Baby Knows Best

Raising a Confident and Resourceful Child, the RIE™ Way


By Deborah Carlisle Solomon

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Raise self-confident, self-reliant children using the RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers) Approach.

Your baby knows more than you think. That’s the heart of the principles and teachings of Magda Gerber, founder of RIE (Resources for Infant Educarers), and Educaring. Baby Knows Best is based on Gerber’s belief in babies’ natural abilities to develop at their own pace, without coaxing from helicoptering or hovering parents. The Educaring Approach helps parents see their infants as competent people with a growing ability to communicate, problem-solve, and self-soothe.

Baby Knows Best is a comprehensive resource that shows parents how to respond to their babies’ cues and signals; how to develop healthy sleep habits; why babies need uninterrupted playtime; and how to set clear, consistent limits. The result? More relaxed parents and more confident, self-reliant children.


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Table of Contents


Copyright Page

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Observe more, do less.

—Magda Gerber, Dear Parent

Parenting is a difficult job and one that is impossible to fully prepare for. My son's newborn diapers were neatly stacked, the drawer was full of Onesies, and my heart was full of love for a child I had yet to meet. Then Elijah was born. I asked the nurse at the hospital if I could stay just one more night. I had spent so much time lying awake gazing at my baby that I was utterly exhausted. The nurses kept saying, "You need to sleep when he sleeps," but I didn't want to rest. I wanted to observe his every move and respond to his every gurgle. We arrived home, and the constant caring for my son hit me like a ton of bricks. I had never had a full-time job that was so, literally, full-time. Or one that was so demanding as well as important to me. When my husband and I took Elijah for his one-month checkup, his pediatrician asked me if I had been out of the house. When I told him that I hadn't even taken a walk in the neighborhood, he ordered me to stop hibernating and get out of the house. But how would I do that? Days went by when I couldn't even manage to squeeze in a shower. In those early weeks, having it sufficiently together to go for a stroll in the neighborhood seemed like climbing Everest. What if we were out and he started to cry? What if he was too cold? Too warm? What if it started to rain? What if…? I had to be prepared for any contingency, didn't I? It wasn't that I was particularly anxious, but I felt I had to have all the answers.

In those first weeks, I experienced a potent combination of exhilaration and exhaustion. I was certainly elated to be a mother, but because I was working so hard at it, some of the pure pleasure of parenting was lost. When Elijah made the slightest peep, I leaped up to see what was the matter. His cries, whether big or small, meant there was something I needed to fix, and the sooner the better. Responding so quickly to my son's upset made it impossible for me to pull back and consider the full picture. I was operating under the assumption that babies should be happy all the time. I don't know anyone who is happy all the time, so why was I expecting something different from my baby?

When Elijah was a year old, I was fortunate to discover the work of Magda Gerber, through her book Your Self-Confident Baby. The title intrigued me because self-confidence was not something I would ever have ascribed to a baby. I read the book, and my husband, Jonny, and I found our way to RIE Parent-Infant Guidance classes, which had a profound impact on the way we parent and our relationship with our son. Over time I slowed down, learned to observe, and discovered just how competent and capable Elijah could be. Once I got to know my son not as "a baby" but as a unique individual, our interactions fundamentally changed. I relaxed, my confidence grew, and being with Elijah became a lot more fun.

You may have been parented in a way that you would like to emulate with your child. Or you may want to parent very differently from the way you were parented, to let go of patterns from your childhood that you would prefer not to repeat. But how do you break a cycle that has been passed down from one generation to the next? Awareness and intention are important first steps, but then what? How do you replace what you know with what you don't know?

For most of us, parenting is the most important job we will have in our lives, and yet it is often one we are unprepared for—at least in the way of a formal education. While biology is part of the standard high school curriculum, basic infant development is nowhere to be found. Parents who consider themselves competent in other areas of their lives sometimes feel unsure when it comes to caring for their babies. They presume they can rely on instinct but find themselves confused about how best to care for their baby. This is compounded by the fact that little or no social service support exists for new parents in most communities, and many new parents live miles away from their own parents or other family members who might offer guidance and support. No wonder many new parents go to the bookstore or search the Internet in the middle of the night to find answers to an immediate challenge. But it can be confusing when one answer entirely contradicts another. What's a parent to do?

The Educaring® Approach is the basis for this book and provides a framework and practical tools that will support you in finding your own solutions to all sorts of parenting challenges and in becoming a more confident parent. The approach is based on the unique principles and revolutionary teachings of Magda Gerber, world-renowned founder of RIE® (Resources for Infant Educarers). A comprehensive approach to caring for and being with your baby, Educaring lays the foundation for a lifelong relationship based on respect. It shows you ways to understand what your baby really needs, and teaches you how to respond to those needs accurately. Although the approach focuses on newborns to two-year-olds, the concepts will continue to serve you well long after your baby is out of diapers. No special equipment is necessary. All that is needed is an open mind and heart.


Magda Gerber was born in Budapest, Hungary. She married at eighteen and shortly thereafter became a mother. She remarked that although she was well educated, nothing in her studies had prepared her for being a parent. One day, one of Magda's daughters, who was then four years old, was sick and needed medical attention. The family pediatrician was unavailable, so Magda's daughter suggested they call the mother of one of her friends, who was a pediatrician. Dr. Emmi Pikler came to see Magda's daughter at their home and inquired about her sore throat. When Magda began to speak on her daughter's behalf, Dr. Pikler gestured for Magda to be quiet so that the child could respond. Magda was astonished by her daughter's ability to clearly articulate how she was feeling. Dr. Pikler asked permission of Magda's daughter before looking in her throat, and Magda was stunned by the cooperative exchange between them. The interaction not only revealed to Magda her daughter's competence but astounded her with its respectful give-and-take. From then on, Dr. Pikler was the pediatrician to Magda's children, and thus began a long collaboration and friendship that continued until Emmi Pikler's death in 1984.

When World War II ended, the Hungarian government commissioned Dr. Pikler to establish a residential facility to care for children from birth to three years of age who had been orphaned during the war or whose parents were unable to care for them. Six months after she received the commission, the National Methodological Institute for Infant Care and Education was opened. Here, all those who cared for the children followed Dr. Pikler's very specific pedagogy. It was a vastly different place from other residential facilities where babies, at best, had their basic needs attended to or, at worst, were victims of indifferent treatment and "warehousing." The orphanage was commonly referred to as "Lóczy," for the street on which it was located, and upon Dr. Pikler's death, it was renamed the Pikler Institute in her honor. The institute cared for children for over sixty years, and although it is no longer a residential facility, it continues to be an international beacon of quality infant care and education. Among other things, Dr. Pikler is well known for her research about and approach to natural gross motor development, which was quite controversial at a time when many in the medical community were espousing the benefits of stimulation to teach babies how to move.

Magda studied with Dr. Pikler at Lóczy and went on to earn her master's degree in early childhood education in Budapest. She and her family left Hungary in 1956 after the revolution and immigrated to the United States the following year. They first settled in Boston, where Magda worked as an interpreter at Harvard University. A year later, the family made its way to Los Angeles, where Magda worked with children with cerebral palsy at Children's Hospital and then with children with autism spectrum disorders at the Dubnoff School. She applied the principles she learned at Lóczy and added her own insights, gathered through her unique educational and professional experiences. She had the ability to see the universality in all of us and applied the same principles with all children, including those with special needs. As Magda said, "My magic was simply observing closely and expecting of the children only what they could do. When a child is expected to do something he cannot, he is set up for failure."1 Those who knew Magda describe her extraordinary empathy and instinctive ability to relate to people. Magda had such compassion for the tender and vulnerable new parents who found their way to her classes, and she was able to gently guide them without undermining their confidence.

In 1972, Stanford pediatric neurologist Tom Forrest invited Magda to join him as founding codirector of the Demonstration Infant Program (DIP), a preventive mental health project commissioned by the Children's Health Council of Palo Alto, California. The following year, Magda began teaching parent-infant guidance classes in Los Angeles and in 1978, with Dr. Forrest, founded Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE), based in Los Angeles. At RIE, Magda taught an innovative kind of parent-infant class where parents were encouraged to observe their babies as they played freely, as an RIE facilitator modeled when and how to intervene with the babies. Since those early days, thousands of parents and caregivers have studied at RIE, and tens of thousands of babies have been cared for by adults who practice the Educaring Approach. Magda died in 2007, but her important work continues around the world through the dedicated RIE Associates who conduct classes for parents and professionals, as well as those who work directly with babies and toddlers.

Magda said she felt so fortunate to receive such valuable guidance from Dr. Pikler that she was compelled to share it with others. Her passion and life's work were helping parents and caregivers to understand babies and to learn what it means to interact with them respectfully. She taught that babies come into the world as complete human beings with their own distinct points of view. She helped us to see that by slowing down, observing, and taking the time to wait, we could understand our babies better and respond to their needs more accurately. She showed us what it means to respect a baby while also respecting ourselves.

Magda came from a European perspective, and this is reflected in her Educaring Approach. Even if you come from a similar cultural background, you may find that some of what you read here may differ from your cultural or family practices. Although habits and customs may vary from culture to culture, and different families certainly have their own unique way of doing things, I believe that the Educaring Approach can help any parent to better understand his or her baby and make the role of parent easier and more enjoyable. The essential truths of the Educaring Approach can be beneficial and relevant to all kinds of families, whether they consist of a single parent, a mother and father, two moms, two dads, or extended families with grandparents who take an active role in caring for the baby.

I hope you will use Baby Knows Best as a guidebook. Each chapter begins with a relevant quote from Magda. In the next chapter, you will be introduced to basic RIE principles and concepts that form the foundation of the approach. Later chapters address specific topics and issues that are part of everyday life with a baby or toddler and suggest ways of handling them. Throughout the book, parents as well as RIE educators offer their thoughts and insights on the Educaring Approach. Gender is referred to as she/her and he/his in alternate chapters. You will note that specific ages are not implied for major milestones such as rolling over, sitting up, crawling, and walking. Magda did not like to attach ages to these events because she wanted to encourage parents to appreciate what their baby was doing rather than measuring and comparing him to the supposed norm.

If you read this book and decide that you would like to make some changes in the way you care for your baby, I suggest that you start with just one or two RIE principles or ideas and practice them for a while until you and your baby become comfortable with them. Doing a lot of things differently, all at once, may be overwhelming for you and confusing for your baby, so take your time. There's no hurry. After all, this is the beginning of a lifelong relationship.

I hope you will discover, as I did, how the Educaring Approach can help you get to know your baby better, become a more confident parent, and find more joy in parenting. It can be a parent's greatest pleasure to witness a baby's growing competence, self-reliance, and resourcefulness. It is an extraordinary gift to have a respectful, cooperative, intimate, and loving relationship with your child.

1. The RIE Way

Our goal is to help parents learn to live and let live with their infants and later with their older children. Such insight cannot be "taught." Long-term learning is a slow process. It must happen organically—allowing for time in which the seeds of understanding may sprout, grow, bloom, and bear fruit.

—Magda Gerber, Dear Parent


Enter an RIE Parent-Infant Guidance class or the home of an RIE family, and you'll find a gated-off area that has been created as a safe space for the babies to play. For young babies, a thin, firm mat made of foam, covered with a cotton sheet, has been placed on top of the floor or rug to ensure a safe and clean play surface. It's a no-shoes area for both adults and babies.

At RIE Parent-Infant Guidance classes, parents sit around the perimeter of the room on small cushions or BackJack floor chairs with their babies in their laps. When parents and babies first arrive in class, they take the time to "warm in," or transition, to being in the gated-off play space together. The parents quietly talk about their week and may ask the RIE facilitator for guidance on issues that came up at home since the last class. When a baby shows interest in being on the mat to be near the other babies and play objects, his parent lays him on his back on the mat, or he moves toward the floor on his own to explore.

The play objects arranged around the room are simple; they don't have busy patterns or shiny sparkles. You won't see the latest faddish toys that promise to be entertaining and educational. The objects don't light up. They don't make sounds, unless a baby hits the object on the floor or against another object. To an adult, the play objects may look downright boring. And aren't some of those objects—measuring cups and colanders—from the kitchen cupboard?

