12 - 48 Months

Understanding RIE parenting

  • Facebook Icon
  • Twitter Icon
  • Pinterest Icon
  • Email Icon

“Some of the RIE tenants are communicating authentically to our babies from the start, giving them agency, and letting them participate in their own lives and in their own care.”

Hannah Olavarria, Upbringing.co

Feeding, diapering, dressing, soothing. At times, it feels like we’re merely surviving those early months. When in overdrive, pausing to observe doesn’t always come naturally, but looking and listening before responding to your baby or toddler can lead to some surprising discoveries about your child, and yourself! Something called RIE parenting is founded on that principle. RIE was created in 1978 by a woman named Magda Gerber. The basis of Magda’s RIE philosophy is respect for the child, and it asks us to examine our power in caring for these little beings.

Jessica  Rolph, your host, welcomes Hannah Olavarria to today’s episode. She has been trained in the foundations of RIE and is half of the parenting duo behind Upbringing, along with her twin sister, Kelty. Hannah shares how she has been incorporating RIE into their parenting and coaching for years.

Key Takeaways:

[1:58] What does RIE represent?

[2:49] What is Hannah’s experience with RIE as a mother?

[5:03] What does the RIE method for parents of babies really look like?

[8:23] Hannah talks about the RIE way to speak to a baby.

[11:55] Some RIE practitioners object to tummy time and Hannah gives her perspective on this.

[15:20] What does a typical “Yes space” look like?

[18:13] Hannah breaks down Upbringing’s 10 Freedoms, starting with the Freedom to struggle.

[19:15] Hannah explains what the Freedom to choose looks like for a baby and a toddler.

[23:07] Remember, there is no one parenting philosophy that fits all parents. 

Mentioned in this episode:


Upbringing on Instagram


What is the RIE parenting method?

Jessica: Hello, Hannah.

Hannah: Hello, Jessica it’s so great to be here.

Jessica: Ah, it’s great to have this perspective. So before we dive in, can you share with us what RIE represents? 

Hannah: Yeah, RIE, as you probably know, is Resources for Infant Educarers, but I think it’s also just kind of this large philosophy, and approach that is now worldwide, it’s been adopted by many parents, many coaching and parenting professionals, mental health professionals even, and it’s a way of looking at and responding to babies, toddlers and even older kids, and looking at them with respect and trust. And that’s kind of beginning the parent-child, or the caregiver-child relationship with those two things intact. And it’s used and approached and thought of, and experienced in so many different ways, and I’m excited to kind of expand on those in detail and kind of a little more broadly with you today.

Jessica: So what’s your experience with RIE as a mother? 

Hannah: Oh, my goodness… So my sister and I had our daughters six months apart, and we had just had a trauma in the family and had also just been ladies who winged it, and I think that when I had my daughter, I realized that I couldn’t wing this parenting thing anymore, and when I had been pregnant, I had asked a bunch of friends who had kids of their own, “How do you parent? Where are you learning this stuff?” “We clearly have no idea what we’re doing. What we’re going to be doing, give me your secrets.” And RIE turned up as one of the references that one of my good friends gave me, and so I kind of learned about it then, and so when our babies were young, we got into learning about RIE and practising RIE. And really, it was kind of our gateway into respectful, conscious, mindful parenting, they’re all those buzzwords, but I think that I can acknowledge and I realize it’s a privilege that I was able to find this type of parenting approach from an early age for my daughter, but I also really think back a lot of the time to what I would have been like and what my sister also, my twin sister would have experienced, if we hadn’t found RIE, and I think that’s where a lot of parents are coming to the table right now being like, “I didn’t find RIE in those first few months,” and I think that I probably would have been a lot more anxious, I probably would have been more controlling. My baby’s big feelings would have been a lot trickier for me to trust in and handle.

