|Inspired by the teachings of Magda Gerber, infant specialist and founder of Resources for Infant Educarers (RIE), the foundation of our approach is to treat all children with respect for their individuality and capabilities.
Over the years we have adapted RIE philosophy to center-based care and used the core concepts to guide every aspect of our program. The methods of care, based on that philosophy, are very effective. Our RIE-based philosophy sets us apart from many other programs and has earned us a reputation of excellence.
One practice we use to convey respect is that of selective intervention based upon sensitive observation of the children. When experiencing a conflict over a toy or space, for example, we give children the room and support to try to solve it themselves before intervening. By impartially reflecting back to them what is happening ('You both really want that ball") rather than solving the problem for them ("Who had it first?") we give them the chance to learn real problem-solving skills and to develop a view of themselves as capable individuals.
Many of the principles of our program are promoted through careful use of language. We avoid 'baby talk', using normal tone of voice and sentences with even the youngest of our children. We use active listening techniques to acknowledge emotions ("You're really mad right now!") and to acknowledge the importance and validity of their play ("You're working hard on that puzzle"). We enhance predictability by talking to the children about what is going to be done or is happening and giving them time to respond. We avoid labeling ("You're bad!") talking about the specific action rather than criticizing their character. While caring for the children we talk to them just as if we are having conversations with them, with dignity.
Caregivers are careful to make clear through their language situations where the child has a real choice ('Would you like to run to the change table or would you like me to carry you?') and those where the child really doesn't have a choice. Giving children choices as often as possible gives them the feeling that they have some power in their lives. Because autonomy ("Do it myself") is such an important developmental task for toddlers, we find that giving them small but real choices, within the limits we set for them, helps them to develop a sense of self and positive self-esteem. This makes it easier to accept the things that they don't have choices about. Reflecting this in our daily routines, we offer toddlers appropriate choices whenever we can ("Would you like your milk in a green cup or a blue one?').
Consistency is very important for young children. Regular routines, constant care, consistency in caregivers, and clearly defined limits and expectations help children to develop an internal sense of discipline.
Parents often ask us what kind of discipline we use. 'Discipline' usually refers to the process of setting limits on children's inappropriate behavior. Toddlers are active, curious people who often act on impulse. They "test" us, sometimes doing things that are dangerous, and sometimes intruding on others rights. These are learning situations, and through them children gain a sense of their personal power as well as reasonable limits and social skills. Our goal is to help children develop their internal controls without threatening their self-esteem. Our method is to show children alternative, appropriate behavior, avoiding labeling or judgmental language. Children at times are moved away from other children briefly if they seem to be asking for space or if they need help stopping themselves from hurting other children. Physical punishment is never used.
The expression of feelings is important to the growth of healthy individuals. We work with our children, even those who can't yet speak, to accept and acknowledge their feelings and to help them express them. We work to accept all emotions, even 'negative' ones such as anger and grief, and help children to accept all emotions as OK for them to feel. You will observe that we are not trying to distract toddlers who are unhappy when their parents are leaving, but rather saying "You're sad that Mommy (or Daddy) is leaving. I'll be close to you until you feel better". In this way we can give them support but allow them work it through at their own pace. Even when we are imposing limits, we try to do it in a way that acknowledges feelings ("I see that you're MAD, but I can't let you hit. You can say 'NO!").