Over the years I’ve been approached by many, many parents who are practicing RIE - which is a form of respectful parenting that focuses on not interrupting a baby’s play - about whether elimination communication complements or contradicts it.
Most of these parents were convinced that EC would be disrespectful, considered an unnecessary “interruption” to baby’s play that would interfere with their proper development.
Hmm. Well, I disagree with this. I actually believe the two practices are quite compatible, so I decided to finally research RIE and lay it all out for y’all!
Today I’m going to go through, point by point, RIE’s Basic Principles to demonstrate where EC and RIE align nicely...and where they may not.
I also want to introduce you to the lovely idea of RIE! If you haven’t heard of it, I hope you learn something new today.
What is RIE?
Healthline defines RIE for babies as:
“RIE (pronounced “rye”) stands for “Resources for Infant Educarers.” This approach was founded in 1978 by Magda Gerber, a Hungarian immigrant and early childhood educator who lived in Los Angeles. “Educarer” is a term coined with the idea that parents and caregivers should have respect for even the youngest of infants.”
RIE’s own website, rie.org, states:
“We are a network of infant-toddler professionals who are passionately dedicated to empowering parents and caregiving professionals to provide the secure and respectful beginnings children need for a healthy life.
We do this by teaching Magda Gerber’s Educaring™ Approach that affirms that caring educates children about themselves, and that in the infant-toddler years, caregiving is the curriculum.
Parents and professionals find that the Educaring™ Approach allows them to focus on what matters most: the connection between themselves and the baby in their care. In attuning to their baby, they learn to trust their baby and themselves.”
So far, so good!
Let’s now go through, point by point, the Basic Principles of RIE and I will relate it to whether EC aligns or not.
Principle #1: Respect
“We not only respect babies, we demonstrate our respect every time we interact with them. Respecting a child means treating even the youngest infant as a unique human being, not as an object.”
If you’re listening to my podcast, then I am 100% certain you agree that respecting our babies as human beings is at the top of the agenda!
Principle #2: The goal of an authentic child
“An authentic child is one who feels secure, autonomous, competent, and connected.
When we help a child to feel secure, feel appreciated, feel that “somebody is deeply, truly interested in me,” by the way we just look, the way we just listen, we influence that child’s whole personality, the way that child sees life.”
Again, agreed 100%. A lot of EC is observing, listening, and responding. We don’t really talk alot. We do things fairly matter-of-factly. We help the baby feel deeply safe, appreciated, and valuable.
Principle #3: Trust in the infant’s competence
“We have basic trust in the infant to be an initiator, to be an explorer eager to learn what he is ready for.
Because of this trust, we provide the infant with only enough help necessary to allow the child to enjoy mastery of her own actions.”
This one is a little tricky.
With EC, yes, we trust that the baby is competent...is born “ready” to use the potty.
Sometimes, though, we don’t get any signal. The infant does not initiate. The baby does not show us what he is “ready for.” And it gets confusing.
Does EC work without signals? Yes.
During the 4th-14th months, many babies stop signaling to go to the potty. However, it does not mean we should stop taking them potty. To the contrary, we need to continue to potty them despite the drop in signals - just like we would with feeding, sleep, love, and warmth.
In the newborn months, we learn what baby needs. Baby teaches us by crying and then by calming down - or even smiling - when we finally get it right. Have you noticed that before?
Then by month 4, we really have to take some things over because their world is opening right up! They are becoming mobile, exploring, and fairly distracted, day-to-day.
Now, I’ll ask you this: during all this distraction, do we stop offering food, a nap, love, warm clothing, just because baby stops signaling quite so strongly for it all? Nope.
We keep it up because we know our baby by now, and then in a few months, baby starts to more directly ask for things once more. It’s like a give and take; a team effort.
For the second part, we absolutely DO trust our babies, whether they are directly or indirectly communicating their needs and preferences during certain stages, and we do “provide the infant with only enough help necessary to allow the child to enjoy mastery of her own actions.”