I would have felt compelled to accelerate my baby or entertain my baby, and I think that as a highly sensitive person and a Virgo, overachiever type person, I think that my experience as a parent and my relationship with my daughter, and then my son and my sister’s relationship with her kids would have been really, really different. So when I think about RIE, and in those early years with my daughter, I feel really grateful that I had stumbled upon it, and I think that’s why Kelty and I, integrate RIE so much into our work at Upbringing, because it changed our lives in such a fundamental way.

Jessica: So then you gave a hint of this, but if you were to say a few main things that encompass the RIE method for parents of babies, for example, what are they? What does this really look like? 

Hannah: Yeah, I mean, there’s no fixed rules or fixed kind of approach, but I think the idea is that babies deserve our respect and our trust from the start. And I think that babies are so small, they’re so helpless, and I think our role as parents were like, “Wow, I have to do everything I have to make everything, I have to be everything.” And I think that the RIE perspective helped us see, our babies and then our kids as really whole and much more capable little beings, than we and our society usually give them credit for, so I think that that really changed the belief about our babies, changed our belief about our role as a parent. So rather than thinking that we’re supposed to mold and shape and build and construct these little babies kind of from the ground up, RIE helped us realize that we just need to be respectful, trusting role models, right? Who kind of serve as what Kelty and I call sensitive support staff. So some of the RIE tenants are communicating authentically to our babies from the start, giving them agency and letting them participate in their own lives and in their own care giving in their own play in their own eating, right? 

Trusting in their motor development in their cognitive development, in their play, in their interest, welcoming all their feelings, and also setting limits and personal boundaries, which is really critical to meet our needs and their needs as well, and doing that with as much love as we can, rather than using control. We call it the Control toolbox at Upbringing… You know, punishments, consequences, anger, frustration. It’s hard to imagine doing that with our little babies, but those things end up coming out in our toddler years pretty strongly, so getting this new belief about babies and new belief about our role as parents, RIE kind of, started that for us at least, and that’s kind of the founding tenets of RIE in that way. Yeah.

How to talk to your baby

Jessica: And so I remember having an experience, one of my early experiences with RIE, was observing my cousin with her new baby, and she asked her baby permission, she said, “I’m going to pick you up now, and I’m going to take you to the diaper changing station, and we’re going to change your diaper. Is that okay?” And I am not doing it quite right, but I do remember being so amazed at how she was speaking to her baby for a couple of things, one is, I loved the fact that she was giving all this verbal input to her baby, and really seeking to connect with the baby. I also remember having this experience where her tone felt so levelled and so not what I research and understand as the benefits of parentese, that lilting voice, that uplifting, sort of, sing song, approach, it felt very adult, like in a very adult tone and kind of flat and respectful, but kind of flat, and I have been struggling to understand it ever since, was this just an example of one with my cousin, or are there… Is this the RIE way to speak to a baby? And how do you make of this in terms of what the child development science says about using a little bit more of an animated high-pitched tone benefiting babies development? 

Hannah: That’s such a great question. I see that pop up in the RIE forums as well, and in our right from the start, baby course books are like, “How do I talk to my baby?” I know it’s important, I’m supposed to use lots of words so they can learn, I want to connect with them, and I think that RIE talks about speaking authentically to our babies. And I think authentically is a really subjective term I think authentically can mean that if we just have to talk to them as though we’re talking to anyone else, because that’s all we can handle, or because we want to really be focusing on the words so that they learn the words, the way we’re speaking them as adults and people speak. We can also be talking to them in more connective ways, like you said, that the science shows in more of “parentese” where we’re using our voice in a playful, connective way, and there’s nothing wrong with that. That’s wonderful too, if that feels authentic in a way that we can connect to our baby. And I think what RIE maybe, and I can’t really speak for RIE because I’m not an associate, but what I would imagine they would say is that baby talk where we go, we’re not using real words and we’re just going, ba ba, da, da, and we’re repeating what our babies are saying, instead of modeling the words that we hope that they learn to use, I think that’s…

The idea behind this is saying, “Let’s not diminish their capacity to learn a language or to be spoken to in a respectful way,” so I think it just questions as to say, am I speaking respectfully and authentically to this human? Right? I’m not speaking to someone like I would at the office necessarily, or I’m not speaking to some… My mother-in-law here, I am speaking to a baby who’s learning how to speak my language, but how can I connect authentically whatever feels right to them and to me.

