RIE is about respect of personhood. These are some sublte ways RIE shows up in our home – and we are growing all the time!
I don’t force the girls to apologize – it’s meaningless if they don’t initiate it anyway. This is not to say we don’t have discussions about forgiveness all the time, but in the moment of a conflict, I do not force this.
I don’t force the girls to do things with their bodies. Instead of saying, “Give Grammie a hug before we leave,” I say, “Would you like to hug Grammie before we leave?”
I’ve had to learn myself how to be smart about it. Just yesterday, we went into the grocery bathroom upon arrival. I used the toilet and then asked the girls if they needed to. Both said no. But we are also just starting out in public not in diapers, so I know they need to visit the toilet often. Sadly, I told them they needed to try and I pulled one’s pants down and physically placed her screaming on the toilet. Not only did she not pee, but she was screaming no and contorting her body. I can’t believe I did that – what a robbery of her being in charge of her body and how disrespectful! I had to ask her to forgive me for not listening to her and for being disrespectful to her body. They’ve demonstrated consistently knowing when they need to pee even if it is only 10 seconds before the flow begins. I needed to have accepted her answer of no and just asked again later. So what to do? Because we can’t make a mad dash every single place. Well, at the end of that trip, I offered a new family practice: every time we go into the bathroom at a store, it’s a good idea to sit on the toilet just to see if anything will come out. If it doesn’t that’s okay, but if it does than that will save us from maybe having an accident later. They both agreed no problem.
BOUNDARIES: I’ll only write that you should start small because once the boundary is widened, it is nearly impossible to shrink it down. For example, as my children drop their nap, they still must have quiet time. I started off with quiet time as stay in your room. Big mistake. I’ve had to swim upstream to change that boundary to a smaller realm of staying on their bed and not talking to each other. Oh the grief I could’ve saved!
EQUIPPING OUR CHILDREN: Nobody else is charged with equipping your child – only you! And this starts at the beginning. We need to equip our little ones with spiritual horse power as well as practical things – and the two are completely related! Start with verbalizing everything to your child and being clear and concise. Equipping your children is at the heart of RIE – enabling them to do what they can independently brings about confidence and confidence encourages them to go futher, be more curious, and more thoughtful. Equipping your child is the work of parenting. This is what grows them in every area.
It was really helpful to have my best friend’s kids come over and respond well to me in various situations so my children (even as babies!) could see what to do.
COMMUNICATION: Teach your children how to communicate – not just basic things like “please” and “more,” but teach them how to express their complicated emotions. You’re going to need to know why she hit her sister and what her frustration was in order to then equip her on how to deal with those frustrations in the future. Teach them word specificity; teach them nuance and connotation. Explain facial expression and body language and how the outside reflects the heart. This is ongoing, but starts from the very beginning. Edited per my own mama’s request: she wants me to emphasize that when we talk with our children, we are always polite. We always ask our children with “please” and “thank you,” etc. We speak to them the way we would to anybody: with kindness and gentleness. We have also never spoken baby talk to them. About the only transition in communication we’ve had to work on was changing from referring to ourselves in third person to first person. I guess it’s also worth noting that we talk to our children all the time. I always tell them what I’m doing (I am making smoothies. Here’s how I do it… I’m arranging flowers. Here’s how… Know what? I’m having a hard day, here’s why…Hey, see that girl over there, do you think she’s having a hard time? Let’s pray…on and on and on. I am constantly sharing what I’m thinking about and what God says about things, etc. I don’t shield them from any truth in our world – including evil. They know what sin is; they know people choose to deny God, etc. How I share those things is certainly age appropriate, but if it’s in Scripture, then it’s in our conversations. And this has happened since they were in my belly. I also make sure that I am always telling them how much I love their dad and how hard he works for us and why he’s such a godly man, etc. Even though Daddy doesn’t get to be home as much as me, I still want our children to know that he’s the head of our home and trustworthy and deserving of our affection for good reason. And I want them to see what a strong marriage looks like even when both spouses aren’t in the room.
