What is Gender-Neutral Parenting and How Can It Help You?

Gender-neutral parenting is becoming an increasingly popular method to raise a child.

The views expressed in this post are those of a contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Amslee Institute.

Gender-neutral parenting is becoming an increasingly popular method to raise a child. More parents are choosing to raise children either completely devoid of or with a lot less reliance on gender stereotypes and gendered systems. As a parenting method, it covers everything from toys, clothes, and how they interact with other children, to the very language that you use inside and outside of your home.

This doesn’t mean that all conversations about gender will be removed from your children’s upbringing. On the contrary, talking about gender is a crucial part of gender-neutral parenting. Professor Christia Spears Brown of the Centre for Equality and Social Justice at the University of Kentucky shared her thoughts on the matter: “Help kids recognize stereotypes whenever you spot them and know how sexism shapes the world we live in. Those conversations should start from the beginning. This is the only way children know that the gender divisions we see are not due to innate differences in abilities, but a result of a stereotyped culture.”

Equally as important to gender-neutral parenting is the very language that we use within our families. It’s important to use language that avoids gendered words and pronouns when referring to anything. Replace boy and girl with they, kid, and child. Removing gendered labels from a child’s life can allow them to explore and develop beyond the gender in which they would otherwise be categorized in a “normal” non-gender-neutral upbringing. While this may seem like going against typical parenting, there is a wide range of negative effects – including how significantly more men work in STEM fields than women – that can be traced back to children growing up under established gender stereotypes. And one powerful way to help your child break free from such stereotypes is to remove the importance of gender in their daily language.

There is a breadth of evidence that points out the advantages of raising a gender-neutral generation. The Telegraph reveals that Sweden’s gender neutral kindergarten system raised children with access to more opportunities and therefore were more likely to find success as adults. And it makes sense – psychology and education go hand in hand towards raising a capable generation free from the tethers of imposed genders and the intellectual, emotional, political, and social implications attached to such labels. Furthermore, Maryville University detail how the connection between psychology and education has led to an increased demand for professionals. The more gender-neutral education is researched and implemented, the more likely that it will become a widespread movement. A child raised through gender-neutral methods of parenting would theoretically be more able to navigate the increasingly complex workplace of the future, especially given their potential for learning success as they are unrestricted by typical gender norms.

Remember, gender neutral parenting is less about preventing your female child from playing with pink dolls and more about letting your child play with whatever toy they want to regardless of gender norms. For instance, Amslee Institute’s Guide on Halloween costumes for kids, none of them are focused on specific genders. Guide your child accordingly but at the same time, let them enjoy and develop their own understanding in the gender-neutral environment that you’ve built for them as parents.

Article was written for amsleeinstitute.com by Sophia Margaret

For information on Nanny and Sitter training programs, visit Amslee Institute.

What is RIE Parenting?

No matter how we as professional nannies personally feel about some of the rules, we must follow their instructions and listen to the parent’s child rearing plan.

Every parent has an idea and way to raise their children. As caregivers, we have to adjust to the parents’ needs and rules. The parenting style and system chosen may depend on cultural and/or religious background. No matter how we as professional nannies personally feel about some of the rules, we must follow their instructions and listen to the parent’s child-rearing plan. In my professional nanny experiences, every family and child is unique. My job is to learn and accommodate their needs. In my last position, I became familiar with the theory of RIE (also called respectful parenting).

RIE stands for Resources for Infant Educators. The RIE parenting was created by Magda Gerber*, a child therapist and advocate for both children and parents. The basis of the RIE philosophy is respect and trust in the baby to be an initiator, an explorer, and a self-learner. It focuses on a baby-centered philosophy that encourages parents and caregivers to provide an environment for the child that is physically safe, cognitively challenging and emotionally nurturing.

RIE parenting involves a lot of talk. It assumes babies are capable of understanding us from birth and are considered as a whole person who deserves to be heard and understood. RIE encourages parents and caregivers to explain everything you do to the child in a step by step manner. For example, as you change a diaper or give the baby a bath you tell the baby what you are doing and what you will do next. This step by step communication is also called sportscasting. Under RIE, communicating with the baby from day one is vital for their development. This includes keeping eye contact and singing to the baby. RIE parenting is designed to create a closer bond with the child and help the child understand the world around them in a faster and better way.