Jessica: I love that. That makes a lot of sense. I mean, I do, I will say that the repeating what babies vocalizations can be a really important part of them understanding that their language does have agency, and so when they say ba ba, if you repeat that ba ba, it can encourage them to speak more and build those brain connections around language so…

Hannah: Yeah, but let it not be all mirroring, I guess, is the idea that changing up your language, trying to connect to them in a real way, whether they say something first, or you say something first.

RIE and tummy time

Jessica: Okay. So one of the things that we’ve wondered about, is some RIE practitioners, specific practitioners who are really following the method, object to tummy time. What do you think about that? 

Hannah: I feel like prescribing a particular thing, one, fit, size-fits-all approach to every baby can be problematic, and I wonder if part of their belief… I think the RIE belief is saying babies are capable and can move their bodies in their own way at their own timeline, and so placing your baby in a position that they didn’t get into themselves, or can’t get out of themselves, isn’t really working with their development, it’s trying to accelerate their development. And so that’s… I think the perspective that RIE takes is saying, “Let’s step back, let’s trust your baby’s development, when they’re ready to roll over onto that tummy or be in that cute little half-precarious way, where you’re like, “Are they going to do it? Are they not?” Right, that’s up to them. That’s their work.” It is their motor development? But there’s so many other things to take into account. My son had some skull issues, where we needed to have him on his tummy a little bit more, and we wanted to make sure he didn’t get a flat side of the head, there were some concerns there. And he also struggled a little bit to roll over and so I had been over on the RIE mindset of being like, “Do not move him. Do not touch him. Let him do his own thing.”

And it was hard for me, I had to reconcile, bringing in the values of RIE of saying, “he’s going to move, I’m trusting him in his development,” and then also saying, “Well, what feels right for me, and my family, and my child,” and I think a lot of them… You tell me with the tummy time research, but I think a lot of that is saying “Our babies spend so much time on their backs, they need to spend a little time on their tummies, and I think that some babies though, do not love the tummy time, you put them down and it’s like torture, it’s like you’re putting them through the gauntlet or some sort of exercise regimen or something. So I think so much about it, and we can go back to RIE supporting this, is saying, “Look to your child, look to your baby, give them the tummy time opportunity, see how they’re like in it, see how they’re feeling, there’s nothing wrong with setting them up and seeing what happens.” And then also realizing and remembering too, that tummy time can happen a lot of different ways.

At Upbringing we’re like… I don’t know if we want any dogma of you must do this, or you can’t do this. And so I think RIE sometimes gets pinned a little bit into… But you say this, or you say that you can’t do that, and it’s a little bit tricky. For sure.

Creating a Yes space

Jessica: Yeah, I really appreciate this perspective, because it really feels like you can also respect yourself and respect your baby in encompassing with their full development, so that’s great. So I love this concept of a Yes space. I love it, and I feel like I sort of intuitively did this even though I hadn’t discovered the RIE method when I was raising my three children, again, going back to my cousin, you know, what? Sometimes I notice though, that though the Yes space, can seem like it’s morphing into almost a containment space, like I see baby gates, and it seems like it’s a bigger space than we might put at them in a playpen, but it feels like a very gated, kind of consistent environment for the child, which from a neuroscience perspective, isn’t giving them that the craving that they have for novelty and new experiences, and being able to explore. So I know that the goal of the Yes space, is to allow them to explore. But sometimes I feel like it can easily morph into a containment space, can you talk to this a little bit, what does an ideal Yes space, really look like, and what have you seen? Have you ever seen it kind of morph into containment? 

