Don't 'rescue' kids - they need to work through problems


Last updated 2/13/2024 at 10:36am

The children of our community are in good hands, in their classrooms, and in relationships with their parents. This is obvious every time I have a chance to listen to or meet one of the young people in our district.

Knowing that, I am also aware of how difficult the job of being a parent is. I believe it is the hardest and the most important job we will ever have. It can also be extremely satisfying and rewarding. There is no manual of how to do this job. We are on our own, and often the examples that have gone before us (the way we were raised) fail to teach the essentials of how to do it.

Having been an educator of parents for over 30 years, the parent of four (now the grandparent of seven), worked for the Girl Scouts, owned and directed Camp Tamarack, and taught infants through college, I’ve met many parents and professionals from whom I have learned much. Teaching and directing Together For Children allowed me to pass on what I’ve learned.

In an earlier column, I talked about the value of failure, and why it’s important for kids to learn how to cope when something doesn’t go their way. That article which referred to 10 Things You Should Do Now So Your Kids Know How to Deal with Failure appeared on the website of 

Rescue Dogs — not Kids is the first tip. We understand the directive to rescue animals, but why are we not to rescue kids? This seems counterintuitive.

Let’s start by asking why we are prone to do this. Why do we jump in when we know there’s something they can learn, and do we even know when we are doing it?

A friend fell into this trap every time her boys had difficult school assignments. Their grade was really her grade. My guess is she knew the importance of their performing well in order to go to a good college. Knowing this, she didn’t want to take the chance that opportunities wouldn’t be open to them.As it turned out, one of her sons enrolled in one of our military academies. In that environment, failing was unacceptable. Consequently, faced with a test, he was caught cheating. Not only had he failed, he had failed big.

Did he learn from the experience? I certainly hope so. Did she know she had set him up for something like that to happen? At the time, no. In hindsight, maybe.

We are preconditioned as parents to take care of our kids. Think back to how your infant learned to calm themselves. At first, you guided, eventually they found their thumb on their own and fell asleep. As your toddler learned to walk, you gulped every time they landed hard on their backside. Soon you learned to step aside and watch as they righted themselves and stepped forward. The same needs to happen as our kids grow and develop, moving toward the time when they will be out on their own.

Another reason we may rescue our kids is we don’t have time to manage the drama that will inevitably follow failure. With two parents working it is often easier to jump in and take charge rather than to allow our kids to work it out. The problem is, that this is a short-term fix, and in parenting, long-term is usually better.   

Remember “helicopter parents” — parents who hover, ready to swoop in and save their children from whatever is about to happen? A new phrase I learned from my daughter, who works for a university, is the “snowplow parent.” This parent, unable to solve a college student’s problem from afar, calls administrators at the college requesting that they (the college) jump in and help their child out. On the November 29 opinion page of The New York Times, Roxanne Miller, dean of the College of Educational Studies at Chapman University, wrote how parents who have access to online grading berate their children and question teachers about every grade they consider unacceptable. The author of the “Ten Things to Do Now…” article, spoke about the difficulties college students, who have never been allowed to fail, are having.

By solving problems, brains develop coping skills — skills that allow our kids to be strong and emotionally intelligent, able to handle the ups and downs of life.

A good rule of thumb is, if it doesn’t result in bodily harm or devastating embarrassment, allow them to fail. Does this mean we abandon them? Absolutely not. It means we are there to support our kids when they are at their best and at their worst, our goal being they grow into responsible, confident, and independent adults.


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