Per Montessori thinking, we provide as much assistance as is needed for this stage of development - no more, no less. Montessori said “never do for a child what she can do for herself.” We help and assist and set up the environment until baby can take over.
Alright let’s move on….
Principle #4: Sensitive Observation
“Our method, guided by respect for the infant’s competence, is observation. We observe carefully to understand the infant’s communications and his needs.
The more we observe, the more we understand and appreciate the enormous amount and speed of learning that happens during the first two or three years of life. We become more humble, we teach less, and we provide an environment for learning instead.”
We definitely advocate observation time when teaching others how to do infant potty training! It is, in fact, core to the practice.
This is absolutely aligned, spot-on, perfect.
Principle #5: Involving the child in care activities
“During care activities (diapering, feeding, bathing, dressing, etc.), we encourage even the tiniest infant to become an active participant rather than a passive recipient of the activities. Parents create opportunities for interaction, cooperation, intimacy and mutual enjoyment by being wholeheartedly with the infant during the time they spend together anyway.
“Refueled” by such unhurried, pleasurable caring experiences, infants are ready to explore their environment with only minimal intervention by adults.”
I always say that we don’t treat our babies like dolls...with EC, they are active participants in the pottying process. We are 100% “with” the baby during the time we spend with them. We are unhurried and pleasant about it. Yes, yes, yes. Active, not passive. Totally interactive, cooperative, and intimate. Mutually enjoyable.
Principle #6: A safe, challenging, predictable environment
“Our role is to create an environment in which the child can best do all the things that the child would do naturally. The more predictable an environment is, the easier it is for babies to learn.
As infants become more mobile, they need safe, appropriate space in which to move. Their natural, inborn desire to move should not be handicapped by the environment.”
I suggest picking times to potty your baby and sticking with it; pegging pottytunities on things that already happen in your routine every day, such as wake-ups, poop time, before/after meals, etc.
We make things as predictable as possible, even when we do EC part-time.
I also advocate Montessori thinking - prepare an environment that the child can fully thrive, learn, and grow in. This teaches independence at a very early age, which benefits both of you!
Also, not having the diaper bulge during diaper-free time supports babies’ “natural, inborn desire to move” - which means that ALL parents who practice RIE should, technically, also practice elimination communication! ;)
Principle #7: Time for uninterrupted play and freedom to explore
“We give the infant plenty of time for uninterrupted play. Instead of trying to teach babies new skills, we appreciate and admire what babies are actually doing.”
I agree that EC falls in line with this one! We aren’t teaching them to need to go potty and let us know. We observe that they shift or signal or have a need, that baby is actually doing this, and help them.
Some doing RIE say NEVER interrupt baby.
However, let’s unpack that.
Would you interrupt their play to eat (when they signal hunger?)? To sleep? When they’re hurt and need comfort? Yes. Then interrupt their play to potty. Helps them focus longer, feel more comfortable, honors their instincts and basic hygiene needs, respects them, and be less fussy and way happier.
How to interrupt without disrupting. Sweep them up. Do not talk. Do the deed. Give privacy if needed. Back to play.
[See my board book.]
Principle #8: Consistency
“We establish clearly defined limits and communicate our expectations to develop self discipline.”
Yes!!! I often say that doing elimination communication with your baby is your very first opportunity to “discipline” your baby - to demonstrate what hygienic boundaries are and how to “be” in our family. We put pee and poop in the potty, all of us, and we’ll help you do that, too, until you can do it, yourself.
Clearly defined, communicated, and followed-through-upon.
In conclusion, I hope you see that EC is the most respectful form of potty training available, honoring the baby’s innate instincts for cleanliness and dryness, and that it aligns so beautifully with RIE, a respectful parenting method that you should definitely check out!
Now I’d love to hear from you:
Do you practice RIE (or something like it) with your baby? How do you feel it aligns with EC (or not)?
Please comment below.
PS - here’s the video version of this episode in case you prefer to YouTube it. ;)