PRACTICE: In addition to prayer, we practice. I design various scenarios and we run through them – but I always try to make it authentic. For example, I got them $5 grocery carts from Target (some stores provide child grocery carts!) and we went shopping. I told them what we needed as we got to each section, they found it, and put it in their cart. This was around 22 months. We talked about navigating the grocery store, watching for other people, staying on our side, saying excuse me, etc. They had great fun and learned a lot. Design various practices to be a part of your life context. It’ll take creativity and thoughtfulness on your part and a ton of patience! Flush out the process! Give them reminder cues, too – rhyming songs, hand motions, etc.
note on public outings: I see a lot of mamas recommend things like snacks or ipads or toys, etc, for making outings easier. Certainly that is a tool to tuck in your pocket. BUT, understand that is simply distraction instead of equipping your child. Also, just keep outings to a minimum! They need to be free to wiggle and roll and run and jump and to confine them to a seat is not helpful to anybody! Yes, this changes like the boundaries do in terms of getting larger and they can handle more. But try to be sensitive to them!
ROUTINE: Benefits of a routine include less decision making for you, having more reserve for your whole family, children knowing what to expect, an opportunity to work your parenting goals into daily application, time for you, time for your spouse, opportunity for somebody else to watch the kiddos (trust me, you won’t get a sitter if you’re day is unpredictable because you won’t know what to tell sitter to do or expect), and thriving in your children. Let me be clear: this is not a schedule; this is a routine. The difference is not just semantics. The difference is being able to respond to life as needed and being able to observe and follow your child’s needs. I don’t have any outside of the RIE books listed below that I’d wholeheartedly recommend. I do like snippets of others – even Babywise! gasp!. I do NOT like Attachment Parenting books. I think they’re beautifully wrapped traps. Like Turkish Delight.
I have been two parents: the one whose children are so bendy and flexible they just jump and go with me whenever, wherever. Sure, they’ll sleep in the car. Sure, they can eat on the go. And that was fine until they had a preference and a voice.
Then I became the second parent (the one wishing I’d heeded all the advice from my mama mentors!): routine, routine, routine! And, good golly, it would’ve been so much easier had I done this from the beginning! It’s so much easier to forge a path when you have the luxury of time and a baby who pretty much just sleeps and eats. It’s much more difficult to forge the path of routine when there’s more to do.
So, start simple! When babies first come home, make your own personal routine very simple: eat, bathe, maybe do one home management thing (maybe!), and rest. Obviously, the home management work depends on your situation, but whittle it down to bare bones. Initially, baby will sleep and eat and gaze around, but mostly sleep. I’m not an advocate of scheduling your child or training them to eat at only certain times, etc. However, you do need to observe the child and see a basic routine. Start working towards understanding when naps will be. As the baby grows, he’ll work towards two naps a day: morning nap and afternoon nap. Then, out of nowhere and much to the panic of many mamas, baby will drop a nap. (fyi, it’s really fun with multiples when only one does this!) So, then you move towards one nap after lunch. And after that nap, they are energized and ready to go and they are on full speed until bedtime. Haha Obviously, your children could be different, but watch for energy levels and use that to help structure your day. (Give your child a way to get his wiggles out – physical AND mental wiggles! And this is key – wiggles in means difficult bedtime for everybody!)
As an example, I”ll share our routine at 3 years old:
7 wake, cuddle, snack on fruit
8 get ready for the day (brush teeth, wash face, brush hair, get dressed)
Set the table while I prepare breakfast
Pray, eat, talk a lot
They clean up the table and then have a chore of my choosing – sometimes it’s the dishes, or wiping the table, or sweeping, or sorting laundry. But they do that chore while I clean up anything from breakfast and then I work alongside them. This is flexible. And I used to have to leave the dishes til later so I could show them the chore, but now they know them all well.
Bible time (this used to be at the breakfast table, but now I’m transitioning to home schooling, so it fits in here and will lengthen to include any teaching I need to do before they do their school work) – and, I’m still figuring out how to modify and transition routines!
Play – hopefully outside. More wiggles get out in nature. And you go out with your kids, too! This is where some magical conversations about character and the Lord and the incredible world take place!
11:30/12 Lunch – they wash hands and then set table while I prepare lunch
Read a story
Rest time – they can nap or stay awake doing something quiet on their bed, but they must stay on their beds and not talk to each other and be quiet.
3 Rest time is over for sure and I go wake them if they haven’t woken yet; we have cuddles and talk.
Outside play time hopefully
4:30 I leave them to start dinner
5:30 Dinner (they wash hands, set the table, and they clear the dishes as well)
7/7:30 Start bedtime routine (brush teeth, baths, have a glass of milk at the table and read a story (they don’t drink milk anymore, but want to see the glass there – moving past that currently!). Into the bedroom for prayers, tucking in, a good night song. We usually walk out of their room around 8 or 8:30.
You’ll notice in this routine that it seems like evening activities are out. Yep. They are. At least as a family. Your lifestyle changes with kiddos if you are intentionally parenting. That is not something to fear – it is so great! And if you have a routine, then you get to have a sitter and go do evening things sometimes if you want! It won’t last forever and routines and sleep times are always moving targets. But, yes, part of intentional parenting is that you need to be sensitive to the season of life your family is in. If you’re the first couple having babies in your group of friends, you’ll be in a tougher position. Sorry. Pave the way, though!
To be sure, this is the GOAL routine. It does not always happen every day. But, it helps so much to already have the rails laid so that you are making less decisions throughout the day. You don’t need to decide when to take a nap that day – you already know. It won’t be tough to figure out when to go to the grocery because you know you only have a small window. Also, as far as the cleaning/chore stuff, that really isn’t a challenge with toddlers at all because they WANT to do those things – I’ll share more about that later. Where I have ‘chore’ listed, they would simply choose one chore to do. For a two year old, this is really just a 3-5 minute activity. At three, my girls will spend much longer doing chores – upwards of 25/30 minutes! Besides helping create capable, responsible children who are satisfied developmentally at this point, you area also showing them they are part of a family not simply an individual. Again –these are GOALS, not things that happen perfectly all day every day. Now that we are well past two years old (when we started these things, though I should’ve done them around 18 months), I can tell you that the girls handle much of this on their own without instruction or help. It’s the day in/day out practice and help that got them there.
As a home schooling mama and a mama who plans on adding more children (more twins!?!) to our family, the routine is a must. It allows us to have peace instead of chaos and I get to carve out time for each child individually. I’m not running around frantically trying to figure out how to get it all done.
PRAYER: Holy moly, do we pray! We pray all. day. long. about everything. We thank God for our bellies working when they poop. We thank God for giving the trees for the squirrels in our backyard. We ask God to please help us have sharing hearts before playtime. We pray for God to shape our hearts to be gentle in all things. But the deal is that we feel it is truly truly God shaping these girls. He is the one molding their hearts – not us. To be sure, God works through us and I’m not denying that, but our hands would be crude and messy and ineffective anyway. He does it perfectly. I want to convey to my children the importance of submitting and examining every single facet of our lives to the Lord. So we pray. For everything. All the time.
We don’t only pray for God to shape our hearts. We pray all day every day for everything. We pray in the middle of the grocery store. We pray in the middle of a difficult dental visit. We pray for the cashier who looks haggard and for the family having fun at the park. We pray for understanding and to have eyes and ears and hands and hearts like Jesus. We want them to understand that God is ever-present and ever-caring. About everything. At two years old, we ask them before formal prayer times (at meals and sleep times) who they want to pray for – and they always have an answer! And sometimes, they even bow their little heads and say their own prayer that I totally cannot understand – but Jesus does! And it’s probably the most precious prayer He’s ever heard! As of late, the girls are wanting to pray every single night for “the garden guys” who did a bit of yard work for us. I have no idea why they are obsessed with praying for them, but we go with it! Those are some pretty blessed garden guys and they don’t even know it! We also pray for big decisions and ongoing things in our family. We share with our children the struggles of our own hearts and include them on going to the throne of grace. And we pray to love each other. And, boy, do my children love each other. God has answered all of our prayers so clearly and somewhere along the way we shared with our children how God always will answer then and that we can thank Him even as we finish our prayers. Somehow, my girls understood that because at the end of every prayer after saying, “Amen,” they raise their hands in praise and say with exuberance, “Thank you, Jesus!” because He has already answered our prayer and now we just wait on Him. They are getting it!
MONTESSORI: I read somewhere about OCCI (Order, Concentration, Coordination, Independence). That’s pretty much my template for Montessori – along with child-led in SOME things. I prepare our physical AND spiritual environment. Then, based on the needs I see in them (and pray to see!), we practice and play. I do offer choice, but I feel choice is like a funnel: very limited initially and grows only as their readiness/maturity grows. And sometimes there is simply no choice other than obeying or disobeying because that’s life and and that’s how our family needs to operate. Edited: I’ve learned much more about Montessori since and it’s wonderful! Do it!
When I say child-led in some things, I mean that they would probably just want to eat blueberries and watch Pooh Bear all day some days. That’s not cool with me. I DO pick up on them needing a lazy, rest-filled day, but then I am the one who sets up what kind of rest they have. So, child-led in general, but parent-created? Not really sure the best phrase to describe that…
Anyway, on a practical level, Montessori saved my sanity. It taught me how to observe my children and understand what they were really needing. It also helped me to properly equip my children to develop where they are at. For example, they always want to help me. With everything. Well, mostly what they see me doing is taking care of our home: laundry, cooking, cleaning, etc. Great – I’d love for them to help! So, I figured out a way for them to do all of the things! They don’t do them perfectly, but they are pretty darn good. They fold square things (practiced with burp cloths I sewed seams into). They set the table (practiced with placemates I drew the plate/utenils onto). They sweep. They mop. Etc. I had to find ways to adapt all of our household duties so that they could practice and then do them successfully. (which is another reason I love Norwex!) So, my two year olds routinely do self-care, household chores, etc. It was all about observing and creating a process for them to be successful. (note: process is key! Your children learning everything has a process rather than being instantaneous will alleviate a ton of frustration!) I also truly believe that a lot of the terrible-two behavior comes from children being frustrated that they desperately want to be independent but have not yet been equipped to do so.
On the topic of misbehavior…I have encountered some ideas (everywhere, not just in Montessori) that color all behavior as acceptable and just needing to be corralled into a more socially acceptable hue. I disagree completely. My children are sinful. They sin. And I am not accusing them of this and being ugly about it, but it is the start point for understanding why they need the Lord. It is my absolute joyful obligation and privilege to show them how they compare to the standard and beauty of God and why they have a need for Christ. I relate to them because of my own sin and we can commiserate together and celebrate together the renewal Christ offers.
Anyhow, Montessori saved my sanity because it allowed me a way of growing my children practically in a way that satisfied them developmentally and freed me up from doing every single task for them and being a slave to entertaining them.
BIBLE INSTRUCTION: As far as specific Bible instruction goes, we have a couple of practices built into our routine: our Bible Basket and Family Bible Time. (Even when they were babies, we did these things. Back then, we started with a little booklet called Bible Forget-Me-Nots.)
Our Bible basket sits on our dining table and contains various items that the girls choose from at each meal time. During that meal time, I go over the chosen materials. Sometimes it’s three minutes and sometimes we lounge at the table forever even after we’re done eating. What’s in our Bible Basket?
Scripture memory books: Bible Forget Me-Nots and ABC Memory Book (both from http://scripturememoryfellowship.org/books/memory-books/children-s-books.html). (I don’t say the letters in the A to Z book since they aren’t phonetically aligned, but that doesn’t change us memorizing them.)
