What Is RIE Parenting?

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Whether you're the mom of a newborn or a parent of a toddler, it can be overwhelming to realize that you are now responsible for another human being. For this little one, you are the center of their universe. Everything they need—whether that is food, safety, love, learning, or comfort— is supplied by you. That is a tall order when you really think about it.

For this reason, proponents of RIE Parenting encourage parents to involve their babies in their own caregiving from the very beginning in order to take some of the pressure off of the parents. This begins by talking to your baby and treating them like a dignified person rather than a helpless infant from day one.

History of RIE Parenting

RIE, which stands for Resources for Infant Educarers and is pronounced "rye," is a parenting philosophy developed in 1978 by baby specialist, Magda Gerber, who urges parents to interact with their babies as unique human beings.

The RIE parenting style has been growing in popularity in recent years in reaction to helicopter parenting and lawnmower parenting, which tend to be more controlling parenting styles. The basic premise of RIE suggests that parents need to trust that their infants and toddlers are capable of participating and playing without a lot of parental intervention.

Overall, Gerber and her followers believe that when you allow and encourage moments of independence in your little ones' lives, you are not only building their confidence but you are also encouraging their competence. Additionally, Gerber says that when you empower your baby, you take some of the stress off of yourself. Eventually, babies will learn to take part in their own caregiving, she says.

The goal of RIE is to treat even the youngest infant as a unique human being and not an object. Parents who use this parenting method trust their babies and observe them carefully in an attempt to decipher their needs.

Additionally, babies are allowed lots of uninterrupted playtime to explore their surroundings with the goal of learning new skills on their own.

What this means, is that every time the baby encounters an issue or cannot navigate something; the parents do not immediately jump into action and rescue them. They hold back and allow their baby enough space to figure it out. As an "educarer," they only offer help when necessary and allow their baby to master different skills on their own.

RIE Parenting in Action

They also encourage their babies to take part in their own caregiving. In addition to explaining what they are doing, such changing a diaper, they also ask for the baby to participate. For instance, they might say "can you raise your legs while I clean your bottom." Even though a newborn will need Mom or Dad to do that for them, eventually, babies will be able to participate in the diaper changes by holding their legs up.

Additionally, every time they do something to care for their baby, such as buckling a car seat, RIE parents ask their baby for permission. Even though their newborn cannot answer them or give consent, RIE parents insist they are building an important foundation for their baby's future autonomy.

What's more, parents who use the RIE parenting method, believe that it is very important to honor their baby's choices about their own body. In doing so, they hope that they will not only understand that their body belongs to them, but the bodies of others are not their property either.

In the end, they never want to force physical touch on their child, and they never want anyone else to force physical touch either. This includes changing diapers without permission, picking them up without permission, and forcing them to hug or kiss someone against their will.

Pros and Cons of RIE Parenting

Most parents who use RIE Parenting believe that when children are given some "appropriate choice" about their caregiving, they will develop a greater sense of autonomy. They want their kids to learn not only how to make healthy choices about their own bodies, but to respect others' bodies as well.

Pros of RIE Parenting

When it comes to RIE Parenting, most of the guidelines are second nature to new parents. They talk to their babies and tell them what is going on. From explaining what a doggy is, to showing them what a book looks like, most parents are engaging with their kids on a regular basis. So, RIE parenting does not seem like a stretch for them.

The primary difference between what comes naturally to most parents and where RIE takes it a step further is in their approach to talking with their babies.

RIE suggests that you shouldn't just do things to your baby, like changing a diaper, but instead should start asking permission. This request for permission sets the stage for giving your child a voice in what happens to them.

Likewise, RIE parenting stresses that parents observe their babies in order to decipher their cues. Too many times, a baby cries and parents make assumptions about what the baby needs. They say things like "Oh she must be hungry," or "He is overtired." While these statements are sometimes true, that is not always the case.

As a result, RIE proponents suggest that parents do not try to rush in and fix the issue, but that they instead observe their baby first. By doing so, parents can take a lot of pressure off themselves. What's more, it keeps them from feeling like it is their job to keep their baby entertained at all times.

Instead of micromanaging or controlling their babies' lives, parents recognize that their little ones will experience an entire spectrum of feelings and that is OK. Meanwhile, kids feel comfortable to feel, learn, and explore while seeing their parents as a secure base when they truly need help.

Parents also benefit from RIE parenting because this parenting style makes them more aware of who their babies are and what they need. Through careful observations, they learn not to jump to conclusions. It also keeps parents from making assumptions that grumpy, fussy babies need to be bounced, rocked, or propped up in order to end the fussing.

Instead, RIE parents allow them a little space to show what it is that they want or need. They don't force themselves to take a bunch of random actions just to quiet the noise. They step back and truly try to determine what this little human is trying to tell them.

Cons of RIE Parenting

Pediatricians caution that babies go through many developmental stages as they grow, which makes it difficult to make blanket statements over whether or not certain parenting styles are effective or not. They also point out that children, including babies, thrive with touch, communication, limit-setting, and clear boundaries. So, too much observation and not enough holding and loving can create issues.

What's more, infants are relatively helpless and experience the world through their parents, which means they rely on them for survival and nurturing. Consequently, making eye contact and talking with them demonstrate that you are there for them and that you love them. So, in the beginning, RIE parenting is a very useful approach.

But, RIE gets a bit more complicated as babies get older. For instance, around the end of the first year, toddler negativity starts to take root. As a result, you're not going to ask a 13-month-old, "do you want a diaper change now?"

Most likely, the toddler will say no which could result in a mess, a diaper rash, and even an infection if left too long. Likewise, asking an 18-month-old for permission to put them in the crib could create a lot of headaches and challenges.

At these ages, RIE parents might need to adjust their approach. While it is important to talk with your baby and explain what you are doing, there are times when you need to set limits for your children the protect their health and safety.

One way parents can adjust as their kids get older is to avoid asking yes and no questions. Instead, they could try giving options to their kids like "do you want to wear the red shirt or the blue shirt." They also could use the term "we" when talking with their kids.

For instance, they could say, "We are going to put you in your car seat now," or "We are going to change your diaper now." So while you are not necessarily asking for permission, you are involving your child in the action.

Finally, what concerns doctors more than specific parenting styles is the number of parents who are distracted by technology. They get sucked into their electronic devices and gadgets or they scroll through social media for hours at a time.

When this happens, they are not actually paying attention to their little ones, which can have serious consequences. Babies need their Mom and Dad to hold them, talk to them, sing to them, read to them, feed them, and love them.

A Word From Verywell

When it comes to parenting, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. In fact, most successful parents often combine several different parenting styles in order to meet the needs of their children and their families. After all, no one knows kids better than their own parents.

So, while parenting styles like RIE Parenting are useful in providing parents with ideas, they should never be used to label or shame other parents. These parenting styles are only meant as guidelines for developing your own unique style.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Rie.org. Resources for infant educarers.

  2. First five years. Teaching children about body boundaries.

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert.