The next piece of the RIE® approach is involving the child during care taking activities. This may seem strange because you’re probably thinking that of course the baby is involved in diapering, changing, feeding, bathing.
But oftentimes, these activities are done TO the baby and not WITH the baby. We tend to treat the baby as a more passive entity being moved through the task instead of fully engaging with them as an active and alert participant.
In the RIE® model, caregiving is the curriculum AND the relationship because it’s through these frequent, intimate interactions that trust and connection are built. This allows for the baby to be refueled by such concentrated care and better prepares them to explore their environment with independence and ease.
Here’s a crucial component though. It requires you to be fully present, totally focused and attentive while not being in a rush. It’s asking for cooperation and actually waiting for the baby to respond. Involving the child means you always tell them what you are doing and what will happen next, acknowledging that it’s their body you are feeding, bathing or diapering. You include them in the experience and allow for the baby to take whatever level of ownership of the experience that they are capable of doing.
More than anything, attentive care giving that intentionally involves the child sends the message to the baby that these moments are important, that you value this time together, that in essence, it feels good to be cared for. Through touch, pace, tone, eye contact, sensitive observation and genuine back and forth interaction, the parent and baby make the connection that it feels good to be together.
And aside from this, the baby learns language, the rich, back and forth dialogue of daily occurrences as well as the earliest level of participation in baby’s own self-care. It’s a moment to set aside everything else you have to do in order to carve out space for intimacy. It becomes less about having to complete a task and more about enjoyment of the shared experience for both parent and baby.
Think about it in a adult context. Don’t you feel refueled and better equipped to engage in life if you are your partner connect? If you share a moment of intimacy, whether that’s sex, a warm embrace, deep dialogue, whatever it may be, don’t you feel connected and more grounded ready to separate more easily because you feel genuinely connected and aligned? I know I do. Loving care can do that for all of us, regardless of age.
The best way to involve the child in care taking is to create a routine around the activity so that it is the same way, or close to the same way, every time. There are predictable steps to accomplish the task and this predictability makes cooperation more possible. The child can anticipate and participate and thus, deep trust develops. Read that again because it is key. It’s a formula that works well and applies to bedtime, meals, diapering and more.
It is important to remember that not every diaper change may be this loving, lasting exchange where you can indulge in the process and not the end result. Life is busy and sometimes we are rushed. That’s ok. Of course we always try to be attentive and respectful but even if a few times per week you can engage in a slower-paced practice not motivated by an end goal that is enough to refuel the baby and yourself in order to strengthen your intimate connection.
Because, in reality, it’s the full attention a little bit of the time that goes way further than half attention all of the time.