Several Bibles – not children’s Bibles, but regular old Bibles.
Theology bookmark cards that give a theological principal and Scripture references to look up that explain it.
Think Thru the Bible is a great overview of the picture of God’s giant puzzle and how each part of the Bible fits into it.
Little Lion/Lamb figurines that we might look at and just talk about characteristics of Christ or what eternity is like. We also have a little keychain holder with God’s promises. So, the girls choose what they want to discuss that day, and we do. Or, if we feel a particular need for a truth to be addressed, then we choose and discuss that.
We also have the Pray and Play Bible and that’s fun to utilize sometimes, too. (At three years old, this is their favorite after lunch story book)
Family Bible time is simply us after dinner for a few minutes sitting while Daddy reads God’s Word and we have another family prayer time. It might be five minutes or it might be thirty minutes – totally depends on the day. And, yes, sometimes it’s a real hassle and very difficult. But we are highlighting to our children that God’s Word is paramount in our home and making time for His instruction is essential.
In all of this, there is discussion and prayer.
We aren’t simply reading and closing our books. We explain lots of things to our children about all of it. Nothing is “too adult” for them in this arena – we offer the Lord’s viewpoint and how a particular truth shows up in our lives or might show up in theirs. We talk a lot about their brothers who passed away and what they might be doing in Heaven or how God used them on earth and still does. We talk a lot about redemption and trusting God. This is really cool because then when we go on nature walks and they see “uh-ohs” like a bird in distress or a squirrel that got runover, etc, we are able to talk about how God cares for all those animals and plants and provides for them and has a plan even if we don’t yet understand it. We look at the stamen on the flowers and talk about fertilization and seeds and how neat it is that God made things work that way and here’s why and how it’s part of a larger process, etc. Obviously, even outside of our formal Bible times, we are sharing about the Lord and His love and goodness.
GIVING: Having serving hearts is a big part of our family vision. We don’t want to give just at Christmas, but all the time. So we look for opportunities to have giving and serving hearts with each other and others. Right now, it is small because that’s the season we’re in, but we still seek. We might color a picture and write a card. Maybe we visit somebody with flowers picked from our garden. Perhaps we just do a quick visit and pray with somebody in distress. My grandmother’s cat and true companion passed away and she was very glum about it. At 18 months old, the girls “colored” pictures for her and picked a couple of “flowers” (weeds). We prayed. We went to her house and rang the doorbell to deliver our care. And we visited for about a half hour. I can’t tell you the joy that restored to her! Obviously, it was the Lord’s answer to our prayer, but he honored our heart’s desire to comfort a grieving person. It was beautiful! Another time, we visited their little friend who had a new baby sister. They chose beforehand to give one of their stuffed bears to her. It was one of their favorites and it was so hard for them to actually hand it over! But oh we had prayed about it and they gave it to her willingly (we did not make them) and it was beautiful!
In the future we might go to friends who need help and say that we have twenty minutes to serve, what can we do? Sweep? Fold the laundry? Hold a baby? Load a dishwasher? It’s not a ton for the other family, but it’s something and it demonstrates care and it creates a serving heart in my children. They’ll get it.
And, Mamas, here’s what you need to get about this: It may be good, but is it best? I had to learn this the hard way. Your season of life will not last forever, I promise. But right now, you’ve got to learn how to be very careful with your time and efforts. Budget your time the way Dave Ramsey says to budget your money: keep some in a reserve for emergencies. Incorporate “blow time” that could be used for a whim. Do not overextend yourself or your kiddos. This applies to serving as well as activities. Make sure everything you’re spending your time on is in line with your family vision. Obviously, this doesn’t mean to not stretch in serving. It doesn’t mean to always say no or to only help if there’s no cost. Not at all! Cost is important! I’m simply advising you to be clear-eyed about the impact to your family on where your time and efforts go.
