Modern moms are chronic rescuers and that doesn’t help the kids. Here’s how to stop rescuing your children from their emotions and problems.
This past summer we were at a fork in the road.
I have 5 kids born in 5 years, and we have two bodies of water on our property. A pool and a pond.
Oh… and at the end of our driveway a steep 10 foot cliff that goes into a creek.
My oldest 4 kids could swim proficiently, but my youngest was very resistant. Since we swam every day and have water near our home… I started to view swimming as a life skill.
My 3 year old didn’t need to learn to swim for fun, but for safety.
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So I signed him up for lessons
The first day he was very scared. Very upset. I was asked to leave the pool area and I sat in my van biting my nails trying not to watch because, every instinct in my body, wanted to rescue him from theses lessons.
I wanted to run in there and be his hero yelling, “It’s okay, mommy’s here! You don’t have to do this!”
I love him, duh, so I wanted to stop any discomfort.
Now, of course, we are to protect.
There are times when a mother absolutely must intervene.
Like when your preschooler finds the bamboo shishkabob sticks and starts using them to stab her little brother. (Not saying this has happened, not saying it hasn’t)
Or when one child is keen to cross the road into oncoming traffic to get to the playground.
Obviously, mothers are in the business of protecting their children from imminent and evident harm.
However, there are many times we swoop in like paratroopers to save the day because we feel compelled to “rescue” our kids when they don’t really need it. Even when it’s counterproductive to do so.
And – this may surprise you – but the reason we want to rescue them has little to do with them and a lot to do with us.
So what does it mean to rescue our kids?
When I say rescue our kids, I’m referring to our own compulsion to step into situations quickly instead of letting things play out.
Instead of letting kids strengthen the skills necessary to handle life’s ups and downs.
- Rescuing looks like doing anything it takes to stop your child from crying or whining. Even doing things you do not like (like buying them sweets to stop a tantrum), just to make them happy again.
- It also looks like reacting all day long to your child’s surface emotions (not necessarily deeper needs). And trying to organize life around them so they (and by extension us) aren’t triggered by anything.
- Rescuing looks like crossing your own boundaries left and right to prevent your child from being unhappy. Whether this is too late bedtimes, too much junk food, too much screen time, or other things you don’t like but do so your child doesn’t lose it on you.
- It also means intervening in a way that prevents your child from experiencing logical and natural consequences of their actions. Short circuiting how life works to help them avoid any discomfort. It might be doing their homework if they forgot or refuse. Replacing toy after toy they break, without any reparation. On and on.
- Rescuing can look like not letting your own rules work. You have a rule and a built in consequence, then hound your child to death to follow the rule so they don’t end up with the consequence.
There’s more, but that’ll get us started.
Here are some reasons why we do it.
Likely, you are rescuing your kids from their feelings, reactions, or problems because you want them to be happy and problem free.
Of course you do!
You probably also want someone to come help YOU with your problems and take all that frustration away – me too! So you feel that letting your kids stew in any negative emotions, when you *could* help, would almost be cruel.
Here’s why we are driven to rescue.
- We see our kids from an adult perspective (more on that below) and would always intervene if an adult was acting as they are.
- Our own nerves can’t handle the crying or whining so we rush in to stop it. Which helps in the moment, but creates a longer term pattern that keeps this happening.
- Modern moms believe feel especially sensitive towards their children’s emotions. When we sense our children are having any emotions we deem negative (frustration, anger, sadness, etc.) we try to suppress or distract.
- We feel like bad moms if our kids are unhappy so we try to make them happy so we feel like good moms.
- Often, we get into an “always/never” childlike mindset and think “if my child is unhappy now, they’ll be unhappy forever.” This is subconscious and short-sighted.
We aren’t comfortable with our own emotions so can’t allow our children to have theirs.
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Are we seeing their situation from an ADULT perspective?
I recently had a major Ah Ha moment in my Language of Listening® parenting group. When we see our children’s behavior or reaction and imagine an adult acting like that, it’s really alarming.
If your toddler is crying because they don’t want to go to bed and they scream and throw things… do you put yourself in their shoes? Do you imagine how bad something would have to be for YOU to scream and throw?
