Rooted in independency and autonomy, the RIE parenting approach is designed to make your child as self-sufficient as possible.
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Raising children is hard. From the newborn stage to the teenage years, parenting is tough. It is a challenge. The good news is there are tools you can add to your arsenal to make you a better parent. There are different approaches you can take and parenting methods to try. And one such method is RIE (pronounced "rye"). This approach is designed for use with young children, from birth to 3 years.

"RIE is about respect, trust, and connection and is used for infants and/or children up to 3 years of age," says Elizabeth Fraley, M.Ed., CEO of Kinder Ready Inc., an LA-based education program focused on kindergarten readiness and private school preparation for children ages 3 to 12. It assumes the child is a whole person from birth, one who will blossom and mature with time, and RIE fosters autonomy and self-reliance. "The RIE technique is about giving babies more independence to develop skills on their own."

But what is RIE parenting, at its core? Are there any pros and cons? Here's everything you need to know about RIE parenting, from what it is to how you can implement it in your life.

What Is the RIE Parenting Method?

Developed in 1978 by baby specialist Magda Gerber, RIE parenting—or resources for infant educarers—encourages parents (and educators) to treat babies and children as capable human beings, ones who are able to flourish when given space to explore the world on their terms.

"RIE parenting is a technique that helps parents connect with their children and understand their needs. It's based on the idea that all babies are born with the ability to learn and grow, and that they should be treated with respect and given the opportunity to explore the world around them," says Mo Mulla, a parenting expert and the founder of Parental Questions. "RIE parenting can be adapted to fit each child's individual needs."

How Does RIE Parenting Work?

While this approach sounds great—at least on paper—you may be wondering: How can I implement RIE parenting in my life? How does this method work? And the truth is it can be tricky. RIE is a multi-faceted approach. But according to Brandon Walsh, a parenting expert and the founder of Dads Agree, it can be done: with proper communication, modeling, freedom, empathy, and self-direction.

"Instead of using symbols and kids' language, we should talk to our children using proper words," says Walsh. Giving kids a step-by-step explanation of what is happening—or a play-by-play—helps them develop an understanding of the world. Being clear and concise also helps with language skills. 

"If you are changing your child's diaper, you should tell them what you are doing," Walsh says. "You may even want to ask them to be an active participant by encouraging them to raise their bottom or lift their legs."

"Since children do what they see and observe, we should model the traits we hope to see in them," Walsh adds. Lead by kindness, and with patience, honesty, and respect. Children also need to be free to express their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. In and with babies, for example, this may mean tears, tantrums, and crying it out.

As for discipline, the RIE parenting method does not believe in punishment, at least not in any conventional sense."Children need empathy, not punishments and/or shaming," says Walsh. "Rather than shame or punish them, we should try to understand the reasoning behind their actions." It is important to understand why your toddler is tantruming, for example. You should get to the core of bad behavior.

That being said, there are boundaries. Parents who follow the RIE approach can still be strict disciplinarians. It just means that, rather than punishing our children, they receive consequences. If your child gets up from the dinner table before they are done eating, you clear their plate. They made their choice—getting up when they shouldn't—and must live with the outcome (no food or dinner).

What Should You Do If You Want to Follow the RIE Parenting Method?

If you want to follow the RIE parenting method, the first thing you should do is to create a safe space. Your child's environment should allow them to move about in a natural way without too many restrictions. It should be baby proofed, for example, but accessible and secure. Age-appropriate toys should be made available. Choking hazards should be removed, and everything should be set up to allow for your baby or child to be as autonomous as possible.

"Create a space that is 100 percent safe and baby proof, and let your infant or child explore on their own," says Fraley. "Keep baby/toddler furniture low to the ground. Use mats to ensure that there are no rough edges, and move small objects and choking hazards." Safety is paramount.

Once you've secured the space, you'll want to encourage solo play and foster independence. Blocks, for example, are a good choice, as they offer open-ended play. Montessori-based toys are another good option, as are puzzle and staking cups or rings.

"The goal is to get your child playing on their own," says Fraley. "They need the distance to play and explore without intervention."

What About RIE Parenting Criticism?

While some parents swear by RIE, this approach is not for everyone. "RIE parenting requires a lot of patience," Walsh says. "It can be hard to stick to some of the principles if you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed." Some find this approach awkward and clunky, particularly if they did not grow up this way. It also goes against many parents natural instincts. Since RIE treats young children as autonomous human beings, there is distance from day one. This can feel strange to many, especially when our children cry. Instinct says we should hold and soothe them.