DISCIPLINE: It’s odd for me to have a separate section on this because it’s not really a separate thing in our home. We are prayerful for our children and with our children. We ask the Lord to shape their hearts. We practice and model and train them all day long day in and day out. In addition to equipping them , we do time-ins (where we stay with kiddo). We used to spank. And I don’t know that I’m anti-spanking when it’s done as prescribed by somebody like Ted Tripp. But, as I explored more of Montessori and more of RIE, I had more questions about the Biblical nature of spanking. While Dad explores those questions, we have suspended spanking in our time. And actually, we haven’t had a need for it at all since we have become further equipped with RIE practicalities.
We do have a sitting spot that is NOT a timeout spot (right now it’s their beds) – we don’t really do timeout because that doesn’t make sense to us. It’s just a spot for them to go and sit in and wait for one of us to come address them. It was born out of them fighting one time while I was on the toilet and couldn’t get up. But they needed to stop fighting immediately because it was physical. Enter the sitting spot. We practiced going to their spot just like everything else. Now if something happens and I tell them to go to their spot, they’ve got it down and immediately go. (with a “yes, mommy!”) This is also helpful when I simply need to focus on something like a busted lip without the other hovering. The sitting spot is purely for safety and not utilized as a means of discipline.
I’m leaving this paragraph here because it shows an evolution of thinking on my part, but please read the following paragraph, too:
BEFORE RIE: Occasionally, we do spank our children following the lengthy process/guide set out in Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp. I am not open to debating the idea of spanking, but want to put it out there because it has been a wonderful, heart-shaping tool for our family (ALL of us). We ONLY spank for clear disobedience – like the children must be able to identify that they disobeyed – and we NEVER spank if we are even slightly angry or irritated. It is rarely employed because, frankly, they’re pretty darn obedient. The spanking is not painful or ugly or out of anger ever. I don’t know that the world really has a category for spanking the way that Tripp lays out in the book.
After RIE: My children are sinful. Period. But I’ve learned so much about development that I think the times I used to perceive as disobedient were actually just development things. And that doesn’t mean I don’t need to intervene and address it, but it does mean they weren’t acting sinfully in doing something. And this is definitely true in them now. It’s very obvious. But it took a lot of research and developmental reading and prayer for me to view my children through this lense. I’m not dismissing their sinful natures. They have a need for Jesus to be sure.
I hope this goes without saying, but we pour love into our children constantly. I don’t know if any other children ever knew for sure they were more loved than ours do! That probably goes with the territory of their brothers passing away. Our home is not legalistic or lacking tenderness in any way. It is a respite from the world and a sanctuary where we seek to know the Lord’s very presence.
REST: I recently attended a workshop where a speaker spoke on the importance of rest for the family: the Sabbath. Not in a legalistic way, but in a holy way. It was a beautiful lecture and you can read it here:
Don’t burden your children. Show them how to rest– not just vegg out and do nothing, but how to find deep, satisfying rest in the One who can give it. What a gift that would be for the next generation!
Mamas, you are the tone of the home. Truly. Whatever mood you carry, your family right down to the dog will reflect. Whatever intentions you have for your family, be gentle on yourself, tend your marriage, love your children, and live for your Savior. He will not let you down and He will always fill in the gaps and cover over the cracks.
GRACE: I’d like to conclude this conversation by emphasizing your family’s need for grace. You need it. Your children need it. Don’t get so caught up in an idea that you miss the people you love. Don’t think that sticking to a routine is more important than the tender heart of a child. Love your husband openly. Love your children passionately. Make them your favorite people. Delight in them! Share your own heart and failures and victories with your children – even your babies! Ask forgiveness often – even of your babies! Be gentle and kind and forgiving and allow for God to be the author of your heart and your children’s hearts. Place the burden on Him and bask in the joy He delivers daily. They will learn grace the same way you have: from the people who are gracious towards them. Oh, Mama, let that be you. Let that be you.