WHEW, no wonder you want to stop it at all costs. That’d be horrible. But the thing is… kids are not adults. Their brains, emotional regulation, and ability to control their reactions are neither mature nor advanced like adults.
In short, they’re acting like kids. And 99.9% of the time, their reactions are not emergencies.
The more we intervene the more…
In our home I’ve noticed the more I intervene, the more often they come running to me for “help.”
They don’t want to work through what’s happening if they know they can come to me and I’ll referee, intervene, or fix the situation.
Interestingly enough, however, letting our kids “rescue themselves” as you support them, actually creates kids who are resilient, confident, and capable.
Emotions are a H U G E part of a young child’s life. These “I Am Feeling” cards will reduce tantrums, meltdowns, and help your little one learn emotional awareness.Learn More
What happens when we chronically rescue our littles
So now we know what rescuing looks like and why we do it… let’s talk about what chronic rescuing actually does to our kids.
First, feast your eyes on a toddler who is super frustrated. I CAN RELATE, CAN YOU RELATE?
So let’s look at some natural consequences of being chronically rescued. This applies, in this case, to kids who are being rescued by US – their loving mothers.
Our children see our wild panic eyes as we advance on them to rescue. They are already having their own feelings and then they see us come running like it’s life or death.
This actually causes them to start viewing their feelings (the ones that make us come running) as DANGEROUS. So we inadvertently cause our children feel threatened by their own frustration!
Then we get annoyed when they freak out over every little thing.
One of my middle sons played this out well.
When he was 10 months old, while nursing, he bit me, I screamed, and he’d never nurse again. After that I always felt guilty and that guilt caused me to over-react to his reactions.
Over time, anything that would frustrate him would send him into a tizzy. Then I’d rush over to rescue him from his tizzy because I was subconsciously thinking… HE CAN’T HANDLE BEING FRUSTRATED! I HAVE SCARRED HIM FOR LIFE!
Recently, after having this breakthrough, I’ve stopped rescuing him from his frustration and – wouldn’t you know – he’s getting less and less frustrated.
What to do instead of rescuing your kids
Of course, I can’t tell you that rescuing doesn’t work and then leave you hanging. If you’re like me and the urge to rescue is strong, then you’ll want to realize the reasons why you do it.
And the reasons why it doesn’t really have the results you’d like.
And then find things you can do instead.
⭐ View your children’s reactions and emotions as communications, not May Day calls
Instead of immediately viewing your child as a victim that needs saving, become curious.
Dig deeper. Say What You See®. Find out what’s *really* causing them frustration because it’s usually not what’s on the surface.
Like my son who went ballistic because I wouldn’t let him have a certain snack. It wasn’t really about the snack, turns out, but the fact that he feels he never “gets to do what he wants.” That was valuable info I’d not have known if I hadn’t dug further.
⭐Set the kids up for success
During times of non-confrontation, set your kids up for success. Help them learn to respond to frustration and create family rules that act as scaffolding.
If there are certain situations that always seem to careen into madness, rewind and see if there’s something you can do in the environment or structure of the day that will help prevent this.
Sometimes just waiting a bit instead of immediately going into FOF (fight or flight) and running to their side helps.
Give them a chance to problem solve. Don’t drop what you are doing every time a child makes a noise and then resent your kids for always interrupting.
⭐Believe your kids are capable
When you start to have a fear your children are deficient in some way, look for proof of their strengths. This puts you back into a positive frame of mind.
When we focus on what we believe our children lack, we end up doing weird stuff out of fear. Instead, find proof your children are growing in the character traits you value and then help set them up further for success.
If you feel your kids are capable you won’t rush in to rescue at every turn.
So back to the swim lessons
I knew, deep down, that if I wanted him safe on our own property, he had to learn to swim. So I sat in the van and let him do the lessons. I resisted my urge to intervene at my son’s discomfort.
On day three of lessons, as we pulled up to the pool, he said, “I can do it!” and I knew we were turning a corner.
A week later?
Well, I went outside where my husband was watching the kids and what did I see? My 3 year old dive bombing into the pool. Repeatedly.
With the biggest smile on his face. Because I had not rescued him from his discomfort.