Hannah: Oh, yeah, that’s such a great question. It’s the baby jail question. We like to ask, a lot of folks come to us and they’re like, “This sounds like baby jail, this is very problematic to me,” and I think… I love how RIE talks about it as a Yes space, because yes means, “Go, grow, develop, move, experiment,” right? Our babies are these little adventurers, these little scientists. You do you, in a certain place. And I think that the Yes space or even the gating idea came around to say, “Wow, it’s really easy for us to put our babies down,” but when they start getting mobile, right, then they start getting into things, and we’re basically constantly in disaster prevention or safety prevention mode, and we’re always saying, “No, no, no. Don’t touch that. Put that down,”” And that can really impede a baby’s learning. So I think the idea of a Yes space, is saying whatever area our babies can play in, let it be “baby-proofed.” Let us… Allow us to say Yes, instead of saying no, and that can be a smaller space if our place is smaller, or if a particular time during the day, when our older kids are home, and could be harming the baby, or that could be a larger place that we’ve proofed to be safe and available to them for their movement and their play and their personal growth. So I think that the Yes space, can only be problematic if we’re creating an area that’s not in and of itself nurturing to our child and they’re needing more.

So that’s on us to nurture that environment and create, move things around, change it around, adapt as our baby’s needs are adapting. And then also, I think a lot of the concern with the baby jail thing is also that our babies are going to be alone, that we’re leaving and we’re abandoning our babies. And that might be a fear that a lot of parents have before we’ve even put our babies down alone, or our babies could be showing us, don’t leave me, I want to be near to you, and I think that’s really good information to us that we shouldn’t be abandoning our babies in Yes spaces or gated areas or rooms all by themselves if they’re needing us. So I think that that’s not what a Yes space is saying, I think that a Yes space is creating safety and approachability for baby and you so that optimal learning can happen, but it really puts the onus on the parent to say, “What’s that going to look like? And how can I support my baby getting comfortable in that Yes space before I maybe step away to care for another kid or take care of my own needs.” That type of thing.

Freedom to struggle

Jessica: You’ve got a fantastic resource that can be downloaded from your website, upbringing.co for free. Let’s break this model down, so it’s structured around 10 freedoms and we’re going to cover some of them, but let’s start with struggle, it’s such a challenging one for so many of us parents, is to watch our child and let our child struggle with something.

Hannah: We always start with freedom to struggle, I love that you chose that one Jessica because I think it’s the hardest thing and it’s the thing that we experience with babies, that freedom to express themselves and say, “This is hard.”

“I can’t get rolled over on this little blanket.” Or “I’m working so hard on this little toy and I can’t pull it apart and I’m just, ugh.” Baby meltdown, right? Or older kids with their shoes or older kids with even just a friend. Struggle is an inherent part of life, and I think our natural impulse as parents is to say, “We gotta fix that, we gotta minimize struggle.” We want our kids to be happy but that’s not how they become resilient, and so supporting our kids and identifying this as a freedom of theirs that we can ally with them about rather than overtake or abandon them with, is to say, “How can we go side by side with this freedom and help them feel comfortable in it. 

Freedom to choose

Jessica: So one of the freedoms that you talk about is freedom to choose, and one of the signatures that I recall about the RIE method is this, you’re checking for consent, so what does this look like for a baby, and what does this look like for life with a toddler? 

