first child had daily special activities and undivided attention, your second child often just tags along and tries to keep up. I was feeling so guilty about this until I starting listening to Janet Lansbury and reading about the RIE philosophy. RIE stands for Resources for Infant Educators and is a concept coined by Janet’s mentor, Magda Gerber which she shares in her book, Your Self Confident Baby.


RIE advocates for respecting your child, and that they will develop at just the pace that is right for them - our place is not to push them. No bumbos before they can even sit, or walkers before they can walk, forcing unnatural positions that they aren’t ready for, and abandoning the healthy positions which develop the correct muscles. She even states that the much flouted “tummy time” is unnecessary and that a baby shouldn’t be on their tummy until they can choose to roll there, and choose to roll back. This is what RIE is about.


This way of viewing parenting took a huge amount of pressure off me to stimulate my baby, rather I just provide an interesting environment with a few simple toys, and let him entertain himself, while I watch him with positive engagement but don’t feel the need to intervene or entertain him, and definitely don't feel the need to spend a lot of money on toys and gadgets. Not only is this teaching him to play by himself, it also give me an hour to have an encouraging podcast or inspirational audio book whispering in my ear, while I still watch and engage with him as he waddles around the garden.



Does this mean that you never do activities or plan to stimulate your kids? Of course not, but before the age of two, it is the simplest things which bring the most pleasure and benefit (I've even written a blog post with 60 simple activities to do with your toddler) And after that, believe me, your child will let you know what interests them. My daughter goes through stages - two weeks of puzzles, three weeks of painting, a week of bike riding, back to the puzzles for a day, and on we go. I have learnt to listen to her and follow her lead, rather than plan elaborate activities which she just isn’t ready for or really interested in. Yes I want to create all sorts of amazing crafty Christmas decorations with her, but the time will come when it is a joyful collaboration, and this year is not the year. We may settle for some simple salt dough and some paper bag stars and I’m sure she’ll love it, but most importantly, I won’t be annoyed about her messing it up, or not doing it right.


Just the other day, she asked to paint and so we got the wax crayons out to do the first layer, planning to paint over the top, and pretty quickly she became transfixed with peeling the paper of the crayons. This kept her completely absorbed for a good 15 minutes and it was far more entertaining than the original plan, not to mention the fine motor skills needed. I am realising that crafts with a toddler is a lot like life, far more about the process then the end result. I’m not aiming for perfect artworks, but for a happy, stimulated child.



Other times, I let the kids paint and anticipate the mess, and choose to let them do whatever they want. I have no expectations for the end result, the emphasis is on creating, not the creation. This last week I taped brown paper to our outside wall, poured out some paint, handed the kids a few utensils and let them do whatever they wanted to - painting the paper, painting the walls, painting each other, adding water, pouring water, paint brush in the nose. They had a blast, and I was totally relaxed because I had no expectations for a magnificent artwork.



Unfortunately, keeping everyone happy at the same time is rare. If my daughter has the crayons out, my little boy wants in on the action too, but true to his development, he is obsessed with tipping all the crayons on the floor. Sometimes, to keep the peace, this mean mom getting involved to distract him or moving Lexi up to the counter and out of reach.


My son certainly seems to have much bigger emotions than his sister, and part of RIE is also acknowledging and naming these emotions from a young age. Tears and tantrums are a healthy release for pent up emotion. I don’t want to discourage him from feeling and naming these things, God knows there are enough men out there who aren’t in touch with their emotions. Rather than distract him or shush him, I hope that by showing him that his big emotions don’t freak me out, and teaching him to name his emotions, and work through them, he grows into an emotionally intelligent young man.


Another big part of RIE is talking to your baby from a young age, and listening when they talk back, even if it's just gurgles. This talking and listening teaches your child respect from a young age. I have always believed in talking to your baby with real words, and assuming that they understand long before they can talk, and I have really seen it in actions and benefits with Finn and Lexi. At a year, I would ask my son to go to his chair for supper time, and he would, and then I'd lift him into it as we worked together. At 15 months, when I take his nappy off, I roll it up and ask him to go and throw it in the bin for me, or to go and get his shoes for a walk. He loves being told what is happening and given a chance to be involved, even though he can't talk yet. I hope that this encouragement to be an active part of our household from his earliest days will teach him to be an independent and proactive young man.


But for now he is my baby, running around the garden, feeding himself, and starting to talk, but I’m not so worried about those milestones now, if anything, I want him to slow down, stop growing up quite so fast, and come for a cuddle and a kiss.

The last thing I want to share with you is how learning to respect your children also means that you learn to respect yourself and install clear boundaries which teaches your children to respect you as a separate person with your own feelings and needs. You set the boundaries for yourself, and trust your child to understand and learn those boundaries. This has been such a relief for me these last few months, knowing that it is not just OK to set limits, it's actually healthy and helpful and teaches my children about self respect.


If this kind of parenting style makes sense to you and you are keen to know more, I can recommend a few books and podcasts:

- Your Self-Confident Baby by Magda Gerber

- The Unruffled podcast by Janet Lansbury

- Baby Knows Best by Deborah Carlisle Solomon

- Elevating Childcare by Janet Lansbury

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© 2019 Sophie Smith