Ask the Child Therapist Episode 14:
Why We Need to Stop Rescuing Our Kids
When your kids forget their homework, are you quick to rush home and hand deliver it? When your kids have an argument with their best friend are you immediately on the phone with their mom trying to reach a resolution? How often are you rescuing your kids?
As parents, we don’t want to see our children fail. We don’t want them to experience the pain we had to go through. We want to rescue them from the mistakes we made. But what if our well-intentioned behaviors have the opposite effect? What if it actually has the power to harm our children and make them ill-prepared for life?
Unfortunately, I see this time and time again in my practice. Loving, caring, considerate parents not allowing their children to fall. Not allowing their children to hit life’s bumps.
If we rescue our kids, they will never learn how to problem-solve.
Often parents will bring kids to my office for a plethora of behavioral issues. A common complaint I hear is, “He is constantly forgetting everything!” Now some kids have legitimate focusing and organizational issues that require additional help and support. But other kids are complacent because they have never had to worry about it. Kids have told me things like, “I don’t have to remember my stuff. My mom remembers it for me.” And sure enough, their mom is there to pick up the slack or organize their life.
I once worked with a mom who was quick to swoop in and fix any conflict her daughter had with friends. This mom had every girl in her daughter’s social circle on speed dial. When this child was young, it wasn’t that big of a deal. But as she got older, she was clueless as to how to solve her own social conflicts. She would look to her mom to continue to call, complain and negotiate her conflicts for her. Unfortunately, this became very unpopular with her friends and with her friends’ parents. This left the girl isolated and socially ostracized. We had to do damage control and teach her skills she should have naturally learned when she was little.
Why I had to reign in my own mama bear instinct.
I get how hard it is to not jump in and protect our children. This year my seven-year-old son had been complaining that his teacher called him a “chatterbox.” I didn’t think much of it, but to him it was devastating. When I saw him tear up I asked him if he wanted me to e-mail the teacher, after all, he is only in First grade I thought. He emphatically told me not to intervene. I coached him on how to tell her she was hurting his feelings. Through that coaching, he learned how to defend himself. He learned how to use words to vocalize his feelings. He learned new skills.
A few months later he complained again. I naively had thought the issue was resolved. He said, “I told her that I did not like when she called me that name.” I asked what happened after that. He said, “She never called me chatterbox again. But now she turns to the girl next to me and says, ‘Isn’t he a chatter box?’”
Okay to say I wanted to strangle his teacher is an understatement. What is wrong with this lady? This poor boy had the courage to express his feelings and she continues to mock him. Every mama bear hair on my body was screaming, “Call her!!” I calmly asked my son, “Can I call her please?” “No, I got it.” He replied.
Initially, my gut instinct was to call her anyway. After all, he is young, he needs my help. But what about the next time this happens in his life? What about when the names are something far worse? Am I going to rescue him again and again? Can I protect him from the cruelness of the world, even when it is disguised as a teacher?
I realized that I cannot rescue him from life’s little bumps. For me to cocoon him from the harshness of the world is to not allow him to develop calluses. Something we all have to develop in order to flourish in a world that sometimes delivers harsh blows.
Selectively fight your child’s battles
Now obviously there are times when we, as parents, need to intervene. When situations are out of control. When situations are extremely abusive. When our children have tried to navigate a problem themselves and they are sinking. But we need to be selective on when we intervene. We need to ask ourselves, “Are we preventing our child from developing life skills? Are we not allowing our child to learn from the bumps we must all hit? Could we coach them through it instead?”
We all want to raise children who are adept at problem-solving life’s issues. We all want children who are resilient and are able to dust themselves off when they are knocked down. These abilities don’t pop up overnight. They are developed when they have to go to school without their homework. They are developed when they have to face angry friends and work out their differences. And they are even developed when a mean-spirited teacher doesn’t care if she is hurting their feelings. These are hard lessons for us as parents to stomach, but the man or woman that will bloom from these bumps will make it worth it.
What are your thoughts on rescuing kids? Leave a comment below. Do you know someone who could benefit from hearing this? Share this article with them.