Magda Gerber’s motto was “Do less, observe more, enjoy most”. Thus, RIE parenting is about letting children find their own interests. As parents and caregivers, we observe the child and let them play on their own, but we do not entertain them. This allows children to experience and discover life on their own. Adults often believe that kids get bored very fast, but remember that when children are young, everything is brand new and amazing to them. Our role is not to give them ideas and not to direct their play.

According to the RIE approach, when children cry, it’s not advisable to run and stop their crying. By making sure all their needs are met, we let them express their emotions and show them support by holding them and communicating calmly about their feelings. It is important to teach the child that it is perfectly ok to feel upset. This was very difficult for me at the beginning of my relationship with the child I was caring for. The whole theory was completely new to me and I had to change some of my habits. It was difficult not to comfort the baby when he cried and not engage him to play a certain type of way.

woman pushing stroller with child

RIE altered my approach during diaper changes and mealtime, I really enjoyed communicating with little Lincoln while I was changing his diaper. Even though he could not talk yet, I saw that he understood what I was saying to him and he even cooperated by raising his legs and laying relatively still. RIE advises against punishments and time outs, but instead encourages setting boundaries for the child and sticking to them. For example, when a child learns to sit down to eat a meal, the child may decide when they want to get up and leave the table. We explain to the child that by this behavior, he showed us that he is done eating and that he cannot come back to the table even if others are not finished finish eating and the food is not yet cleared away. Once the child has made the decision to leave the table, his meal is over.

The RIE parented child decides what they are focusing on or who they are playing with. This encourages children to be more active on their own and build their independence. In this manner, children can become a more authentic version of themselves. Another RIE tactic is to let children struggle and figure out on their own how stuff works. Don’t show a child how to put the puzzles together or how the other toys work; instead, let them struggle a little bit to find their own way. For many nannies, this technique can be challenging as it requires a lot patience not to interrupt and help. Magda Gerber advises to let them learn on their own because that builds their self-confidence and independence. From a little problem like struggling with toys, children will learn self-management skills and grow to become a strong adult. The goal is to teach children how to handle problems on their own. Of course, that doesn’t mean children should be ignored. Instead, give the child a chance to solve the issue on their own. As adults, we have a habit of showing children how this or that works, not leaving much room for their own creativity and exploration.

Children learn everything from us. It is vitally important to be a good example. From day one, children pick up on our body language, facial expressions and mood. Thus, Magda Gerber urges adults to talk to the children just like you would talk to any other person. RIE believes that by talking to children in baby talk, we create a false reality. Personally, this was a difficult task for me as a nanny because I had the habit of talking in a cute baby talk way. It took me a while to stop or change some of the old ways regarding my interactions with children.

Often, we create this false reality while interacting with the babies when we treat them as an object. For example, when there is a friend at a party with a little baby we all want to hold the baby and play with the little one. We baby talk, poke their bellies, pick them up and just want to be loving. These are all good intentions, but RIE teaches us that we actually invade their space and objectify them. They are human beings and should be treated like a person not like a toy or accessory.

Magda Gerber also teaches that “earlier does not mean better”**, and we should allow children to develop naturally. There is no rush and kids sometimes are just not ready yet to be potty trained or give up their pacifiers. Do not push them, but instead let them discover their own physical ability in their own way and at the right time.

As Magda Gerber said, “Babies thrive out-of-doors”. They sleep better, eat better, look better, play better and learn better”. (Magda Gerber – “Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect”). It is important to let children play outside as much as possible. Also, create a safe area in your home where the baby can have unrestricted exploration and is free to play without us constantly telling them no. It is important for children to be relaxed while they play and be able to explore and play on their own in a childproof area. That was very relaxing to me as well as I knew the baby was safe and I didn’t have to follow his every move.

I have to say, using the RIE approach was an amazing experience. I was challenged to try something new and interact with the baby I cared for according to this style of parenting. It wasn’t easy at first but with the time and consistency, I really enjoyed my time with Lincoln and with RIE.

References and for more information about RIE, visit www.rie.org.
*Gerber, Magda and Weaver, Joan. Dear Parent: Caring for Infants with Respect. Resources for Infant Educators. January 28, 2003.www.magdagerber.org/blog
**Julian, Janet. Elevating Childcare: A Guide to Respectful Parenting. CreateSpace Publishing. May 1, 2014. www.janetlansbury.com