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article imageA conversation with Deborah Solomon, author of 'Baby Knows Best' Special

By Mindy Peterman     Mar 19, 2014 in Lifestyle
The RIE® method of parenting has become a hot topic in the world of child rearing. Deborah Carlisle Solomon, executive director of the organization, speaks frankly on the subject, clearing up some misconceptions along the way.
Raising children is a challenge, which is why so many parents seek help from experts in the field. It takes time and it takes patience, and there are always those with an education in early childhood who have ideas on how the best job can be done. Some of these ideas can be considered controversial. And when these principles are discussed out of context, they may seem to make little sense. A recent Vanity Fair article in particular, Deborah Carlisle Solomon says, has done the organization RIE® such an injustice. Solomon hopes her book Baby Knows Best: Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child the RIE® Way will put an end to the misconceptions about the organization’s concepts.
RIE (pronounced "wry") stands for Resources for InfantEducarers®, and Solomon has been the executive director since 2006.
The RIE organization is not a new one. Founded by Magda Gerber in 1978, it promotes respect for babies, and observing them to find out what their needs are. It is a kinder, gentler, slowed down way of parenting. Recently, celebrities like Toby Maguire, Helen Hunt, Jamie Lee Curtis, Seinfeld’s Jason Alexander, and Desperate Housewives’ Felicity Huffman and her husband William H. Macy, have become enamored with RIE, which could be why it has been in the news of late.
I spoke recently with Deborah Solomon to find out more about RIE® and to give her an opportunity to clear up any misconceptions about it.
What is your background?
I came to RIE® first as a parent. My son is now 15 years old and I’ve been the executive director since 2006. I studied at RIE, of course, and at the Pikler Institute in Budapest. I’ve presented at various early childhood conferences and workshops, in the United States and internationally.
For those unfamiliar with RIE, could you please explain the basics of it?
RIE is an organization that was founded in 1978 by Magda Gerber and pediatric neurologist Dr. Tom Forrest. The foundation of the Educaring® Approach is respect: how to build a respectful relationship with the baby from the very beginning of life. Most of us would agree it’s important to have a respectful relationship. But how do you do that with a baby who can’t speak? So we try to help parents and really anybody who cares for or is in a relationship with a baby or a toddler to understand the baby developmentally, to see things from the baby’s point of view, and to learn what it means to interact with the baby respectfully. How do we pick up a baby respectfully? How do we diaper a baby respectfully? How do we set limits respectfully, in a consistent way that helps a child move along to becoming socialized and also allows a child to retain his dignity?
The media and Vanity Fair, in particular, have been critical of RIE. How would you respond to criticisms of the organization?
A lot of what the media and Vanity Fair have written is inaccurate. This is not a new parenting trend because like I’ve said, RIE was founded in 1978. I would not say it’s a big celebrity trend. RIE’s headquarters are in Los Angeles, where a lot of actors live. Some of them have babies and a few of them have found their way to classes. But the vast majority of the thousands and thousands of parents who have taken the courses over the years are non- celebrities.
Another bit of inaccurate information was that we supposedly said to treat a baby like an adult. That’s ridiculous. Babies should be treated like babies, of course. But it’s most important to treat them with respect and to take the time to observe and try to understand them, making sure that we’re meeting their actual needs at that particular moment.
Another inaccuracy concerns sippy cups. Of course sippy cups are helpful when you’re in the car, when you’re at the playground, when you’re out and about. But a young child can learn to drink from a small, child sized glass made of heavy, heavy glass. The Duralex glass is the kind we would recommend.
What about pacifiers?
A pacifier, used judiciously in the early weeks of life, when the sucking reflex is so strong, can be very helpful. But it needs to be used judiciously, not as a plug to stop a baby’s crying because crying is the baby’s way of communicating. So rather than using a pacifier to quiet a baby we would say to try to understand why the baby is crying. The baby has a need to cry, to communicate something to us. When the baby rejects the pacifier, put it away. Don’t assume that your baby needs a pacifier because many babies don’t need one. Try not make an assumption that an intervention or gadget like a pacifier is needed. It may not be needed at all.
What would you say to those who would like to find out more about the ideas you’ve talked about here?
I would recommend they read Baby Knows Best and consider it. Maybe they’ll find one piece, one idea that might be useful to them. One of the things we recommend, which is very simple, is to slow down with babies. Walk slowly. Pick up the baby slowly. Emmi Pikler, a pediatrician who was Magda Gerber’s friend and mentor, described it as “ceremonious slowness.” Just moving slowly creates a sense of calm for the baby and for the parent. I think most people would be able to do that and I’ve seen over and over again what a difference it makes for a baby. When an adult is moving at an adult pace, it can sometimes be overstimulating for the baby; the baby may become irritable and more difficult to care for. I think when people understand what’s beneath these recommendations more deeply, which I’ve described in the book, they’re more apt to give it a try to see if it’s a fit.
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