Deborah Carlisle Solomon is the executive director of Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE). She has a book getting ready to go on the market called “Baby Knows Best: Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child, the RIE Way.”
Solomon and others at RIE hold the belief that babies have the natural abilities to develop at their own pace without coaxing or helicoptering parents. The Educaring Approach treats infants like competent people with a unique point of view who have a growing ability to communicate and problem-solve on their own, and suggests that parents give them time to learn to self-sooth and self-regulate.
I was able to ask Deborah about her book and the Educaring Approach.
Art Eddy: What do you hope people will learn the most from your book that comes out at the end of the year?
Deborah Carlisle Solomon: I hope that “Baby Knows Best” will give parents the tools to understand their babies better and to become more confident parents, and that by practicing Magda Gerber’s Educaring Approach, their babies will become self-confident, resourceful, resilient, focused, and peaceful.
AE: I love the term helicoptering parents. I know I have done that when my daughters were infants. It is okay to have a helicopter a little bit right?
DCS: I would imagine that everyone feels the urge to lean in, or helicopter, every once in a while. The question is how often and why are you helicoptering? When a parent helicopters, the message being sent to the baby is, “Danger!” or “You’re not capable so you need me to keep you safe.” Ironically, when a parent routinely helicopters, the baby learns to rely on her parent to keep her safe and unlearns paying close attention herself.
This doesn’t mean that we let a crawling baby loose, unsupervised, in a house or apartment full of potential dangers. One of the basic RIE principles is to provide an environment for the child that is physically safe, cognitively challenging, and emotionally nurturing. When a baby has a space for play that is completely safe, the baby is able to explore freely without interruption and the adult can relax, without the need to helicopter. Many parents are resistant to creating a safe play space but when they do, they breathe a huge sigh of relief. It makes an enormous difference for everybody.
AE: Many celebrities like Felicity Huffman and William H. Macy, Jason Alexander and Jamie Lee Curtis have adopted this parenting style. What do you think drew them to this method?
DSC: All good actors are keen observers. They take in the other actor they’re playing a scene with and respond accordingly. The Educaring Approach gives parents the tools to observe their babies so they can understand them better, and respond more sensitively and accurately to them. I would imagine this feels quite natural to most actors.
Another of the basic RIE principles is sensitive observation of the child in order to understand his or her needs. For instance, if your baby is crying, rather than rushing in to quiet the cry, approach your baby slowly and peacefully. Observe him. Try to first understand why he is crying. You might say, “I wonder why you’re crying.” “I wonder what you need.” Sometimes, new or anxious parents skip over this part because they want to quiet the cry as soon as possible; either because they believe this is the immediate goal or because the cry upsets them. As the weeks go by, most parents eventually become more comfortable with their baby’s cry and thus more able to slow down and observe their baby so they can respond more accurately to him.
AE: Have you received any negative feedback from those parent who oppose this way of child rearing?
DSC: I haven’t received any negative feedback directly. I know that some people believe that young babies should always be held or carried next to the parent’s body in some sort of sling or carrier and that is not something we would recommend. Magda Gerber taught that infants need to be held and be given the opportunity to move freely, and this cannot happen when babies are confined in an adult’s arms or a carrier.
Carrying a baby around in a sling or carrier, when we’re focused on a household task or other work, does not provide emotional connection for the baby. It conveys to the baby, “You are important enough to me that I will carry you close in this device, but not so important that I will give you my attention.”
Letting your baby lay in her crib for a while is not abandonment. She can be content stretching and moving, and gazing around the room or out a window. She can also turn her focus inward when she likes, without distraction.
AE: What is your response to those naysayers?
DSC: Perhaps there are parts of the Approach, like slowing down and telling your baby what you are going to do before you do it, that feel comfortable to you. That’s great. I hope you won’t dismiss the ideas simply because they are new or different from what you’ve been doing. I’d suggest that you try things out for a while to see if they can become comfortable and natural to you. If not, that’s okay! The Educaring Approach is not for everyone.
AE: I see that parents sometimes rely a lot on smart phones and tablets to help “entertain” their kids. What is your take on that?
DSC: I don’t know any parent who feels good about relying on smart phones and tablets to entertain their kids. The conversation is most often about how they regret introducing the devices to begin with or how they feel guilty.
At RIE, all the play objects are passive. They don’t light up, they don’t make noises, and they don’t move. The play object is inert until the child activates it. The rule is: passive play object/active child. Someone came to observe my toddler class and when she saw the play set up, said, “My son would be bored with all those toys.” There were buckets, balls, colanders and bowls, wooden butter molds, containers and cups of various materials, and a few stuffed animals. At the end of the 90-minute class, the observer said she was amazed by how engaged the children had been and the ingenious things they had done with these everyday objects.
Ideally, playtime should be about discovery and exploration. When babies and toddlers are allowed to be the authors of their play, without an adult interrupting to show them how to play with a toy or high-jacking the play, children don’t expect to be entertained during playtime. They develop focus, a long attention span, and the ability to play on their own without looking outside themselves for something or someone to entertain them. If they are stuck in a car for a while or on a long plane ride, they can learn to tolerate some discomfort and heaven forbid, “boredom”! I’m not even sure boredom really exists; it’s just what we call those moments between being engaged with one thought or activity and the next, and what’s wrong with that? These are healthy struggles for our children to have and a lot can be learned from them.
AE: In your opinion what are some of the pitfalls today’s parents are making?
DSC: A lot of parents seem to be working too hard. They may work all week and then feel they have to entertain or provide some sort of enriching extracurricular activity to their baby or toddler on the weekend. I would suggest that parents under-schedule things as much as possible. This can be beneficial for the parent and for their baby or toddler. It’s important to remember that being together is what builds close, caring relationships. Keep it simple. As Magda Gerber said, “Observe more. Do less. Do less. Enjoy more.”
AE: Do you have plans to write another book and if so what will you cover in the book?
DSC: Ideas are percolating but I’m not done with this book yet!