For young babies, there are tented cotton napkins and just a few objects of various materials to mouth and chew on, such as metal frozen-juice lids, silicone pot holders, and wooden rings. For crawling babies, there are additional objects such as cups made of wood, metal, and plastic, or balls that are bumpy or smooth and made of cotton, rubber, or plastic. For toddlers, who often like to collect and sort things, there are also buckets and bowls.

After the warming-in period, the RIE facilitator asks the adults to sit without talking for a period of quiet observation. Except for the sounds of babies gurgling, cooing, and babbling, their sounds of exertion and effort, and the possible clatter of objects, the room is quiet as the adults observe the children for twenty minutes or so. They observe as six-month-old Eli crawls across the room to reach a plastic colander full of balls. As Adrianna lies on her back, mouthing a wooden ring, Aidan scoots over and takes it from her. Across the mat, Miles and Keesha are sitting up, facing each other. Miles picks up a small metal cup, and for a while he and Keesha pass it back and forth between them. Then Miles taps the cup against Keesha's head, and she immediately begins to cry. Parents stay seated while the facilitator moves close to the babies and says to Miles, "Keesha's upset. If you want to bang the cup, you can bang it on the floor." She gently strokes each child's head, saying, "Gently. Softly."

When the structured observation time is up, the facilitator may ask, "What did you observe about your baby or someone else's baby? What did you observe about yourself?"

Eli's dad says, "Eli spotted the colander all the way across the room and worked hard to get to it. He was so pleased when he got there and finally had it in his hands. I have to work on my own impatience because sometimes I just want to hand things to him."

Adrianna's mom says, "When Adrianna was lying on her back, playing with the ring, I was anxious when Aidan crawled over to her. But then I noticed that she didn't seem to mind at all, and when he took the ring from her, she just looked around for something else to play with. That surprised me."

Miles's mom says, "When you moved in close and said, 'Keesha's upset,' Miles really seemed to listen. You brought a peaceful presence that helped both children to calm." Keesha's mom says, "My first instinct was to come close to comfort Keesha. But she didn't even look to me. You gave her what she needed."

In Parent-Infant Guidance classes, parents observe their babies, come to appreciate all that their babies are doing, and trust in their baby's individual timetable for achieving milestones. By learning to hold back rather than quickly intervening to rescue or problem-solve for their babies, parents are often surprised to see just how competent their babies can be. Over time and with practice, parents become more confident in their parenting skills, and the babies become confident, self-reliant, and resourceful, as both take pleasure in just being together without any sort of agenda.


Attachment or attachment theory refers to the developing connection between a baby and the significant other who cares for him—most often his mother or father. The nature of the attachment relationship is largely formed by the sensitive responsiveness of the parent to the baby and the overall quality of the baby-parent interactions. In secure attachment, the parent helps the baby learn to self-soothe and also encourages and takes pleasure in the baby's independent exploration. Learning when to hold close and when to let go is a skill that parents are called on to employ throughout their child's life. Magda's genius was in helping us to see the world from the baby's point of view and showing us practical ways to respond to babies with care and respect.


Magda Gerber said that "we should educate while we care and care while we educate" and coined the terms Educarer and Educaring to describe the ways in which caring and educating are intertwined.1 She taught that the intimate caregiving activities of diapering, dressing, bathing, and feeding are not only relationship-building opportunities but also opportunities for learning. Her approach is based on a set of basic RIE principles that inform all parent-child interactions.

RIE Principles

In addition to respect and authenticity, seven basic RIE principles form the foundation of the Educaring Approach. They are introduced in this chapter and expanded on in greater detail throughout the book. These are not a rigid set of principles that must be doggedly enforced and followed but rather can serve as guideposts to support you in building a respectful relationship with your baby. These principles will help you respond confidently to the inevitable parenting challenges that will arise. Parents who practice the Educaring Approach discover how flexible it is and often remark that it makes parenting easier and more enjoyable. The Educaring Approach guides parents to create a more harmonious and peaceful life at home with their babies. And who doesn't want that? Here are the RIE principles, exactly as Magda wrote them.