Hannah: Yeah, I think naturally, through conventional parenting, we think of, “Gosh, we have so much responsibility for our babies and our toddlers, they depend on us so much for their caregiving.” We have to change their diapers, we have to clean them, we have to do their hygiene, we have to dress them? We have to bathe them. It’s a lot of things that are on our plate. And what feels like 100% at the beginning. And I think the RIE philosophy helps put that in the back of our mind that we can be doing with our babies rather than doing to them from the get-go. So we can be bringing them into their care-giving activities, even when they can’t quite lift their bottom for that diaper, we can talk about it, even when they don’t know how to brush their teeth yet, we can slowly show them and tell them. And little by little, the more we’re bringing them in rather than doing to them and just getting on with the day, talking to someone on the phone, we can’t always be like preciously caregiving our babies, but the more we can do that, the sooner they can adopt those caregiving activities themselves and feel like a trust and not just a knowledge of how to care for themselves, but a trust in us as their caregivers, and I love that you bring up the topic of consent because we talk about that a lot at upbringing, it really…

Parenting a baby and a toddler, it calls us to examine our power and privilege in the parent-child relationship, so we have a lot of responsibility, but we have to remember that we’re taking care of their bodies and the way we engage with our babies and our kids bodies teaches them about how to use power over another person and how to experience power in a relationship, so we’re normalizing whatever we’re doing, the way we’re doing our caregiving practices. So the idea, I think… And we’ve brought in this kinda more progressive social political value into our Upbringing stuff.

I’m not sure how political RIE gets about it. I think they see it as just, that’s what babies deserve, that’s part of the respect part of caregiving for babies. But Kelty and I do love talking at it from a consent point of view, because so many of us believe in consent for adults, for other people, for women, especially, right? And we want to be aligning those personal values we have with these parenting practices that we are doing on the daily with our kids, so that’s why with RIE and with any mode of parenting that incorporates these types of values and practices, we want to think about how we’re treating our kids bodies, we want them to feel as though their bodies are respected, so what that looks like in a big way is just slowing down in moments of caregiving that have to do with our kids’ body and connecting with them before proceeding, and so we can’t always get consent, our baby’s not going to be like, “Thumbs up, mom. Go for this diaper change.” or our toddler won’t be like, “Oh mom, you know, I’m not really feeling like a shower tonight, but if you do this or that… “ We’re not…

We’re starting these consent conversations in a very one-sided way in these early years with our kids, but they matter, so I think that looks like us getting down on the floor and saying, “Hey, I’ve noticed your diaper, I think it’s time to change it.” Instead of just swooping up behind our baby, sniffing their butts and putting them on the diaper changing station.

Progress over perfection

Jessica: So, any other advice that we haven’t covered here, any insights, wisdom that you want to share with our listeners that we haven’t covered? 

Hannah: I love this concept of RIE, and that you’re bringing in all of these different types of parenting and approaches to the community, because it helps us remember as parents that we don’t have to do it just one way, that no one single approach fits us, or fits our kids or fits our family today or tomorrow, the next day, and that so much of our work as parents is saying, “How can we show up and grow up and build skills and build awareness and do it in a really courageous way.” Because it’s working against a lot of conditioning that says, “We’re already supposed to know these things, we should be doing it perfectly every time.” It’s gotta be Instagram worthy, right? So remembering that this is a process, progress over perfection, and that our parenting approach isn’t going to look like somebody else’s and it’s not supposed to, and that it’s going to evolve over time, and that we can give ourselves grace, we can continue to lean on those folks, those external resources and experts, but that we can also as we’re trusting and really looking and respecting our babies in this new way, we can be learning to trust ourselves too.

We can be keying into our own inner wisdom about what works for us, what we’re noticing with our babies, and be balancing and creating and weaving together a family approach that’s unique to us.

Jessica: That is so helpful to hear. Hannah, it’s been wonderful having you with us today. Thank you so much.

Hannah: Thanks so much, Jessica.

To learn more about Hannah and Kelty’s approach to discipline, and to download a copy of The Freedoms Model, check them out at Instagram @upbringing.co. You can find more tips on Lovevery’s blog, Here with you.


  • Facebook Icon
  • Twitter Icon
  • Pinterest Icon
  • Email Icon


Kate Garlinge Avatar

Kate Garlinge

Visit site

Posted in: 12 - 48 Months, 18 - 48 Months+, 0 - 12 Months, Parenting Philosophy, Child Development, Behavior, Parenting

Keep reading