1. Basic trust in the child to be an initiator, an explorer, and a self-learner

"An infant always learns. The less we interfere with the natural process of learning, the more we can observe how much infants learn all the time."2

When you trust in your baby's competence, you can relax, secure in the knowledge that he will let you know when he needs you and that you don't have to push, prod, or teach him for him to develop fully, happily, and well. This kind of trust develops over time, as you observe your baby to get to know him better, understand his cues, and notice what interests him. All babies are naturally curious and motivated from within. They don't need us to instruct or teach them. Give your baby the opportunity to discover and try things out on his own and allow him the time he needs to develop at his own pace. There may be times when you feel impatient or anxious, but trusting in your baby's unique developmental timetable will serve you both well.

2. An environment for the child that is physically safe, cognitively challenging, and emotionally nurturing

"Contrary to what many people believe, a gated room is a safe room which gives infants freedom to move and explore in safe and familiar surroundings."3

Magda defined a safe space as one that if you got locked out of the house or apartment for many hours, you would return to find your baby hungry, upset, and needing a new diaper but unharmed. A safe play space allows you to fully relax, knowing you don't have to be on guard to ensure your baby's safety. It also gives your baby the freedom to fully explore in his play area, never hearing you say, "Don't touch that. Don't climb on that. That's not safe." Provide a safe space for your baby—a separate room or a gated-off area—with no potential hazards. Get down on your hands and knees and crawl around. Experience the environment from your baby's point of view. Are the bookshelves securely fastened to the wall? Are the outlets covered? Could your baby crawl up onto the sofa and topple off the back? If so, your baby is not safe alone in the space. Make the play area safe so that it works for both of you—so that he can be free to explore, and you can relax knowing there's no potential danger.

A cognitively challenging environment provides opportunities for exploration and learning with developmentally appropriate play objects. A plastic jar with a lid for unscrewing is appropriate for a toddler but will provide too much challenge for a young baby. Balls can be fun for a crawling baby or toddler who can retrieve the ball when it rolls away, but not ideal for a baby who is not yet crawling and does not have the ability to pursue the ball himself.

In an emotionally nurturing environment, your baby can relax and trust that you will be available for emotional support when he needs you. He can enjoy independent exploration and also initiate playful interactions with you as you appreciate and take pleasure in his play.

3. Time for uninterrupted play

"The less we interrupt, the more easily infants develop a long attention span."4

All babies know how to play. They don't need us to teach them. It is natural to play with your baby, but let him be the one to initiate the play. Babies can learn to play happily on their own, in their safe play area. When babies are given the opportunity to explore and experiment independently, they discover their own inner resources and what interests them.

When your baby is playing, he's not just fiddling with an object. He is learning about that particular object, making discoveries about cause and effect, and how he can impact the object. Let your baby decide if he wants to play (perhaps he'd prefer to lie on his back and watch the dust particles in the sunlight), when to play, what object to play with, what he'd like to do with it, and for how long. Giving your baby time for uninterrupted play every day helps to preserve a long attention span that many babies are born with. It also helps to promote concentration, self-reliance, and problem-solving skills.

4. Freedom to explore and interact with other infants

"Whereas others often restrict infant-infant interaction (such as infants touching each other) for fear of their hurting one another, Educarers facilitate interactions by closely observing in order to know when to intervene and when not to."5

Babies are fascinated by other babies. It's wonderful for your baby to have the opportunity to play and explore with a small and consistent group of babies of his own developmental stage, with you or another attentive adult nearby to provide emotional support and safety.


  • "The RIE program is the single most relatable, intuitive, and common sense approach to the modern day conundrum of parenting. Baby Knows Best is the guide book. It helps you get back to basics and makes you a better, more confident parent as you learn that Babies do indeed Know Best. A must-have on yours and your baby's library shelf." --Jamie Lee Curtis
  • "I think RIE should be a national program so that parents all over the country can have the opportunity that my family had." --Dee Dee Myers, former White House Press Secretary

On Sale
Dec 17, 2013
Page Count
288 pages
Little Brown Spark

Deborah Carlisle Solomon

About the Author

Deborah Carlisle Solomon is an infant/toddler educator and speaker. She works with parents, caregivers, early interventionists and other professionals to help them to “see infants with new eyes,” and to create relationships with babies and young children based on understanding and respect. She was RIE Executive director from 2006 to 2014 and has addressed national and international infancy and early childhood conferences workshops. Deborah lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son.

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